By Alice Hague (Staff Writer)
The best part of elections when I was growing up was that they involved a day off school. My primary school was a designated polling place, so a general election meant a day away from the classroom. That said, it also meant a trip back to the school with whichever parent was at home looking after us in order to cast a vote. I have strong memories of going in to the school building on election-day and finding it a much quieter place than usual. All the voting action – in itself a very quiet and reserved affair – involved going into the gym hall (a place usually reserved for school assemblies and classes of children playing sports and games), being given a piece of paper, going behind the curtain to scribble your vote on the piece of paper, and putting that piece of paper in the big, black box. It always seemed to be over very quickly for such an important act.
I guess I was always going to be interested in politics. The first general election I ever experienced involved a photo-opportunity with an aspiring MP who, in the end, had to wait four more years before being elected. After that though, he didn’t do too badly as a politician and I like to think I had a small part in his success (okay, maybe not). My first vote in a general election was cast only ten days after my eighteenth birthday – something of which I was immensely proud (in the days before fixed-term Parliaments, I had worked out five years earlier that I might turn eighteen in time to vote at the next General Election – but only if the Government held out pretty much as long as they could before calling an election.). Since then, I have voted in person, by post and by proxy, always making sure that I participated in this great institution we call democracy.
I remember elections that resulted in a sense of joy – and those that resulted in a sense of disappointment. I have stayed up into the wee small hours and seen the evolution of the swingometer, and I still wonder whether some constituencies seem to care more about being first to call a result than anything else (looking at you, Sunderland City Council).
And so it starts again. The UK goes to the polls this week, on 7th May – and children at the primary school I attended will enjoy another day off. Following five years of a coalition government (the first in the UK since the wartime government of Winston Churchhill) we are now heading into an election where no-one seems sure of the outcome – and many outcomes are seemingly possible. Any number of websites are springing up offering to work out who you should vote for based on your views on various policy issues (for example http://www.votematch.org/) although such websites oversimplify decisions to be made in a first-past-the-post system in which tactical voting (often aimed at keeping certain candidates out), is an electoral strategy of choice for many.
That ‘first-past-the-post’ system that is supposed to guarantee a ‘strong, single-party government’ this year we find polling and pollsters changing on a daily basis and all indications are that we are heading for a hung Parliament (you can keep up to date with some of the latest polls here). Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, who out-polled the pollsters and called the 2012 US Presidential Election result correctly for every state, is stepping into the game this year (in partnership with the academic team running http://www.electionforecast.co.uk/) and will be an intriguing addition to the mix. So, which party will get the most seats? Will they be able to form a coalition – and if so, with which other party (or even parties)? Or will they choose instead to form a minority government? Will UKIP make a mark? Just how many seats will the SNP win in Scotland? And what about the Liberal Democrats, a party that lost much of its support the minute it chose to enter Government with the Conservatives in 2010. It is a long time since UK electoral politics has been so unpredictable. Many questions will be asked over the next few weeks, but most will remain unanswered until the votes are counted and the results start to come in on 7th May. Watch this space.
 Lodge, Guy and Gottfriend, Glenn (2011) Worst of Both Worlds: Why First Past the Post No Longer Works. IPPR Briefing. p4. Available at: http://www.ippr.org/assets/media/images/media/files/publication/2011/05/Worst%20of%20Both%20Worlds%20Jan2011_1820.pdf Accessed 29 Mar 2015.