Last week I attended a Conservative Intelligence event on how the Conservatives may win the next election. Stephen Shakespeare, CEO of YouGov, was adamant that the next election will once again result in a hung Parliament. In 1992 just over 80% of voters chose either Labour or Conservative; in 2010 this figure was closer to 65%. Having looked at the electoral maths and polling one must conclude Stephen is right.
There is a lot of talk about what type of post-election deals may be made in 2015, but why would the Lib Dems look to make a post-election deal when they would be stronger making a pre-election deal? Rather than fighting both the Conservatives and Labour the Lib Dems are likely to have more seats if they only have to worry about one.
The spectrum of the 1997 election still haunts us
This was the election where New Labour and the Lib Dems tactically united to decimate the Conservative powerbase. In the three elections since the Conservatives have fought back much of the red tide in Southern seats and parts of the Midlands, but the Lib Dems have held onto most of their 1997 gains.
Those who wishfully believe that the Lib Dems will be nuked in 2015 have not considered the electoral maths. Of the 58 seats Clegg’s party hold the Conservatives are second in 66% of them. In only 3 of these 38 seats Labour are close enough in third place to make a winning leap possible. The other 35 roughly have a profile of Lib Dem 21,000 votes, Conservatives 18,000, Labour 3,500 and UKIP 1,200.
What is good for the Tories is a nightmare for both the Lib Dems and Labour
The Conservatives best hope is for the Lib Dem vote to collapse towards Labour, thus allowing the Tory candidate through. This scenario is a nightmare for the Lib Dems – as they will lose so many seats that they will not have influence, and for Labour – as it will be tougher for them to be the biggest party after the next election.
This ‘cause and effect’ points to the possibility to the resurrection of the 1997 marriage of convenience, a dusting off of the Jenkins Commission. Back then Tony Blair’s charisma delivered a massive majority, meaning that Labour could jilt the Lib Dems at the altar. Ed Miliband will never be able to achieve such a result.
Matthew Elliott, the successful CEO of the ‘No to AV’ campaign, was adamant that the Conservatives must get the boundary review through otherwise Labour has an inbuilt advantage in the electoral system. The problem Conservatives have is that the Lib Dems are reluctant to support the changes unless they get a significant change to the constitution. Electoral reform is an issue that is part of the Lib Dems soul. So far they have not been able to take their two chances to change the electoral system. In 1997 Labour’s huge majority meant that Blair & Co could comfortably kick the issue into the long grass. In 2010 the financial crises, plus unclear thinking on where Lib Dem red-lines should be, meant that the Lib Dems got a bad deal on constitutional reform – a referendum on the AV system which no-one wanted. The Lib Dem membership will not allow the leadership to make such a weak deal on what is an absolutely crucial subject for them. The 2015 election will be about long-time Lib Dem survival. Whether that be reforming the House of Lords to be a majority elected chamber or changing the voting system to a form of PR, the Lib Dems are desperate to remove first-past-the-post politics.
The two scenarios
1) The Lib Dems support the boundary review because the Conservatives push through legislation to create an elected House of Lords. There is a tactical agreement for the 2015 election where Conservatives and Lib Dems do not harm each other, thus making the continuation of a Conservative/Lib Dem coalition more likely.
2) The Lib Dems refuse to support the boundary review because the Conservatives do not support any constitutional change. The 2015 election is fought on the current boundaries and the Lib Dems do a deal with Labour over a potential coalition document which includes significant constitutional reform.
A pre-ordained election?
A pre-election deal, where the Lib Dems sacrifice the seats where Labour can be beat them but are guaranteed to get Labour support in the 38 seats where Conservatives are second, would make it almost impossible for the Conservatives to be the biggest party – even before a vote has been cast. Alternatively, if the boundary reforms happen and the Conservatives and Lib Dems come to an agreement then a continuation of the current Coalition would be very likely.
Though, as Tim Montgomerie pointed out the economic situation may change everything, as might a decision by the Scots to leave the UK.