Brian Monteith: Tactical voters hold the keys to Downing Street

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Well, that’s it for ­another five years – or is it? Now that we have fixed terms for UK governments at Westminster, once parliament has been dissolved we will move into a six-week general election campaign

If everything runs to normal we shall have a new government – but such is the state of political flux we may, of course, end up with a minority government unable to command a majority and unable to pass its most important Bills, like a budget.

If that happens then we could face another general election before the year is out, just like when I was a teenager back in February and October 1974.

There are so many permutations possible for who might form a government that I’m not going to bother listing them, we shall just have to wait and see what the result brings.

One thing’s certain, there is likely to be a great deal of tactical voting on May 7 as members of the public try to weigh up if they are voting on the record of the coalition government or still fighting last year’s referendum and how their vote will influence the result.

The five years since the last general election – when David Cameron was unable to win an overall majority and had to turn to the Liberal Democrats – seems to have flown by.

It’s very easy to forget all that has happened in that time. What are the key events in the last Westminster Parliament that in time will be seen to be the seminal moments that determine how it will be remembered and how it might have influenced the outcome of the coming general election?

These can probably be summarised as international, financial, social and constitutional.

The coalition government gets little thanks for getting our troops officially out of Iraq and Afghanistan – for thanks to the Arab Spring rebounding in Syria and Libya the world feels a less secure place. Islamic Jihad in countries like Nigeria and throughout the Arab world has seen to that.

The coalition government has turned the economy round, of that there can be no doubt – but do we feel thankful for that? There are record numbers of people in work, inflation is at an all-time low, interest rates have been practically zero for years and the UK’s economic growth is the envy of other developed nations – especially in Europe.

George Osborne arrived at the Treasury to find a note from a former Labour minister saying there was no more money and discovered the nation’s finances were worse than we had been told. No wonder, then, his original targets to eradicate the deficit and reduce the debt were missed, but eventually the economy started again and the statistics and forecasts are looking good.

While that would normally make any government a shoe-in for an election the coalition has on occasion pressed the self-destruct button.

The Lib Dems reneged on the agreement to introduce new boundaries that would have meant fairer votes – ensuring the Tories are 20 seats behind even if they lead Labour in the polls.

Without any significant public demand the Tories changed the law on gay marriage, getting little thanks in the process, while pushing many of their supporters into Ukip.

To rub salt in that wound, David Cameron then upset two of his MPs over the EU so much that they forced by-elections and won them for Ukip.

How should you respond to all of this? Simple, if what drives you is who runs the UK government rather than a desire for yet more constitutional politics then you need to vote for the candidate that will maximise the chances of the outcome you want.

If you don’t want a change of government then you should vote for the candidate from the Conservative or Liberal Democrat parties that stands the best chance of winning. Or, if neither of them are likely to win where you live because you are in a Labour constituency then you could consider voting SNP to try and deny Labour a seat, which might put them behind David Cameron.

If you do want a change of government then you should vote Labour and nothing else. Voting for any other party, such as the SNP, runs the risk of letting the Conservatives come through as the main party and having first dibs at trying to form a coalition.

Alternatively if you are still thinking that none of the above matters and all you want is independence then the SNP’s your bag. The SNP cannot win but it can disrupt the outcome and cause havoc for the next five years.

Of course, the reverse of that is true: if you want to stop the SNP at all costs you need to consider which party is best placed to prevent the Nationalist candidate from winning. In most cases that will be Labour, but sometimes it will be Liberal Democrat – or in the borders, the Conservatives.

And, if you actually believe in something like an idea, a philosophy or just like the person standing you can vote without a care – because that’s your positive statement – and never mind if it doesn’t change the outcome.

Told you it was simple.