Last night the University of Sussex Alumni association held a fascinating Question Time style debate between representatives of the five biggest UK political parties. The event was held at the Royal Institute in London and moderated by the excellent Sarah Montague. Firstly much credit must go to each of the participants:
Kelly-Marie Blundell (Liberal Democrat)
Chris Brown (UKIP)
Peter Kyle (Labour)
Alexandra Peterson (Conservative)
Alexandra Phillips (Green)
I can’t imagine these debates are much fun for the participants but the opportunity to scrutinise politicians and party policies is an essential feature of democratic politics. I would like to make just a few personal observations concerning last night’s event.
The Greens and UKIP are not the polar opposites one would assume: Every A-level politics student should know that the ideological spectrum is circular rather than flat. Parties who tend to inhabit political extremes actually have a lot more in common than they think. The Green and UKIP representatives found themselves in agreement on more than one occasion last night, especially on the issue of housing. Of course fundamental outlooks remain very different but both parties like to describe themselves as “anti-establishment” and both will be hoping that their surge in the pols translates into a real change in British politics. Moreover both are striving to be more than one-issue parties and should be given consideration as such by the media and electorate alike.
Does foreign policy matter?: After a question from an audience member on threats to Britain’s security, it occurred to me that foreign policy has been almost ignored during this campaign. It certainly didn’t come up during the seven-leader debate. Naturally British elections are dominated by the economy and public services. This is fairly standard for any peacetime liberal democracy. However with operations in the Middle-East almost at an end, talk of Britain’s role in the world seems restrict to EU membership and Trident. Where are the conversations about Russia, or ISIS and what Britain’s role in the world will be in the future?
Party loyalty is still the factor: Candidates were given the opportunity to speak near the end of the debate about their personal preferences in forming a coalition after the election. None could give a concrete answer. Realistically the Labour party must know that their only hope to 10 Downing Street and a workable government is with support from the SNP, and most likely the Liberal Democrats as well. Likewise the Conservatives will need Lib Dem support once more. But candidates are keeping to the party line. When faced with the question “Who would you prefer to form a coalition with?” candidates, much like the parties they represent, are still hedging their bets.
What is a manifesto for?: With both major parties seemingly unable to secure a majority in the next election there will be a coalition or “supply-demand” agreement of some kind. This means that the policies which every party has lain out in their manifestos are all open to negotiation. The coalition deal making of the last few years is likely to be the norm for the next few years. Of course it is not unusual for parties to change or forget pledged promises when in Government but we can now be assured that when Party A pledges billions more for the NHS, their partners may have something to say about how much is spent and where it comes from.
For academics and political watchers this is an exciting time in politics. The potential end of the two-party system raises many issues which neither the academic community nor politicians themselves are able to predict the outcome to. It is especially welcome to see smaller parties now at the debate table.
The Sussex Conversations event is available to watch at: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/newsandevents/sussexconversations