Peter Kenyon spins the wheel of political fortune in the event of a hung Parliament in May
Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.’ That was what the Labour leadership failed to do in 2010. It was a big mistake. By the time the polls closed on Thursday 6 May 2010, the result was clear – the Conservatives had failed yet again to win a General Election, but were the largest party. The Liberal Democrats were ready, and immediately opened talks with them. A belated attempt by Labour to woo the LibDems was frankly embarrassing. It took Labour Party leader Gordon Brown until the evening of Monday 10 May 2010 to announce his resignation as Party leader – a LibDem demand. In any event, the Parliamentary arithmetic (number of seats won by each party) did not add up to a Labour-led coalition government. According to my sources close to the ill-fated LibDem/Labour talks, they collapsed thanks to intemperate contributions from Ed Balls.
What are the lessons for 2015? Well, be prepared. Now. In the event of a hung parliament, whichever party wins the most seats will probably form the next government. At the time of writing spread betting on each of the main parties in numbers of seats is as follows:
Conservative 281 – 287, Labour 273 – 279, Liberal Democrats 26.5 – 28.5, UKIP 6 – 8, SNP 36 – 38
Source: Sporting Index 13 February 2015
This highlights vividly why, using the weight of money as an indicator, the outcome is a casino. To secure an absolute majority Labour or the Conservatives need to win at least 325 seats in the Westminster Parliament. If the punters are right, no two parties alone could form a majority government, unlike in 2010.
The largest party would have three main options: 1) seek to form a minority government on its own and rely on securing support from enough other parties on key votes, known as ‘confidence and supply’, an eye on calling an early second election, 2) seek to form a rainbow coalition i.e. comprising more that two parties, or 3) form a ‘grand’ coalition with the second largest party – as the two main parties have done in Germany. The last idea helped relieve Christmas recess boredom for some political anoraks, and was first reported in the Guardian newspaper on 2 January 2015. Unappetising as Labour going into government with the Conservatives might seem to most party members, they teamed up for the Better Together campaign to defeat the Nationalists. Admittedly that is not a very strong argument. But there are tactical reasons for giving it consideration, if only to cement the idea in the electorate’s mind that the Tories are not fit to govern – good positioning if a snap election proves necessary.
Labour-led rainbow coalition?
More likely scenarios are: an extension of the current ConDem coalition, or a rainbow-Labour led government. Keen-eyed observers of recent LibDem MPs damage limitation tactics report an increasingly rebellious tendency on their part, making then unreliable government partners unless they happen to be on the payroll. Latest opinion polling with the LibDems retaining just one seat out of their current 56 may mean Cameron’s hopes of clinging on evaporating. There had been talk of a Conservative/SNP alliance, but that seems even more remote than a ‘Grand Coalition’ given Nicola Sturgeon’s anti-austerity speech in London in mid-February. A Labour-led rainbow coalition focussed on ‘Recovery for All’ – an aspiration voiced by Labour leader Ed Miliband in his New Year message thay ought to be readily achievable. The idea of Labour making an electoral pact including the SNP just a year before the next Scottish Parliamentary elections is anathma north of the border. But the rest of the Labour Party is not going to pander to Scottish Labour sensibilities and forego power in Westminster.
So let’s cut to the chase. What are the red-line issues for Labour? Austerity? Er, not likely in the light of that New Year resolution from Miliband. Reducing the budgetary deficit during the life of the next Parliament? Ditto. Latest repositioning by the German Federal Chancellor over a Greek bailout could be helpful to anti-austerity thinking in the UK, and throughout the EU. Angela Merkel appears anxious to avoid war on two fronts at once – an economic war within the European Union and a military one on the Russo-Ukranian border. Then there is Trident. My parliamentary sources tell me that if the prize is No. 10 they don’t see that being a red-line issue for Miliband either. He won’t have to join CND to navigate round unilateral disarmers.
The greatest opposition to these necessary policy shifts is more likely from within Labour’s parliamentary ranks. Which is why the issues need a good airing in the run-up to Thursday 7 May. Sharpening Labour’s messages now can only help improve its chances of an overall majority on election day.
This article appears in CHARTIST 273