Five predictions for the election and beyond

by Jonathan Todd

In FT Weekend, GOD – as Gus O’Donnell was known as head of the civil service 2005-2011 – reports that “by some calculations there are as many as 11 different possible outcomes” to the general election. “These include minority governments, multiparty coalitions, coalitions with side deals, variants in which some MPs do not vote on certain English issues – as well as a vanilla one-party majority”. Here are five observations on this.

1.) Whichever of David Cameron and Ed Miliband has most MPs will be PM

This might seem utterly obvious but The Economist report that as “the Scottish National Party, Greens and struggling Lib Dems (are) all prepared to support a left-leaning government … Miliband (could be in) power even if Labour wins considerably fewer seats and votes than the Tories”.

Seriously? They would make the less than universally popular Miliband PM if he has fewer MPs and votes? I’m doubtful. Equally, Cameron would not stay PM if he has fewer MPs and votes. Most MPs trumps most votes. But being behind on both MPs and votes is unsalvageable.

2.) Majority will be hard won

“We really need,” a senior Lib Dem recently told The Evening Standard, “45 MPs to go into another coalition.” More MPs than polling suggests they will return. “At some point it just becomes a matter of numbers. You have to fill Cabinet positions, junior ministerial positions, select committee chairs — things like that – while also having places for MPs sulking or who don’t want to sit in government.”

If – as Atul Hatwal predicts – they have a number of MPs in the high 30s or very low 40s, they’d fall short of this 45 MP benchmark. Meaning that, irrespective of Nick Clegg’s preferences, another coalition would be difficult for them. Lib Dem strength depends on performance in two heartlands: in the south west, where the Tories threaten, and in rural Scotland, where the SNP do. The SNP are also, of course, seeking to eat into Scottish Labour heartlands.

If the SNP successfully advance on both Labour and Lib Dems, pushing the Lib Dems below 45 MPs, it may be that the SNP is the only route to a coalition for either Labour or the Tories. Iain Anderson and David Torrance caution against concluding an agreement couldn’t be reached between the Tories and the SNP. But it wouldn’t be easy, nor would it be for Miliband if Labour does have most MPs. Nonetheless, the probability of the SNP being in government is higher than any single party forming a majority government. Some form of rapprochement with the likes of Douglas Carswell may also be considered by the Tories.

3.) Strategies for minority government are needed – which, given the provisions of the Fixed Term Parliament Act (FTPA), may endure

Lack of Lib Dem MPs and the difficulty for unionist parties in finding coalition agreement with the SNP may make minority government the only option. FTPA means that the governing party would need a two-thirds majority of MPs to call an election before May 2020. Favourable polls may make this attractive but facing such polls, the opposition would be unlikely to vote with them. A two-thirds majority may, then, be a bridge too far.

Alternatively, if the polls favour the opposition, they may seek an election by moving a confidence motion. The governing party should, therefore, anticipate this through ‘supply and confidence’ arrangements.

The Lib Dems may not have enough MPs to go into coalition but they may be prepared to provide ‘supply and confidence’ to Labour, while the SNP might be goaded into also doing so, as failing to do so may precipitate Conservative government, unlikely to be a popular in Scotland, where memories of SNP votes helping Margaret Thatcher into power persist.

4.) Minority government should prompt politicians to sharpen their capacity to deliver change through non-legislative means

‘Supply and confidence’ might sustain minority government. But as Anthony Painter writes, “legislation (would only) pass on the basis of hard-won consensus and mobilisation”. This need, however, not be the end of the world. “Instead of immediately reaching for Parliament, Secretaries of State would have to think through how to influence the systems they wanted to change. They would have to engage professionals, local leaders and even service users to a greater extent.” The invariable political focus on headlines and legislation would necessarily re-orientate to the hard yards of delivery, potentially increasing the value added of MPs and ministers.

5.) First Past The Post (FPTP) may save the Lib Dems’ bacon – but seems more broken than when they used to tell us it was

FPTP might allow the Lib Dems to dig in and maintain 45 MPs or so on a historically poor share of the national vote, which is the kind of anomaly they once bemoaned. Others would counter, “FPTP produces strong governments”. That seems, though, unlikely this year. If the emergence of six or more party politics prevents FPTP doing what it says on its tin, we should look at alternatives.

