Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Saturday, 9 January 2010

What if Iain Dale's prediction was right?

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Iain Dale has done a fun (and presumably very time consuming exercise) where he has gone through every individual seat in the country and made a prediction about who he thinks will win based on gut feel in each case. He says that the overall result surprised him:

Conservative 331
Labour 216
LibDem 69
Plaid Cymru 5
Green 1
Others 3
Northern Ireland 18*

Which would give the Conservatives an overall majority of just 12 seats.

Various posters on Political Betting question some of Iain's assumptions, the main one being that they think he has overestimated the number of Lib Dem seats, perhaps due to his own personal experience in North Norfolk against Norman Lamb in 2005.

Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to think through what an election result like this might mean for the parliament that ensued. I think there would be several main effects:

1) I do not think that David Cameron would go to the country again soon afterwards. Although a majority of 12 is very small, it is a majority. Technically he would be able to govern with no assistance needed from any other party (assuming his backbenchers hold the line!). It would be a very brave Prime Minister who gave that up in the hope of something better when it could instead be snatched away from him altogether. However...

2) Because he would have such a small majority he would have to listen to the views of his backbenchers much more keenly than the Labour government has needed to. It would be the sort of situation that I remember from the dying years of the Major government. Because there is quite a sharp divergence between some of the Conservative leadership's policies and its MPs (e.g. on climate change and Europe for example) this could start causing problems very quickly. I can imagine that Mr Cameron might even need the support of the Lib Dems and even Labour in order to get some of his measures through.

3) Related to point number 2, although the Lib Dems would only have increased slightly in number of seats, they would have greatly increased influence because of the arithmetic of the parliament. Cameron, knowing that he may need support from outside his own parliamentary ranks would likely take account of the views of the Lib Dems when drafting legislation.

4) Because some of the decisions that Cameron would have to take would be pretty unpopular (on the economy etc.) it is likely that any by-elections triggered in existing Conservative seats could easily be lost. It would only take 6 or 7 of these before his administration would become a minority one. That is perfectly possible - indeed it happened to John Major (although some of his loss of majority was due to defections which are much less likely).

5) This would make the subsequent general election in 2014 or 2015 all to play for. Because of this, I would expect that the Labour Party would not tear itself apart in opposition as the possibility of a return to power in 4 or 5 years time would be very real and this would focus their minds. One of the reasons that the Conservative Party was such a basket case from 1997 onwards is because they were so far from a return to power and they knew it.

6) Finally, I would suggest that whilst the Labour leader would not be Gordon Brown within a few months of the election, the Lib Dem leader would remain Nick Clegg right through the parliament. Having increased his party's share of seats, this would cement his (already pretty secure) position.

As it happens, I also think Iain is overstating the Lib Dem total (I think our vote share will remain about the same as 2005 but our seat number will slip slightly) but I actually think Labour will hold up better than he thinks too and as I stated in my 2010 predictions, Cameron will form a minority government.

This is all good speculative fun of which I expect much more as we move ever closer to the election.


Anonymous said...

'He would have to listen to his backbenchers very closely'.

No he would not. He would have to spell out in words of one syllable, to individual MPs if necessary, that he was not going to spend the next 4 years in the nightmare scenario of the theatre show 'Whipping It Up' being hijacked by every interest group, and digging dirt on the 'usual suspects'.

He would have to call the shots - if individual MPs started to piss about and play silly buggers he would call another General Election which they might well lose.

He would have to be very tough and bluff or a gang of 'bastards' would start to develop very quickly.

Anyone starting the old 'Well you can count on my support to bring back fox hunting if you put me in the Lords / roll out the barrel of pork / let me sleep with your wife' will have to be given short shrift or the thing will spread like an epidemic through the party.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting thoughts
Cameron would have to radically reshuffle his front bench to address that situation.
The biggest winner / loser (depending how you look at it) would have to be William Hague, whose credentials, oratory skills and popularity within the party could hardly be shoved off to the Foreign Office when he so obvioulsy needs to be at hand to keep the ship afloat. He could be the next First Secretary of State with Malcolm Rifkind keeping the FO ticking along with Hague on a promise of the Foreign Office after a second general election win...
Isn't speculation fun!

Anonymous said...

What will be interesting is to see whether Cameron's promise to introduce fixed-term parliaments survives if the arithmetic is tight.

Frugal Dougal said...

In such a situation, not all the implications would be for the Conservative Party. Labour feelings at having missed out on retaining some degree of power through a hung Parliament by a whicker would be ambivalent in the extreme, leading to a decades-long implosion from which the party may not survive.

Jennie said...

Bear in mind that Dale is going to favour the Tories on impulse in any seats that he thinks are too close to call. I still reckon we'll get 80 and Labour won't lose as many as Dale thinks to the Tories either.

We're going to be hung.

And you're going to give me a tenner :P

Cardinal Richelieu's mole said...

And you take no lessons from the example of H. Wilson's 1964 government?

Surely germane parallels abound with the election outcome Dale and you posit.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't Cameron wait for a poll bounce to call another election as Wilson did in 1966. This would be very attractive if Labour did fold in on itself following the election.

I also wonder how safe Clegg is following his effective ditching of most lib dem policies. We are often told how democratic the lib dems are and I wonder how much say your policy group (whatever it is called, sorry don't know) in the dump this week.

It seems to me that Clegg is to the right of the majority of his activists (maybe not members?).