Fragmentation of politics a recipe for voting ‘against’ rather than ‘for’

You know it’s a strange election campaign when the Prime Minister and the man who would be his successor are almost being overshadowed by the leader of the SNP.

According to political commentators, it’s simply a question of how many seats the SNP win. And, consequently, how great their influence will be in determining who is able to form the next government. The expectation is they could win more than 50 seats – which would make them the third largest party in Westminster.

Then, if you believe the talking heads, Nicola Sturgeon will run the table. She and the SNP, not Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats, will be the kingmakers and determine who if anyone is able to form a government – whether that is a formal coalition or some kind of looser control and consent arrangement.

The rise and rise of the SNP, the growth in the Greens’ share of vote according to polls, and the enduring push of UKIP (one that might have slipped in recent weeks, but still the party whose supporters are less likely than any other to change their vote) demonstrate the fragmentation of British politics. And with that fragmentation has come changes in parties’ strategies and how they’re trying to appeal to the electorate.

Politics and election campaigns have always involved a degree of fear. Voters are bombarded with exhortations to not vote for a particular party. And so it’s been the case in this election. The Tories will privatise the NHS. Labour will risk current economic growth. UKIP will set us back by taking us out of Europe. And so on.

But this election has seen such rhetoric move on a stage to reflect the likely hung parliament. Consequently, it’s not just about policy but what your vote will mean for the makeup of the next government. Don’t vote for Nigel (Farage) or you’ll get David (Cameron). Vote for Nicola (Sturgeon) and you’ll get Ed (Miliband).

Nicola Sturgeon has set out her case very clearly. She wants to work with Labour to keep out the Tories. And the other parties are making similar appeals, increasing the potential for tactical voting to play an unprecedented role in this election.

All the main parties continue to argue the merits of their policies. But it is now more likely that voters will tick their ballot to protect against what they don’t want – instead of voting for the party with the policies they most agree with.