The outcome of the general election in May this year is impossible to predict. It could have been assumed that a coalition government which has systematically dismantled the welfare system and pilloried the poor while looking after the interests of the rich would be automatically kicked out on its ear at the first opportunity, but the British public is far more unfathomable to be so predictable. And it's not difficult to identify with the dilemma we all face: the Labour opposition has been exasperatingly silent when faced with opportunity after opportunity to propose policies which would offer viable and constructive alternatives to coalition austerity measures masking Tory political dogma. While one can muster some sympathy for a party charged repeatedly with creating the banking crisis and fearing further opprobrium should its defence policy appear weak, Labour's total avoidance of the nuclear weapons issue for fear of incurring the wrath of the right wing press is shameful.
But we have left behind, in what seems to be an incredibly short space of time, the days of a two-party system when their policies were not only clearly divided but moulded to the societal strata from which they hailed – Tories for the money- and land-rich business owners and societal elites, Labour for the working class, one believing that wealth created by the innovative and wealthy would trickle down to the rest of us, the other believing that the ordinary people had a right to own the means and the product of their own labour and to share in the wealth it created. Today, arguably with the death in 1994 of John Smith, Labour Party Prime minister in waiting and then-leader, the distinction between the left and right of British politcs has all-but disappeared. Both front benches are dominated by privately educated, wealthy, career politicians who between them no doubt own tens of entire spare houses, let alone spare bedrooms, and while it is true that there remains a different emphasis in rhetoric, the fundamentals of British politics are the same on both sides of the House: growth, nuclear power, nuclear defence, a tolerance of poverty, a vapid acceptance of homelessness and disenfranchisement in a country with the fifth largest economy in the world.
Blair's priministerial reign sealed the fusion of right and left in the minds of many. His style of government, his reckless partnering of probably the most right wing President the USA ever elected in recent years in the disastrous Iraq war coupled with his determination to ignore the huge demonstration against the war when a claimed 2 million people took to the streets of London in February 2003, finally rendered a generation of left-leaning voters politically homeless and closed the gap in many minds between Labour and Tories. In many ways, Blair's tenure sowed the seeds of the potentially confusing and chaotic political harvest we are about to reap in May this year. It was a tenure whose errors were compounded by the hapless Gordon Brown and it laid clear the way for a Tory – Liberal Democrat coalition and policies from which this country will take a long time to recover. But despite the uncertain nature of the coming election and the fact that the nationalists in the form of UKIP and the SNP are on the rise, there may yet be a silver lining to brighten up the spring of 2015.
Austerity-fatigued voters, disillusioned with the right, angry with the Liberal Democrats for many policy u-turns and accused of propping up unpopular Tory legislation, and tired of waiting for inspiration from what passes for the left, were seen as ripe for the picking as the two party system began to creak and groan. UKIP has taken centre stage in recent years and its political rise has been meteoric if cumbersome and prone to bear-traps. It won two by-elections in the latter months of 2014 – Clacton and Rochester and Strood – and came within a whisker of winning a hitherto safe Labour seat in Heywood and Middleton in October when it attracted 11,000 votes and reduced a 6,000 Labour majority to a mere 600 votes. A Euro-sceptic UKIP is firmly on the march and has changed the boundaries of the debate over the European Union as both the main parties vie in cap-doffing to UKIP voters in increasingly extreme attempts to win them back. And as if this wasn't enough for the Westminster elite from both sides of the House, the Greens are also making great strides forward and the Scottish referendum of last autumn has thrown a total googly into the mix.
The Scottish Labour Party currently has 40 MPs who sit in the House of Commons and can vote on English and Welsh issues. This may change if the deal to restrict the powers of Scottish MPs goes ahead to reflect the fact that English MPs are unable to vote on Scottish issues at Westminster (the English Votes for English Laws proposal). With the rise of the Scottish Nationalists during and after the Scottish independence vote, the Scotttish Labour Party, already smarting from unflattering remarks made by the previous leader, Johann Lamont, before resigning, is facing the loss of many of these seats to the Scottish Nationalists. This could leave a Westminster minority Labour-led goverment requiring the support of perhaps 50 plus Scottish Nationalist MPs in deep trouble when it comes to keeping a coalition's programme on track. Put simply, if the SNP held the balance of power in Westminster after the next election, what would they seek to extract from the Labour Party in return for their support?
The SNP, along with many Scottish, English, Welsh and Irish people, is not well disposed to the idea of their lochs being used for the docking, repairing, maintaining and arming of a predominantly Downing Street supported fleet of Trident submarines carrying enough nuclear armoury to annihilate millions of people. If the Scottish referendum had been won by the separatists, it is likely that the removal of Trident armoury from Faslane would be on the agenda today. It might well be on the agenda in a post-election UK next May, although the likelihood of labyrinthine and lengthy negotiations taking place and keeping it sidelined for years is strong. It cannot be denied, however, that a period of bartering over concessions to the SNP would throw the entire issue of nuclear weapons into the media spotlight where it belongs and where neither Cameron nor Miliband want it to be. This could be the launch pad for a supreme effort to ensure that when Parliament votes in 2016 on the replacement of Trident, much of the ground work will have been done around the time of the election by campaigns such as CND's Rethink Trident and the broader-based No Trident Replacement movement, to create a climate of opinion within the country to demand – not ask or hope, but to demand – that our MPs once and for all divest us in this country of nuclear weapons and, along with them, the stigma of being a pariah state.