Time to revisit some of the predictions I made before polling day, to see how they stack up in light of events…
Concerning the outcome, I wrote that “my hunch… is that the Tories are going to win fewer than 300 seats.” Well, they made it to over 300, though not by much, but what was really wrong with my guess at the Tory seat-count was that the assumptions I was working from proved to be quite wrong. I thought both that the Lib Dems would win all their seats, and make inroads into the Con-Lib marginals and that the Labour vote would be much less resilient in the Con-Lab marginals – and in the end things were the other way around: the Lib Dem “surge” failed to materialise, and in the end they lost ground to the Tories; while the Labour vote held up pretty well, and the party was able to hold on to 250+ of its seats.
Thinking about the prospect of a hung parliament, then, I said that I thought “a Tory minority government seems by far the most likely outcome”, and that a coalition government “seems implausible”. I gave three reasons: first, the parties hate one another; second, that the Lib Dems were an unbalanced formation, “with the activists to the left of the MPs, and the MPs to the left of the bulk of the Lib Dem voters”, and that this would work to paralyze the party in tricky political manoeuvrings; third, that the Lib Dems’ rules – the so-called “triple lock” – for ratifying a deal would mean that the other party leaders would be reluctant to try to deal with them.
Obviously, I was spectacularly wrong here, apparently on all three counts. First, there really doesn’t seem to be any significant animosity between the Tories and the Lib Dems, but rather the love-fest we’ve been witnessing over the last few days. Second, the initial analysis of data about how people voted seems to have more Lib Dem voters identifying with the centre-left rather than with points further right. (Though I still think that the votes the Lib Dems were chasing most energetically were right-of-centre votes in Lib-Con marginals.) And, third, as we saw today, the “triple lock” was terribly easy for the leadership to get through – I was following the #ldconf tweetfeed earlier today, and apart from one special conference delegate denouncing the coalition as an attack on the Welsh working class, there seemed to be general approval of the leadership’s behaviour, and achievements, over the last week-and-a-bit.
I think the clue to my general wrongness may come, though, in what I went on to get more or less right. I said that I thought that “if there’s a hung parliament, all the party bosses will be acting in a risk-averse kind of a way” as “they’ll all be nervous about a second general election”. But I was imagining that the Lib Dems would be gaining seats in the election, and that a Tory party that had failed to secure a majority would be unwilling to deal with a party that felt itself on an incoming tide. In fact, of course, the story of election night was Lib Dem failure, to the extent that the Lib Dems were sufficiently afraid of the prospect of that second general election that they were willing to countenance transforming themselves into, in effect, the left wing of the Conservative Party in order to avoid it. I thought that this kind of fear would get in the way of two parties making a deal; in fact (as Charles Kennedy confirmed in today’s Observer), it seems to be what made it possible.
Happily, my final paragraph of speculation proved to be spot on – “obviously it won’t turn out” as I forecast, I said, before going on to denounce three specific bits of punditry as fantasy politics: the prospect of a deal on PR, Clegg becoming Prime Minister, or the so-called “progressive alliance” beloved of the Toynbee tendency in the punditocracy. So, at least I got something right.