That the Conservative party has won a majority in the UK’s elections is just one of several surprises from a contest that confounded pundits and party strategists alike. So what does the Conservative’s slim majority mean for Switzerland? The key points to haul on board are:
The inglorious defeat suffered by the Liberal Democrats, the Conservative’s erstwhile coalition partner, means that the party’s moderating counterbalance to the Conservative’s powerful Eurosceptic faction has evaporated into the ether of political anonymity.
It is pretty much a certainty that there will shortly be a UK referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. If the UK were to leave, a weakened EU would be more likely to maintain its demands on Switzerland to adhere to the terms of the various bi-lateral treaties – notably freedom of movement. This will aggravate the sense of uncertainty that exists within international businesses operating and investing here in Switzerland.
The virtual clean sweep by the Scottish National Party (SNP), while not wholly unexpected is still impressive for its magnitude. But it changes little for Cameron. Firstly, there is unlikely to be another bid for independence by the Scots within the next couple of parliaments. Statements by the party’s leadership made after the Scottish independence referendum last September undertaking not to seek another referendum in the foreseeable future were probably a major reason for the party’s massive electoral success yesterday. In short, Left-leaning Scottish voters could vote for a Left-wing agenda, comfortable in the knowledge that their vote would not result in independence, but instead in more latitude for social self-determination (and spending). SNP parliamentarians will not vote on English issues at Westminster, however, they will vote and campaign against a UK withdrawal from the EU. But this will not change the electoral arithmetic since most SNP seats were grabbed from Labour, a party also stridently opposed to EU withdrawal.
The impact of the SNP’s win will be limited to the Scots twisting the Conservative’s arms for increased social services budget as the price for supporting (or abstaining) from votes where the Conservative’s slim majority is under threat. Accounting for roughly 10 percent of the UK’s spending, this may have a small inflationary effect and frustrate the Conservative budget deficit reduction efforts.
The somewhat surprising failure of the radical nationalist United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) to secure more than one seat questions the UK’s appetite for anti-immigration policies stronger than those promised by the Conservative’s in their manifesto. Furthermore the result relieves pressure on Cameron to enact more radical measures and may also give him breathing space to moderate the Conservative’s EU referendum proposals.
The Conservatives will continue with their austerity measures and (with the exception of its anti-EU stance) with their pro-business policies. This will encourage investment and financial services companies to remain in London – defusing proposed moves by some to Switzerland and elsewhere.
Clearly these results mean wholesale changes in the leadership of all parties. While Cameron has kept George Osborne on to continue managing the economy as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he is under pressure to radically reshuffle his cabinet. Labour will have a total leadership change. Leader, Ed Miliband resigned this afternoon. The Liberal Democrats, now a tiny party having lost 48 seats, has lost most of its leaders including its leader, Nick Clegg. The only other major party to keep its current leaders is the SNP – and Nicola Sturgeon has only been in power for a few months.
Only once the main parties have selected their new front bench teams will commentators be able to determine the details of future policies and the likelihood of their successful enactment.
Jeremy McTeague is a communications consultant, writer and former lobbyist at Westminster