Election 2015: Alex Kane

Alex Kane
Alex Kane

If the opinion polls are to be believed then it looks like one term of coalition government is to be followed by another.

That’s actually quite extraordinary: indeed it’s the first time it has happened in my lifetime.

In Northern Ireland it will be pretty much the same as last time, but with the DUP likely to capture East Belfast from Alliance's Naomi Long (above, with Mark Durkan SDLP, Martin McGuinness Sinn Fein, Danny Kennedy UUP, and Nigel Dodds DUP)

In Northern Ireland it will be pretty much the same as last time, but with the DUP likely to capture East Belfast from Alliance's Naomi Long (above, with Mark Durkan SDLP, Martin McGuinness Sinn Fein, Danny Kennedy UUP, and Nigel Dodds DUP)

It may mean that a growing section of the electorate has finally given up on the usual old shuffling of office between Labour and Conservative and if that’s true then it may also mean a shift from first-past-the-post to PR and the emergence of new and smaller parties.

That’s probably no bad thing. Politics and institutions usually benefit from the occasional shake-up.

It’s still possible that Cameron or Miliband could gain from an unexpected bounce or from an unforced error by the other: but time is running out and both campaigns have been very cautious so far.

Cameron needs to win — even if it means another coalition with the Lib Dems.

If he’s not prime minister he won’t be allowed to hang on as leader.

The Conservatives are desperate for success in their own name and haven’t won an outright victory since 1992.

Labour will be kinder to Miliband if he doesn’t make it to Number 10: but only in the sense that they will give him a couple of years to sort himself out before moving aside.

Barring an electoral miracle it looks like Clegg is toast.

The polls suggest that Ukip will get a few million votes but just three or four seats — and Farage may not make it to the Commons.

If Cameron wins, then a referendum on the EU is unavoidable and once the referendum is over (and I’ll put money on a decision to stay in) Ukip and Farage will have to rethink tactics and purpose.

The ones to watch, though, are the SNP.

They will prop up Miliband if they get the chance (and the polls suggest that outcome), yet that will create huge problems for him in terms of their determination to remove Scotland from the United Kingdom.

But here’s his problem: if he plays ball with them he risks the Union, and if he doesn’t then he risks the loss of every Scottish Labour seat for a generation. It will also be interesting to watch the interaction between Nicola Sturgeon in Edinburgh and Alex Salmond in Westminster, because Miliband will hope to exploit some evident tension between them.

In Northern Ireland it will be pretty much the same as last time. The DUP looks likely to recapture East Belfast, hold the eight seats it has already and then hopes to have some sort of role to play — in return for concrete commitments — in propping up Cameron.

The Ulster Unionist Party will be happy to win just one seat, because then Nesbitt’s “two cycle electoral recovery plan” will still be viable.

Upper Bann, South Antrim and Fermanagh/South Tyrone are possibilities, but none of them is bankable — even though there are good candidates in all three.

The SDLP should keep the three seats it has, while Sinn Fein will probably hold its five.

Meanwhile, the TUV and Ukip are really just testing the waters and blooding candidates for the 2016 Assembly election.

Alliance has probably prepared itself for defeat in East Belfast, but Naomi Long will make it back to the Assembly and will soon be party leader. Lady Hermon will have a comfortable win in North Down. The other parties won’t be troubling the counting staff and it seems likely that most of their runners will lose their deposits.

Once the election is out of the way, though, Sinn Fein and the DUP still have to sort out the unfinished business of Welfare Reform, as well as kickstart the programme of work in the stalled Stormont House Agreement.

That is going to be difficult and an early Assembly election can’t be ruled out. So expect another round of crisis talks in mid-May.

This is the most important general election for decades.

It’s quite possible that the outcome will lead to a change in our electoral system, press the accelerator pedal on the possible breakaway of Scotland, force crucial decisions on our membership of the EU, and mark the end of one-party government.

Who says elections aren’t fun?