Of course the media focus is on Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib dems - and it'll stay that way throughout the election campaign. But around 10% of voters say they'll back 'other' parties. And 29 seats in the Commons are currently held by parties outside the 'big three'. This is going to be particularly important if we enter hung-parliament territory where deals will be struck and coalitions made. It's very possible, for example, that we'll end up with a government that needs 5 or 10 more MPs to make it workable - in that case these 'others' will take centre stage.
There’ll probably be over 50 parties running - including ones for communists, pensioners and pot-smokers. But in practice only a handful will make an impact. Here's my take on the main 'other' parties and my predictions of how they'll fair come May 6th......
Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP)
The SNP currently hold 7 of the 29 Scottish seats at Westminster and have set themselves an ambitious target of extending their share to 20 at this election. They'll certainly benefit from public disillusionment with Labour and from recent successes in Scottish Parliament and Euro Parliament elections. However, some folk are unhappy with their performance as a minority government in Scotland and they failed to steal Glenrothes from Labour in the 2008 by-election.
Prediction: Will make gains but will fall short of their 20-seat target. Could be an important player in any coalition.
Plaid Cymru (PC)
The Welsh Nationalist party sees this election as its "coming of age" and PC leaders want to double their 3 seats (out of the 40 Welsh Seats available). Cleverly they haven't put Welsh autonomy or independence at the centre of their campaign, realising that it isn't a big enough vote winner in a country where overall nationalist feeling is quite low. Instead they're focussing on green issues, disillusionment with Labour and the 'expenses scandal' - presenting themselves as a good alternative to the 3 main parties.
Prediction: Could well hit the magic 6-seats mark. Importantly a lot of Plaid candidates will be playing the long game and using this election to set themselves up as serious contenders for 2014.
The Northern Irish Parties
Northern Ireland has its own parties - generally split along community lines. The scene is dominated by Sinn Fein (nationalist) and the Democratic Unionist Party (unionist). At the moment Sinn Fein hold 5 seats (but won't take them up because their MPs won't swear allegiance to the Queen) and the DUP hold 9.
The smaller Nationalist SDLP holds 3 seats and the UUP, which was once the main unionist force in Northern Irish politics, hold just 1.
The shake-up this time round is going to be the newly formed Ulster Conservative and Unionist New Force: an alliance of the UUP and David Cameron's Conservatives. It’s an attempt to reinvigorate the UUP and gain the Conservatives an extra few seats, which could be very valuable in the case of a hung parliament or small majority. They're going to have a tough job though, because unionist support is still pretty focussed on the DUP.
The DUP does have a new contender in the form of the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV). This party is made up of disillusioned hardliner DUP members who are opposed to sharing power with Sinn Fein. They're contesting 10 seats and are likely to benefit from the recent devolution of policing powers (which gives Sinn Fein a say over policing) and the Iris Robinson scandal (which discredited the DUP).
Prediction: Sinn Fein, DUP and SDLP share of seats will stay pretty stable. TUV might manage to gain 1 from their DUP rivals but won't make massive inroads. The Ulster Conservative and Unionist New Force will struggle to save the old UUP - they'll probably hold their solitary seat and might make 1 or 2 gains but nothing substantial. Still, that won't bother Cameron who'll be grateful for every extra seat he can secure.
The Green Party
Last time around the Greens managed to secure 1% of the UK vote, but a wide geographical dispersal meant this didn't translate into any seats. This time they'll be using public awareness of climate change and disillusionment with the 'big three' to push themselves as a decent alternative. There'll be more than 300 Green candidates standing but the only real battleground will be Brighton Pavilion - where leader Caroline Lucas will be looking to build on her good performance in 2005. Back then she came third but it was a close race and there's a genuine possibility she could steal it. The bookies are offering the same odds on the Greens winning a seat or not. It's all to play for.
Prediction: Very hard to call. I'd love to see them do it so I'm going to stick my neck out and say 1 seat for the Greens.
UK Independence Party (UKIP)
UKIP don't have any seats at the moment and that's not likely to change. The EU is simply not the big issue at the moment and although they've tried to present themselves as more than a single-issue party they just don't have the support to make real electoral gains.
Where they are likely to make an impact is in stealing votes off the Conservatives. Where the Conservatives are trying to oust an incumbent with a big majority every single vote will count so even a few hundred potential Tory voters putting their cross in the UKIP box could make a big difference. Some Conservative candidates are trying to come to agreements with UKIP rivals to stop their vote being split but there is no national agreement.
Interestingly UKIP leader Nigel Farage is going to try and oust Speaker John Bercow in Buckingham but considering Bercow has an 18 000 majority that's pretty unlikely.
Prediction: To the frustration of Cameron's boys UKIP will nick votes off the Conservatives and may damage them in some constituencies. However, they won't get any seats themselves; William Hill are offering 2/1 on a UKIP seat but you'd be chucking your money away.
British National Party (BNP)
Nick Griffin's BNP have made gains in recent years and disillusionment with the 'big three' (especially Labour) will probably win them a few more votes. Having said that, there is no massive groundswell of support and a lot of people who sympathise with their views will still be reluctant to put a cross by the name of their local fascist. The BNP are contesting a lot of seats including 40 in East England, 29 in the North East, 14 in Scotland and 12 in Wales but they won't win any of them.
Prediction: Expect an increase in their (0.7%) share of the vote and a lot of ranting about the will of the British people. Don't expect BNP members in the Commons.
William Hill is offering 1/4 on the BNP not winning ant seats- could be easy money.
Respect grew out of the 2003 anti-war movement and contested 30 seats held by pro-war Labour MPs in the 2005 election. A surge of opposition to Tony Blair, solidarity with the Iraqis and organisation by the UK's left-wing protest movement put George Galloway into Parliament as a Respect MP. Division in the ranks, dressing up as a cat on Big Brother and the withdrawal of troops from Iraq will see him out.
Prediction: Respect has had its moment. George Galloway should clear his desk.
Scottish Socialist Party (SSP)
Along with Respect, one of the larger very left-wing forces in British politics. The SSP has a handful of seats in the Scottish Parliament and is well known for its radical campaigns including 'fuck abstinence' (regarding sex education) and 'make capitalism history'. They're likely to gain votes off the back of disillusioned Labour voters but will struggle to gain representation at Westminster due to the electoral system.
Prediction: More votes, no seats.
Independent Kiddiminster Hospital and Health Concern
Dr. Richard Taylor stormed to a massive victory in 2001 on a single-issue ticket of keeping Kiddiminster Hospital open. Though his majority dropped in 2005 he is a popular MP who focuses on health issues but has diversified to get involved in other major political debates.
The Liberal Democrats are standing a candidate against him this time around (they chose not to in 2001 and 2005) but his supporters are still optimistic.
Prediction: Another 4 years for Doctor Taylor.
So that’s my take on the ‘biggest of the smallest’. Expect to see a bit more of them in the coming weeks...and a lot more of them if we’re left with a hung parliament after May 6th.