19 April 2010

Uncharted territory

New YouGov poll today takes the Lib Dems into the previously uncharted territory of being in the lead: Lib Dem 33%, Tories 32, Labour 26.

The BBC calculator reckons this would leave the Tories with slightly more seats than Labour but still about 80 or so short of a majority, with the Lib Dems on about 140 seats. Again, this would mean that either Labour or the Tories could form a coalition with the Lib Dems.

Given that Clegg says he will in the first instance approach the party with the strongest "mandate" - which on seats, in this case, would be the Tories - we need to start thinking seriously about how a Lib Dem/ Tory coalition would play out. The main issue is that the differences between the two parties on electoral reform are so great that I don't see how it can happen unless Cameron caves in and agrees to STV for general elections (possible if he's desperate enough) or Clegg abandons his demands (again possible, but he'd be a fool, particularly as he'd almost definitely get more traction on this with Labour.)

The most likely scenario if we do get the Tories as the largest party but a very long way short of a majority is that the Queen invites Cameron to form a government, he gets defeated on a confidence vote, and then we get a Labour/Lib Dem coalition.

It would all be a lot easier, however, if Labour does manage to secure more seats than the Tories. That way, Brown would probably get the chance to form a government first and no-one would have to f*** around with Dave Cameron.

It could be, of course, that Brown gets the chance to form a coalition even if Labour has less seats than the Tories. In Feb 1974, as the sitting PM, Ted Heath was allowed a few days to try to thrash out a deal with the Liberals even though the Tories had less seats (but more votes) than Labour.

The problem, as so often in British politics, is that there aren't clearly codified rules for this sort of thing - just convention and the views of self-appointed "constitutional experts". So don't blame me if the whole thing falls apart and we have anarchy on the streets. (But then, some of you kids are just waiting for that, aren't you?)

The election has now become great fun. Like one of those American football plays where someone fumbles the ball, once it gets picked up, the carefully-planned set pieces that the coaches have relied on for so many years are useless and the players on the field are forced to rely on their instincts. It's painfully obvious that neither Labour nor Tory strategists (nor indeed, Lib Dem strategists) had planned for a scenario where the Lib Dems suddenly leapfrog into the lead 2 weeks into the campaign. It's entirely possible that the Lib Dem bandwagon could become an unstoppable force - particularly if Clegg can persuade the huge numbers of people that have zoned out of politics completely over the last few years to give him a chance. If the Lib Dems can get up to about 40%, we could be looking at a Lib Dem landside victory. And then... who the hell knows?

As one of the media commentators in the Sunday papers (can't remember who unfortunately) was saying, the Daily Telegraph may have handed Nick Clegg the election by breaking the expenses scandal last summer. Although a few Lib Dems were involved in that, the overwhelming focus was on Labour and Tory MPs. This created a climate where attacking the "old politics" is a more effective strategy than ever before. In a way, all Clegg had to do in that first debate was look like an honest and competent guy - and he certainly delivered on that. It may get harder for the Lib Dems as other parties scrutinise their policies (although most of the attacks delivered by Labour and the Tories so far are laughable) but the evidence is that huge swathes of voters stopped listening to both Labour and the Tories some time ago.

It could be that the only way to save the "old politics" after the election is a Labour-Conservative coalition. That doesn't bear thinking about.

God, I love elections... wish we could have one every year.

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