Five questions for general election week 2015

by Jonathan Todd

I can barely remember before we were looking beyond 7 May 2015 and soon this fateful date will be pasted. Five questions for this precipice:

Will a “Sheffield rally moment” happen?

George Osborne quickly jumped on #EdStone to declare it a “Sheffield rally moment”. It wasn’t. But Osborne seizes on any chance to blur Ed Miliband with Neil Kinnock, now, sadly, cast in stone as the embodiment of unfitness to govern. It is not just Miliband, however, at risk of “Sheffield rally moment”. David Cameron, shouting “up the hammers” as he fights for his career/country, has dropped clangers.

It is extra time in the cup final. The teams are exhausted. A piece of magic could break the deadlock. Or a horrible mistake. Which now seems much more likely than magic.

Can the Tories make it to 290 MPs?

290 Tory MPs is held out by experts – for example, Professor Tim Bale speaking at the RSA recently – as a golden number. Meet this threshold and routes to Conservative-led government remain open, fall short and they rapidly close.

While projected as the party with most seats and votes, they are falling short of this threshold on Peter Kellner’s last election projection. But these figures just about allow the Conservatives to combine with the Liberal Democrats and the DUP to build an effective Commons majority. Falling short of 290, however, particularly if this is accompanied by an absence of Liberal Democrat support, would make Conservative life very hard.

Can Labour build bridges with the Lib Dems?

If Oliver Coppard succeeds in his energetic campaign to remove Nick Clegg from Sheffield Hallam, a discombobulated Liberal Democrat Party will return to Westminster. The Conservatives could not be confident of the support of such a party. Even if Clegg wins, though, peeling the Liberal Democrats away from the Conservatives should remain a Labour goal.

Supporting a second Cameron government would forever reduce the Liberal Democrats to a Conservative adjunct in many eyes, while support for a Miliband government would be based on a larger policy crossover than that which now exists between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. One term with the Conservatives, one term with Labour, would also better sustain the Liberal Democrat claim that they are honest brokers than two with the Conservatives – especially if the parliamentary arithmetic of 2015 is more favourable to Labour and Liberal Democrat co-working than in 2010.

If Labour have more seats than the Tories, we should be confident of framing the choice to the Liberal Democrats in these terms. If we are close to the Tory total, this case might still persuade them, especially sans Clegg. If Labour falls too far short of the Conservatives, this case risks fraying on a claimed lack of legitimacy.

I’ve recently heard Labour spokespeople stumble when asked whether the party with most votes and seats must form the government. “If they can command a Commons majority,” is the answer. Labour should force the debate on to Commons arithmetic. Liberal Democrat support for Labour helps these numbers add up and also with the more nebulous task of dousing a Miliband government, in a context of Labour holding fewer votes and seats than the Conservatives, with popular legitimacy.

Will Labour’s Godfathering of the SNP hold?

Labour’s line on the SNP was hardened by Miliband on BBC Question Time. It can be termed – with a hat tip to Mark Ferguson – the Godfather line. “My offer is this… Nothing”.

Labour are calling the SNP’s bluff and daring them to risk Conservative government, toxically unpopular in Scotland, by voting down Labour budgets and Queen’s speeches composed of policy that the SNP would find it hard to oppose. As the SNP have nowhere to go but support Labour, they are hardly the tail wagging the Labour dog, so now the Labour argument implies.

If, however, Cameron quickly moves to declare victory after 7 May, he’ll need a Commons majority to cement this, which might be defeated by Labour and SNP votes. This might undermine the disassociation between Labour and the SNP sought by Labour’s Godfathering. Any such undermining would be a defeat for Labour on the terrain of legitimacy, not arithmetic, which Labour would be insulated from by Liberal Democrat support.

Will Boris Johnson strike? Will Martin McGuinness? Anyone else?

Johnson might fancy his chances of becoming prime minister in rapid order if the Conservatives oppose a minority Labour government. South of 280 Tory MPs and Cameron can be expected to go quickly. North of 290 and he’ll fancy his chances of remaining prime minister. In-between and we might wonder whether Johnson thinks his interests are best served by pushing Cameron toward Downing Street or the exit.

If Cameron’s route to Downing Street is sustained by the DUP, we might also wonder whether Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin would seek to deflate any sense of enhanced DUP importance.

Miliband can famously complete a Rubik cube quickly. That of UK politics may take longer after 7 May, resting uneasily as it does on a series of distinct ecosystems, not least those of Northern Irish and Scottish politics. There may even be a way for the Welsh to paint themselves on a larger canvass than usual.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut     

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2 Responses to “Five questions for general election week 2015”

  1. John P Reid says:

    The Sheffield rally,as an example of labour losing an election they could have won, is the biggest fallacy,since Tony Benns -labour lost in 83 as it wasn’t left wing enough.

    There were very few people who didn’t vote Labour due to it,of the additional 2.5m votes labour needed to win that time,

    There were those thinking of voting liberal who panicked at labour winning,went back to the Tories, the public, hadn’t forgot, both the 74 governments taxation, bankrupting us, the winter of discontent and the loony left, the Tory press had 10 years of smearing Kinnock, and how could Kinnock be taken seriously, when he’d endorsed the 83 manifesto, only to stand in a manifesto in 1992 rejecting all he stood for, plus the Tories had dumped Thatcher and the poll tax,a lot of people had never had it so good, even in a recession,

    The structure of voting means the Tories can get a landslide on 10% more of the vote than labour but not get a overall majority on 8% more, it’s possible although unlikely
    That if they got 40% to us in 30% it could happen

  2. Tafia says:

    I believe the ‘Sheffield Incident’ is now largely regarded as an error in polling by the polling companies and that they had failed to pick up on a fall in support for Labour that had actually happened a week before,

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