Elizabeth Peacock: Local voters are in driving seat for this election

LIKE many others 12 months ago, I was unhappy with the national political scene. We considered that our traditional parties were not listening to the views, opinions and demands of the majority and were encouraging the rise of formerly minor parties to national significance.

Britain’s “first past the post” electoral system and the historic swing of power from left to right, Whigs and Tories, Labour and Conservatives, has served the nation well since the 1800s, creating fairness and political stability.

We took the view that this long-term stability would be under threat if the traditional parties failed to react to these challenges, and if coalitions became the norm and the only means of pulling together a government.

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It is now apparent that the power of the large majority governments of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair has disappeared with some of the power leaking to the minor parties.

An analysis of what might happen at the General Election on May 7 indicates that some of the power for change has not just moved from our traditional parties to the newer parties, but has moved directly to key individual constituencies.

Here the result is likely to have a significant influence on the political structure and government owing to the importance of the contestants.

In each case a limited number of electors in these key seats will have the power to decide the outcome of the election and indeed the shape of the new government.

As I will speculate, a single constituency with, say 65,000 electors, could have the power to decide the nature of our government. More power than normal and possibly more power than some of the minor parties.

This, I believe, is a unique situation which will require electors in these key areas to give even more thought to the use of their vote.

Picking these key constituencies stimulates thoughts and speculation on the way local electors will react.

Take, for instance, the potential result in South Thanet where the current MP, Laura Sandys, is standing down and where the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, is proposing to stand. If he were unsuccessful, what happens to his party?

Of course nobody is indispensable, but at present he is Ukip. The party could lose momentum or collapse without his presence at Westminster. If he does win and the Conservatives have no overall majority his ambition may allow him to form some sort of arrangement with the Conservatives.

The people of South Thanet are in the pound seats as their decision will set the political scene and could place Nigel Farage in the position of Deputy Prime Minister.

Similarly the vote in Sheffield Hallam could decide the fate of Nick Clegg and whether the Liberal Democrats will be looking for a new leader.

This is a possibility, but begs the question where the Liberal Democrats would head under a new leader? They could rejoin the Conservative-led coalition or maybe form a new alliance with the Labour Party.

The power of the electors of Sheffield Hallam will be crucial in this process.

The Labour Party could, of course, achieve a working majority but currently they appear to have difficulties as their leader, Ed Miliband, is considered by many, including party members, to lack stature. He is unlikely to be a satisfactory Prime Minister.

Indeed Ed Miliband appears to be very much dependent on his lieutenant Ed Balls to run the Treasury and financial aspects of the economy.

However, Ed Balls himself could be vulnerable to losing his seat as he has a small majority in Morley and Outwood. He could possibly be beaten by a very impressive Conservative candidate, Andrea Jenkyns.

The potential loss of Ed Balls could cause a revolution and re-think for the Labour Party with a new leader and a new team.

This nationally important issue is in the hands of a limited number of local electors in Morley and Outwood.

This sort of scenario also applies in Scotland where the electors of Gordon will select a replacement for the retiring Sir Malcolm Bruce, a longstanding Lib Dem MP.

With former SNP leader Alex Salmond standing in this constituency, voters will have important decisions to make.

If he wins, he will be in a position to hold the country to ransom if Labour and the SNP are in a position to form a majority government.

He equally could be the next Deputy Prime Minister

It is clear that political power has moved from the traditional political parties directly to the local constituency level where every vote will be made to count.

Power is now clearly with the people.

Elizabeth Peacock was the Conservative MP for Batley & Spen from 1983-97.