What’s going to happen in the election next week? My hunch right now is that the Tories are going to win fewer than 300 seats, and that they’ll go on to form a minority government. And then things are going to get interesting.

The prediction of 280-300 seems to be more or less conventional wisdom these days. UNS forecasts based on current polling figures give the Tories slightly fewer than that, but people who’ve thought a bit more about what the polls are telling us and have constructed more sophisticated voting models reckon that they’ll do a bit better, though not much better, than this. Yesterday’s Politicshome forecast of yesterday has 289; the fivethirtyeight.com model  has 299.

And that seems about right to me. It’s hard to see the Tories doing much better, unless the polls are screwy on the scale of 1992, since no one seems to think they’ve got much chance of winning significant numbers of seats from the Lib Dems (which is what the original Tory game-plan required); and while I’d be very pleased if they did a lot worse, and it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility, it feels like wishful thinking right now seriously to contemplate that kind of result.

If that’s what happens, then a Tory minority government seems by far the most likely outcome. A coalition – either Lib/Lab or Lib/Con – seems implausible, and I wonder why the press is talking about it quite so much. Actually, I don’t see why any of the parties would pursue one. Partly, it’s that both Labour and the Tories hate the Lib Dems, and I think that matters in these kinds of circumstances.  But there are a couple of more specific points that I haven’t seen discussed much, which would seem to me to make coalition-formation really quite hard to pull off.

One is that the Lib Dems are a pretty contradictory formation, with the activists to the left of the MPs, and the MPs to the left of the bulk of the Lib Dem voters. That’s a pretty impressionistic view, to be sure, but there seems to be quite a lot to say for it. This on its own is going to paralyse the party in the event of a hung parliament, and make it basically unable to head either Right or Left in any coherent fashion. But there’s a further reason why the larger parties aren’t going to be terribly keen to deal with the Lib Dems, which is that party rules seem to require any deal to be ratified by a substantial vote of both the Lib Dems’ parliamentary party (fair enough) but also some extra-parliamentary party council or other (I forget what that’s called), and I find it hard to envisage either Brown or Cameron being willing to put the future of their own party in government into the hands of a non-parliamentary body like that.

More generally, if there’s a hung parliament, all the party bosses will be acting in a risk-averse kind of a way. They’ll all be nervous about a second general election, and none of them will be wanting to gamble much, especially not by making the kinds of gambles that will make them vulnerable to the machinations of their rivals. So: no coalition. Instead, Cameron forms a minority government, and relies on the fact that the Commons will probably be unwilling to defeat a non-crazy programme in a vote on the Queen’s Speech, on the grounds that MPs will be terrified of being punished by the electorate for playing silly buggers in an immediately-ensuing second election. (The obvious scenario is that Labour votes against and the Lib Dems abstain, and the government gets a majority — allowing everyone to save face.)

But if that’s right, then what will Cameron be doing in government? One of the few dividing lines between the parties on economic strategy has been that Labour has been talking about a severe programme of public spending cuts starting next year, and the Tories talk about moving to reduce the deficit immediately. But if there’s a Conservative minority government, it’ll be less likely to want to hit public spending immediately, as it’ll be looking to gain credibility simply by holding office, and it’ll want to hold a second general election before wielding the spending axe in a big way, and thereby becoming really unpopular. So my guess is that a Tory chancellor will stick more closely to the kind of programme Brown has been setting out, an emergency budget will be held, but it will be not especially drastic, and we’ll head into a fairly quiet period in which the Tories will try to win over a slice of centrist public opinion as a prelude to a second election, either in the Autumn or early next year – basically, as soon as they think they can win it.

And this, of course, creates problems for both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party. Obviously if Mr Brown leads Labour to their heaviest defeat since 1983, he ought to resign immediately. But Labour probably doesn’t want to have a very public post mortem and leadership battle if there’s a very fragile Tory government, however much it also doesn’t want to go into a second election campaign with Gordon Brown as its leader. On the Tory side, I’m also guessing that big chunks of the Party will be furious with Cameron: they tolerated his centrism on the condition that he won a big majority in the election, and since that’s not going to happen, there ought to be some kind of backlash – though that will be held in check by the desire not to rock the boat as the Party pursues the goal of an overall majority in the event of a second election, and enjoys at least some of the pleasures of being back in Government.

Well: obviously it won’t turn out like this. My predictions never hold. (I even thought Kerry would beat Bush.) But I do think it’s a shame that election commentary turns so much on obviously fantasy-politics considerations (will the parties do a deal on PR? will Clegg become Prime Minister? will there be a ‘progressive alliance’? and so on), rather than on thinking at all seriously about what the political dynamics and constraints of the post-election situation are in fact likely to be.

Election Slogans

Phil Edwards writes:

Quick quiz, aimed particularly at any readers who are outside the UK (or who don’t go past phone boxes very often).

Each of the following slogans has been used in street advertising by one of the main political parties contesting this election (by which I mean, one of the parties standing candidates across the country – Labour, the Tories, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, UKIP and the BNP). But can you match the slogan to the party?







Go over to the Gaping Silence for the answers, and some excellent discussion.

