A few months ago this might have seemed like a ridiculous idea but with the polls having narrowed quite significantly in the last few months with one recent poll putting the Tories just 2 points ahead it is possible that Labour may emerge after the election as the largest party. If things went very well for them it is even possible that they could just scrape a majority.
I just wanted to briefly consider how things might pan out if that was to happen.
I think firstly we would be stuck with Brown as PM for a while. Although many within his own party and outside it would want him to go, if he had just "won" an election then he would have a fresh mandate. I expect it would be a couple of years at least before there was any serious move to oust him (and we all know how well those attempt have gone in the last couple of years!). Having said that, the Lib Dems could play a crucial role here. If Labour were short of a majority then the Lib Dems could insist that Brown went before any sort of support could be offered. I can forsee problems with this approach but I think it would be the only way we see the back of Brown in the first couple of years of a new parliament under these circumstances.
Secondly, it would be a nightmare for Brown and his party to govern like this. They have known only either huge or pretty big majorities since 1997. To have to switch to governing either in minority or with a very small majority will be very difficult. Brown is not a consensual politician. He is a very tribal and divisive figure. The idea that he might have to reach out across party lines is anathema to him. He would also always be teetering on the brink of losing votes in the Commons, any one of which could precipitate a vote of no confidence. If you think Brown is paranoid and has a bunker mentality now, wait until he finds himself in this situation!
Thirdly Labour will find it very, very hard to make the eventual adjustments in public spending that are required in order to get the deficit under control. Indeed they have legislated to halve it within a few years and have hence effectively tied their own hands. If they don't do it they will be ridiculed. If they do it will likely entail some very painful measures. I do not think they will try right away but if we are to avoid a fiscal crisis they will have to get a grip on public spending within the first year or two. I fear that they just won't be able to do it. Especially if Brown is at the helm which brings me to my fourth point:
Ed Balls would replace Alistair Darling the day after the election as Chancellor of Exchequer. It is Westminster's worst kept secret that Brown wanted Balls in No 11 during his reshuffle last June but was blocked from doing so. Well after an election "victory" he would have the chance to follow through on this. This ties in with the third point because Balls is made in his master's image and it would effectively mean Brown was back in direct control of the Treasury again. With no robust control independent of No 10, the temptation to use the Treasury in the way Brown really wanted to in the last year, i.e. to promote dividing lines with the Tories will be a temptation too great to resist for Brown I fear which is why I think they will fail to control the deficit.
Another consequence would be that David Cameron would resign as Conservative leader. A bit like with Brown, there is actually no obvious successor to Cameron at the moment so I could not predict how a subsequent leadership election would go. There is a real risk though that the detoxification and centre ground positioning that Cameron spent so long pursuing gets thrown out of the window as the party concludes that its salvation lies in moving to the right again as it did in 2001 and 2005. Perhaps I am being unfair in thinking that could happen but with the recriminations flying around for the election just lost (Tories hate losing elections more than anyone else) it will be a febrile atmosphere and who knows what lessons they will draw. There is historical evidence to think they will be very tempted to move right.
I think Nick Clegg would stick with the idea of not forming a coalition even if there is a hung parliament. Instead I think my party would help the government pass legislation on a case-by-case basis but in this way they would wield significant influence as if we were very unhappy with a particular piece of legislation then we could elect not to vote for it or vote against it and this would have to be borne in mind when it was being drafted.
I think Labour being the largest party is still pretty unlikely but not as unlikely as it seemed when the Tories were 20 points ahead.
I am interested to hear what other people think the consequences of a Labour victory would be.