Deals and carve-ups appear likely this year. This will continue to be so if six or more party politics persists. In which case, we should look to an electoral system that deepens, as far as possible, genuine public deliberation before these deals are done.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

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7 Responses to “Five predictions for the election and beyond”

  1. Tom says:

    I’m sitting here having just had yet another newspaper delivered to my door from the Lib Dems extolling the virtues of the MP. There’s been one big leaflet from the Tories and as usual absolute zilch from Labour.

    With three, dare I say it, excellent hard-working Lib Dem cllrs and a strong machine behind them I predict a win for the Lib Dems in this would-be Tory seat.

  2. Robert says:

    The last point is the most important. The SNP and Lib Dems are both likely to get more seats than is justified by their share of the vote. They are also likely to decide whether Labour or the Conservatives lead the government. This could result in a government that lacks legitimacy and might even make the Conservatives reconsider their support of first past the post.

  3. paul barker says:

    You have ignored the position of Labours largest donor – Unite, which has said it will oppose any Coalition.

  4. Mike says:

    You cannot based on a presumably messy 2015 election say FPTP is over. It has provided string, majority Government for 60 years with only 1974 being the exception. If 2020 was also messy then support would grow, justifiable, to change the system.

    It is conceivable that by 2020 UKIP would fall further (they were at 15% last year but there polling is showing some signs of fading. They could easily poll around 10% in 2015 and then decline further by 2020).

  5. Mike says:

    Robert – you make a fair point. But lets say the Conservatives go down to 280 seats and 34% of the vote. I would think they would be happy to serve one term in opposition by which time Miliband, being propped up by the SNP would be thoroughly discredited and unpopular.

    They would not fall back to 165 seats like they had in 1997 which is what took them so long to climb back. At least when Labour loses badly (2010 was worse in % share than the Tories in 1997) they had in the low 200’s. Making it much easier to get to 326.

    Also an addition to point 1. What if the Conservatives lose by say 2 seats but have 1-2% more of the vote (200,00 plus votes). Given how the votes are distributed it is very conceivable that the Conservatives have the most votes but slightly less seats. After all they were the most popular in England in 2005, when Labour got a reasonable majority. Now Labour is much weaker in Scotland and the Tories have climbed back a bit in Wales.

  6. John. Reid says:

    Paul barker, Ed should tell unite, he’s in charge, the fire brigade Union, were de affiliated after they also funded SNP 10 years ago,and have since be re aligned, if they can be funded by both, then Unite will have to accept, they don’t call the shots,

    Tom,right,labour have took for granted core seats, claiming we can’t afford to pay for leaflets in those seats, as such, obsessed with marginals,as we throw money down the drain, we can’t even afford a few leaflets in sets with big majorities,

    RE; Article
    I predict
    Ukip 9%
    Lindens 7%
    Others 2%
    NI. 3%
    Greens 5%
    SNP. 4%
    That means labour will get either 31 or 32 and Tory 38 or 39 depending on low turnout, the Tories could get less votes than 2010 but. Higher percentage,I also feel that remaining orange book Libdems may hold their nose and vote Tory, giving the Tories a majority of between 1 and 65,labour still doing well in the marginals

    Which according to ukpollingreport, will see the SNP hardly win any targets,and the Libdems wiped out

    So first past the post is out the window,we’ll have to have a form of PR and accept multi party coalitions,as such the fixed terms parliament deal, should be scrapped and that 4 year parliaments reintroduced,

  7. Tafia says:

    The repeated use of SMP and Coalition shows a lack of awareness. The SNP have already said they will not go into coalition with Labour as they see a confidence and supply system
    based on a cast iron shopping list in order of preference – ie first time you meed their vote, you agree to item one on the list, second time item two etc etc. So the bill for the forst Queens Speech is already known – the agreement to remove TRIDENT from Scottish territory.

    The SNP and Lib Dems are both likely to get more seats than is justified by their share of the vote.

    That’s been going on with Labour & the Tories for decades. B;airs best ever was 43% of the vote (less than 30% of the electorate) in 1997 yet he had a massive majority.

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