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Will our political leaders survive 2015?

As the 2015 UK General Election approaches, the world’s eyes are focused on the main party leaders, and on the ways in which the outcome of this election may affect their political careers. And as Tony Blair stated: ‘The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes.’

Ahead of the voting process, and in preparation for the election itself, we’ve asked some key political scientists to ponder whether David Cameron, Ed Miliband, and Nick Clegg will survive politically until the end of the year.

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“Today, political leadership is more complex and fragile than it was during the twentieth century. The hybrid interpenetration of digital and broadcast media has produced a political environment shaped by different temporalities. Television’s emphasis on media events, liveness, and flow has always made it a real-time mode of communication, but the emergence and widespread adoption of social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter, has accelerated, amplified, and distributed the logics of the real time in politics. At the same time, the mass archival properties of online search are pulling things in the other direction, toward a slower temporality where information that is seemingly forgotten but retrievable online can be mobilized in the present and have decisive effects on how events are framed and perceived.

“Politicians, campaign managers, activists, and journalists now conduct their struggles in assemblages that oscillate between these different temporal contexts. With this in mind, as in 2010, the long-term fates of Britain’s main party leaders will inevitably be shaped by their perceived performance during our only proper televised election debate on 2 April 2015. Political media events like this are high-stakes encounters involving a broadcast media logic-driven sense of anticipation and the discussion of multiple issues and candidate traits in one intensively scrutinized real-time setting. But a range of possible narratives and interpretations now also emerge from interactions in social media environments, during and immediately after the event itself, but also beyond, as the post-election frontier opens up before us.”

Andrew Chadwick, Professor of Political Science, Co-Director of the New Political Communication Unit at Royal Holloway, University of London, and author of ‘Britain’s First Live Televised Party Leaders’ Debate: From the News Cycle to the Political Information Cycle’ in Parliamentary Affairs

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“Often the answer, ‘It depends’ is little more than a cop-out. On this occasion it’s the only answer anyone can realistically give. For two of the trio, it really is a zero-sum game. If the Conservatives cling on to office at the general election, then Cameron is safe — probably until at least 2017 when, depending (that word again!) on what happens with a possible in/out referendum on Europe, he may have to jump to avoid getting the push. Miliband, on the other hand, will be long gone by Christmas if the Tories win — unless, perhaps, they win by such a wafer-thin margin that a second election looks literally imminent. If Labour gets back into government, however, then the tables are turned and it’s Cameron who’s toast. For Nick Clegg, though, things are a little more complicated. Presuming he wins his Sheffield seat, he could well stay on should the Lib Dems decide to cut another deal with the Tories. Whether he can do the same if it’s Labour that they go with is much harder to call. But whoever said that politics is simple?”

Tim Bale, Professor of Politics, Queen Mary, University of London, and author of ‘If Opposition is an Art, is Ed Miliband an Artist? A Framework for Evaluating Leaders of the Opposition’ in Parliamentary Affairs

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“Behind the race between David Cameron and Ed Miliband to be Prime Minister after 7 May, there is undoubtedly a second battle going on — for survival. Whichever of them fails to secure the tenancy of 10 Downing Street for the next five years is unlikely to survive as leader of their party. Many Conservatives blame David Cameron for their failure to secure an overall majority in 2010, thus creating the need to share power with the Liberal Democrats. If the party were now to find itself out of power entirely, there is little doubt they would expect Mr Cameron to fall on his sword. If Ed Miliband fails to make it into Downing Street, Labour MPs are likely to lay much of the blame on the opposition leader’s personal unpopularity, together with his alleged indecisiveness and apparent inability to spell out his vision. They are very unlikely to give him a second chance. As for Mr Clegg, first of all he will need to defend his Sheffield seat successfully. That is by no means guaranteed. Thereafter, his future will depend on just how badly his party does – and whether or not it still finds itself in power. A bad defeat and he will probably be out on his ear too.”

John Curtice, Professor of Politics, University of Strathclyde, and author of ‘So What Went Wrong with the Electoral System? The 2010 Election Result and the Debate About Electoral Reform’ in Parliamentary Affairs

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Headline image credit: Flag of UK, British flag, close up by sbko via Shuttershock.

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