1. The demise of two-party politics?
The Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties have provided every British prime minister for the last 170 years.
As a result of its first-past-the-post, winner takes all electoral system, British general elections tend to produce strong, single party governments with commanding majorities that have the capability to push legislation through Parliament relatively unchallenged. From the 1850s onwards the Liberals and Conservatives were the two major parties fighting for political supremacy in Britain’s two-party system. However the emergence of Labour in the first quarter of the 20th Century heralded a change in the political landscape. From Ramsay MacDonald's momentous election as the first Labour prime minister in 1924, it was the Labour and Conservative parties that vied for dominance.
The failure of the Conservatives in 2010 to obtain an overall majority, however, meant that for the first time in 65 years, Britain was to be governed by a coalition. The electorate, it appeared, were not wholly convinced by the merits of the now traditional 'big two'.
2. March away from the mainstream
Allegra Stratton explores Britain's shift away from two-party politics towards the 2010 coalition and a three-party system of government.
3. State of the nation
'Who are British politicians looking out for?' results 1944 and 1972 Gallup, 2014 results YouGov.
4. A political earthquake?
Since the last general election UKIP’s swelling party membership, resounding wins in the Clacton and Rochester by-elections and unprecedented success in the last European elections have placed the party firmly in the political spotlight. This once fringe, single issue populist party are now positioning themselves as the anti-establishment alternative, appealing to voters all over England disenchanted with the traditional parties.
UKIP for years was considered the preserve of disaffected Eurosceptic Conservative voters in the shires. However their successful targeting of disconnected working class communities in the north of England has meant that the ‘political earthquake’ their deputy leader Paul Nuttall called for at the party conference in 2013 looks potentially within their grasp.
As the 'tightest to call' election in decades looms, this anti-European party, with the largest number of British MEPs could potentially wield power in a hung parliament. With none of the major parties predicted to achieve an overall majority - could the party once dismissed by David Cameron as a bunch of "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists" hold the balance of power?
5. The Scottish 'X' factor
What is becoming increasingly clear as we come closer to the election is that both the main parties have an unknown variable, an 'X' factor, that is potentially lethal to their chances of forming the next government. If UKIP play that role for the Conservatives, then the SNP are the party that could prevent Ed Miliband securing the keys to Number 10.
During Scotland's recent independence referendum the SNP's membership soared. However this did not dwindle in the wake of the Yes campaign's defeat. The SNP has officially passed the 100,000 membership mark and is now the third largest party in Britain – twice the size of the Liberal Democrats.
With a newly galvanised and engaged Scottish electorate the SNP looks poised to effectively challenge Labour in every Scottish seat. The Labour Party can usually rely on claiming over 40 of the Scottish seats but in the face of a rampant SNP, double figures would be a success this time around.
Conversely, it could turn out to be the SNP that have the numbers to propel Ed Milliband into Downing Street Talk of an SNP ‘progressive coalition’ with Plaid Cymru and the Greens and a vote-by-vote deal with Labour could see a further fracturing of Britain’s once two-party system of government and a move towards a more 'inclusive' style - potentially giving more people a say in how the country is run.
6. A more European style of government?
It looks increasingly likely that neither of the ‘big two’ will win the outright majority needed to form a single-party government. Allegra Stratton considers a shift towards the ‘grand coalitions’ favoured by some of our European neighbours.