The A List: Where Are They Now?

Back when David Cameron’s “A-List” of preferred Tory candidates was published in 2006, I ran a series of posts on the ten of them who struck me being as most entertaining, in one way or another. Where are they now – and, specifically, will any of them be in the House of Commons after 6 May?

  1. Louise Bagshawe, the chick-lit author who once opined that President Bush’s tax cuts had “single-handedly pulled America out of the Clinton Recession”, is heading for victory in Corby.
  2. Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, ‘The Black Farmer’, who struck me as the most impressive of the A-Listees, seems to be heading for defeat in Chippenham to the Lib Dems’ Duncan Hames (whom I’m told is odious, though I don’t really know anything about him myself), but perhaps this one could still go either way.
  3. Julie Rook is the councillor from Deal who was in favour of a local kid getting fined £80 for being overheard by a police officer using the words “fuck all” in conversation with a friend. She’s fighting Wolverhampton North East, where she just isn’t going to win.
  4. Caroline Righton, the former TV-am presenter and author of The Life Audit, is in a close fight with the Lib Dems in St. Austell and Newquay, which she’ll probably lose if current levels of Lib Dem support hold up.
  5. Anti-abortion campaigner Philippa Stroud is trying to dislodge the Lib Dems in Olga Maitland’s former stamping ground of Sutton & Cheam; it’s not clear she’s going to succeed.
  6. Zac Goldsmith is trying to win Richmond Park from the Lib Dems, but I’m going to guess that he’s going to fail.
  7. Priti Patel, who worked for the Referendum Party for two years (‘an amazing experience’), is PPC for Witham, wherever that is, and ought to take the seat comfortably.
  8. Margot James may be the most prominent lesbian in today’s Conservative Party, and she’s fighting in Stourbridge, where she’ll beat Labour’s Lynda Waltho.
  9. God may have called Hannah Parker to ‘follow a path into Politics’, but the ways of the Lord are mysterious, and right now He appears to be consigning her to defeat at the hands of incumbent Ben Bradshaw in Exeter. Could be an upset, I suppose, but I doubt it.
  10. Amber Rudd, former professional ‘aristocracy coordinator’, seems to have a pretty good chance of knocking off Labour MP Michael Jabez Foster in Hastings & Rye.

So I’m guessing about half of this crowd will be returned. Not a bad hit-rate, but not quite as triumphant as it was all supposed to be once upon a time.

Retoxifying the Brand

That’s enough pointing-and-laughing at the British National Party for a while. Now for a bit of pointing and laughing at the Tories…

I’ve never had much time for Cameron and Clegg, with Cameron modelling himself on Blair, and Clegg on Cameron. But what the election campaign is bringing out is the extent to which Cameron was only ever offering the most fraudulent impersonation of Blair, and that it’s because of this that the Clegg-as-Cameron strategy is working out so very nicely for the Liberal Democrats.

The reason Blair was far more successful as a centrist politician than Cameron is managing to be is that he went out of his way to humiliate the Left of his party in public as a part of his move to the right. He chose to pick fights that he really didn’t have to fight, with the result that it made it all much easier for former Conservative voters to think that it was safe to vote Labour after all.

Cameron, by contrast, has made a lot of centrist noises, and he’s done various things that the Tory headbanger tendency doesn’t much like (stuff on the website about tackling homophobic bullying in schools, running more women candidates or candidates from ethnic minorities in winnable seats, banging on about the environment, usw), but he’s never seriously tried to stage a meaningful fight with the party’s Right, to lure them out into the open, and to slap them down in public. Bullying Norfolk South West into having Liz Truss as their PPC just doesn’t count, and when the Right tried to bully him, making it a condition of its support in the leadership campaign that he pledged to quit the European People’s Party in the European Parliament, he was happy to fall in line.  And one consequence of this kind of thing is that voters find it harder to take his centrist pretensions especially seriously.

And this is why Clegg is doing so well. Cameron’s strategy has been to try to bring centrist-minded, middle-class, non-lunatic voters into the Conservative orbit, and to fight the election as if this is the key demographic, but if you’re a C-M, M-C, N-L voter, and you want to vote for that kind of thing, there’s no good reason not to vote for the real thing (Clegg) rather than the dubious fraud (Cameron). Cameron’s only pretending to be Blair, and that’s what’s making it easy for Clegg to be what Cameron would like to be, but can’t, a politician operating entirely comfortably on the terrain of what we might call the centre-centre-right of British politics.

So we have the happy result that John Major won 31% in 1997, William Hague won 32% in 2001, Michael Howard won 33% in 2005, and David Cameron’s ‘decontaminated’ Tories are heading for, um, 34% in 2010. At this rate it’ll be another quarter century or so before they’re in spitting distance of a parliamentary majority. Happy days.

The BNP Does International Relations

From the manifesto:

The BNP will combat Islamist terrorism in Britain by halting and reversing Muslim immigration which will reduce the recruiting base for domestic terrorists, and by striking a peace treaty with the Islamic world. This peace treaty must stipulate that the Islamic world will stop trying to Islamify Britain and the West. In return, Britain will agree to refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of Islamic nations.