Although the present MPs' expenses scandal is now turning to backbench Tory MPs claiming for swimming pools and the upkeep of their country mansions, which may rub off rather badly on the Conservatives, on balance I think it's a safe bet to assume that the Government will come off worst from this because they are the people who should have been doing something about it.
Combined with McBridegate and all the other crap that has happened over the past 2 years, it seems to me almost inconceivable that Labour could now emerge from the next election with an overall majority. I think a general election campaign would narrow the poll gap between the two parties, mainly because the economy would be a key focus, and although Labour's promises of an end to boom and bust have been revealed as total eyewash, the Tories - and in particular George Osborne - still look completely unconvincing in terms of economic policy. Does anybody know what they would do differently to Labour if in power? OK so they might be deliberately vague in the style of pre-1997 Tony Blair, but Labour at least had a few soundbites to rely on - "more teachers", "tough on crime" etc. The Tories haven't even got that.
Having said that, Cameron is popular (largely because the British people seem to have this obsession with political leaders being carbon copies of Tony Blair, for reasons I will probably never understand. We have two of them now - Cameron and Clegg...) and so I think the Tories will at least be the largest party. Because of the bias in the electoral system, they probably need to be around 6 points in front to secure an overall majority - which again, is likely.
From my POV the relationship between number of Labour seats and my confidence in the prospects for Labour going forward (in terms of becoming a real force for positive political change in this country) is U-shaped. The scenario of a hung parliament, and the scenario of a complete wipeout - Labour reduced below 200 seats or so - are both more appealing than a clear but not landslide defeat - say a Tory majority of around 50.
Why? Because a hung parliament or a wipeout offer more opportunity for change and less opportunity for more of the crap we've had to endure over the last 11 years.
In a hung parliament the Conservatives would probably go into coalition with the Lib Dems. If Clegg has any political ability whatsoever (still largely unproven either way), some form of proportional representation would have to be introduced. Which could lead to a huge political realignment, with at least 4 main parties:
- hard right (low tax Eurosceptic. David Davis, Michael Gove, maybe George Osborne. ).
- centre-right/post-Blairite (authoritarian, stealth privatisation of public services. Dave Cameron, Steve Byers, Alan Milburn, Charles Clarke, Ken Clarke)
- rump Lib Dems (civil liberties, localism, pro-EU. The Nick Clegg personality cult essentially. If it goes more libertarian, we could see David Davis in this camp as well).
- left (tax and spend, social democrat. Jon Cruddas, Ed Miliband, maybe Vince Cable. Would be most effective if combined with the Greens for a red/green agenda)
This would be a much more honest cut of the British political cake than the current two-and-a-half party mish-mash.
Of course, without PR (and it's possible Clegg wouldn't have the political acumen to make that bargain) a Tory-Lib Dem coalition could be disastrous; a moderate cover for savage right wing tax cut and spending cut policies. But there is at least a possibility that this scenario could produce a good outcome.
In the wipeout scenario, by contrast, Labour goes below 200 seats. This would be very tough in the short run, with a lot of bloodletting and recriminations. The silver lining to the cloud is that the Blairites - and the duff elements of the Brownites - would most probably lose control of the party to a reconstituted left wing. The blinding reality of the total failure of Blair/Brown as an economic strategy would probably see to that. Dave Cameron would be left to carry on the legacy of Tony Blair, which will largely manifest itself in huge rises in economic inequality, the decimation of public services as a prelude to privatisation, and other right-wing nastiness. Given that there is a real likelihood that the Tories will make a complete hash of things (in the Ted Heath style), this outcome really isn't as bad as it looks. Labour could sweep back in after just one term out of office as long as they get their shit together. I will come back to likely leadership candidates in the final post (for now) on this topic, later this week.
The most dangerous scenario is the moderate defeat - because it won't be enough of an electoral beating to dislodge the cretins who are running the party at the moment. Of course Brown will go, but there's a much greater chance that a Brownite (or Blairite) candidate would prevail in the leadership contest to follow. This is also a risk in the hung parliament scenario, but due to the possibility of electoral reform and the fluidity and instability of the situation, that looks preferable to me.
For this reason I am actually rather encouraged by the latest batch of polls showing Labour at 23%. If they can get below 20, I am fairly confident of the wipeout to end all wipeouts. Then we can Take Out The Trash and start again. It will not be easy, but then neither is the prospect of another generation of Blairite/Brownite zombies running things.
I will come back to the leadership contenders later this week.