22 November 2009

Any of you kids remember February 1974?

Latest opinion poll from Ipsos MORI for the Observer raises speculation about a hung parliament - with Labour on 31%, the Tories on 37 and the Lib Dems on 17.

Despite the post title, it's not really that much like 1974; Labour was only about 1% down in the popular vote in the February general election that year, and came out with 4 more seats than the Tories, in a hung parliament. If they'd been six points down, Edward Heath would almost certainly have secured an overall majority. Heck, in 1979 Thatcher was only 7 points in front of Callaghan and still secured a majority of over 40.

But first past the post is a system which has vast potential to produce idiotic results; last time, a majority government with 35% of the vote, and perhaps this time, Labour with more seats than the Tories, despite being five or six points behind them.

This poll could be a blip - it happened just after Labour's win in the Glasgow East by-election, after all. But on pretty much all polls, the Tories are down from 20-point plus leads in the spring and summer to 10 points - or less - now. If I was Dave Cameron I'd be shitting bricks at this point.

I would laugh so much if the Tories failed to secure an overall majority - despite everything they've said about Brown being a complete turkey, etc. And I'm sure Brown would laugh too. (If he can.)

The Tories do have on ace up their sleeve in the event of a hung parliament - Nick Clegg, a carbon copy of Cameron who would, I'm sure, prefer to do a deal with Cameron than Brown. Clegg's problem is that his party would probably disintegrate into left and right factions if he did that - particularly if Cameron offered no deal on electoral reform.

Brown's best option in the event of a hung parliament is to offer a deal on electoral reform - a referendum, at least - and carry on as head of a coalition for a couple of years before resigning and giving way to a new leader. Given everyone's predictions of total electoral annihilation, it would be a very satisfying way for him to bow out.

I'm not really sure how Labour has ended up with the political momentum here - they haven't really done anything spectacularly good since the banking bailout - and even in that case, they have spectacularly failed to offer useful long-term banking reforms rather than short-term subsidies and handwaving. Probably, the main factor is that the Tory front bench - George Osborne in particular - are being increasingly scrutinised, and found to be the biggest collection of duffers possible. These guys are incapable of making a coherent speech on the economy, and in the current economic situation, that worries people. Long may it continue to do so.

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