With just over 100 days to go before the general election, the two biggest parties are deeply worried that their support is not big enough.
Labour and the Conservatives are desperate to win back supporters who have drifted off to the once “minor parties”, who may play a major role after May 7.
Labour plans to revive memories of Ralph Nader, the American political activist who stood as the Green Party candidate in the 2000 Presidential election. His 2.7 per cent of the vote was blamed for handing George W Bush victory over the Democrats’ Al Gore. Labour hopes that will strike a chord with people tempted to vote for the resurgent Greens or rampant Scottish National Party, who pose an increasingly dangerous double threat to Ed Miliband’s hopes of becoming prime minister. As one Labour source told me: “People should remember that Ralph Nader brought the world George W Bush and the Iraq War instead of President Al Gore and radical action on climate change.”
David Cameron has a similar headache in the form of Ukip. Yesterday the Conservatives also resorted to scare tactics, sending out personalised emails targeting people who may not vote on May 7. “Imagine if that meant Ed Miliband became prime minister,” the message said, alongside an unflattering photo of the Labour leader and the words: “Scary, isn’t it?”
The big two parties are rattled. The old certainties of an election decided in Labour-Tory marginals are gone. Ukip and the Greens will not win many seats but could decide the outcome in scores of marginals. The best Tory and Labour brains have no idea how that will play out. Then there is Scotland, where the SNP could easily deny Mr Miliband the keys to Downing Street.
In a poster today, the Tories showed Mr Miliband and Alex Salmond embracing outside Number 10 and warned: “The SNP would prop up Ed Miliband –meaning chaos for Britain.” This refers to the SNP’s willingness to enter a post-election arrangement with Labour, but not the Tories. The SNP would not enter a formal coalition like the present one and take Cabinet seats. But it might support a minority Labour government in key Commons votes –a “confidence and supply” deal.
Mr Miliband has no intention of hopping into bed with the SNP. But he may need to warn Scottish voters explicitly that if they vote for the Scottish Nationalists in the hope of getting a Labour-SNP government, they may end up with a Tory one.
The Lib-Con Coalition has provided stable government since 2010. And yet a looser “confidence and supply” deal is the flavour of the month. Ukip, the Greens and the SNP talk up the prospect. In their private “war-gaming” for a hung parliament, senior Labour figures recall that under Harold Wilson in the 1960s and 1970s, Labour did not seek a deal with another party and governed as a minority administration, challenging the other parties to vote down its measures in the Commons. They point out that Wilson managed to stay in power but that his successor James Callaghan lost the 1979 election after entering a Lib-Lab pact.
Labour veterans of that era draw a different history lesson, pointing to the chaos of cobbling together a majority in Commons votes and the “pork barrel” politics of bribing minor parties to support an ailing government.
I suspect that much of the current hostility towards a full-scale coalition is pre-election positioning. I have a feeling that, in the cold light of a hung parliament on May 8, the largest party might realise that a coalition would again provide more stability than relying on its maverick backbenchers or unpredictable smaller parties who would make Commons votes a lottery.
Some Tory backbenchers who a year ago vowed “never again” to a coalition with the pesky Liberal Democrats are warming towards the idea. “David Cameron would want a coalition,” one ally said. “When push comes to shove, our MPs might buy it after all.”
Experts' predictions for the general election
Experts' predictions for the general election
1/10 Andrew Hawkins (ComRes)
Just as the polls in 2010 pointed to no overall majority for any party, the overwhelming evidence points to Labour either being the largest party or getting a small majority, probably below 20. The Lib Dems and SNP should each win between 25 and 35 seats, with single-figure wins for both Ukip and the Greens.
2/10 Joe Twyman (YouGov)
I predict it will be close. I predict a few tremors, though earthquakes are unlikely. I predict the eventual winner may not be the direct result of public opinion, but instead the outcome of political negotiations. It’s too early to predict numbers given all the uncertainties surrounding (among other things) Ukip, the SNP and the Lib Dems. It is possible that it will be close between Conservative and Labour in terms of both votes and seats. The Lib Dems might retain 20-30 seats and the balance of power, despite small gains for the SNP, and at most half a dozen Ukip seats. Gun to my head? Labour minority government.
3/10 Ben Page (Ipsos MORI)
A mug’s game for this election months away, but my predictions in order of likelihood: most likely a hung parliament or coalition of some kind, closely followed by either a small Labour majority or an equally small Conservative majority. Given how close the parties are, the unknown performance of Ukip in key marginals, the effect of incumbency on Lib Dem losses, the final size of SNP surge and so on, to be more precise is simply foolish! Professor Tetlock, who found that forecasts by experts were only slightly better than throwing dice, weighs heavily upon me!
4/10 Rick Nye (Populus)
I can see a hung parliament, where Labour is the largest party in terms of seats – though not necessarily in terms of votes, with the Lib Dems having 30 seats or fewer, the SNP having up to 20 seats and Ukip having no more than five seats. In short, it’s going to get messy and stay messy for some time to come.
5/10 Nick Moon (GfK)
I can’t recall there ever being an election more difficult to predict than this one. I’m confident no party will have an overall majority, with the Tories probably the largest party but no single partner for a viable coalition, with the Lib Dems on 25 seats, the SNP 20, Ukip three, and the Greens one.
6/10 Damian Lyons Lowe (Survation)
We might have expected a workable Labour majority, were it not for the wild-card rise of the SNP in Scotland. Survation’s December Scottish polls suggest an almost complete wipeout by the SNP in Scotland and result in 40+ seat gains – mostly at Labour’s expense. My current predictions are: Labour the largest party by 40-50 seats over the Tories, no overall majority; Tories 235-255 seats; Lib Dems 20-30 seats; SNP 30-40 seats – maybe held back from potential support level by opposition incumbency and tactical voting by pro-unionist voters. Finally, Ukip, 5-10 wins from Conservatives, including Rochester and Clacton, and potentially a single Labour-seat surprise.
7/10 Michelle Harrison (TNS)
The battleground over the next three months is at the kitchen table – the difference between what the statistics tell us about the economy, the experience that Britons are having of managing their household budgets, and where – and if – they believe politics can make a difference. In this regard, the disconnect with the major political parties is more interesting than the horse race.
8/10 James Endersby (Opinium Research)
Our first poll for 2015 shows Labour one point ahead [see above], but polls four months out from an election are snapshots, not predictions. It would be extremely unwise for a pollster to make a firm prediction now. At the moment, Opinium’s estimate on polling day would be the Tories slightly ahead on vote share, but Labour slightly ahead on seats. These numbers are based on a uniform swing, with tweaks to Green and Ukip numbers based on local information: Labour 320 seats, Conservatives 271, Lib Dems 20, SNP 16, Plaid Cymru three, Greens two, Ukip four. A hung parliament with Labour potentially closer to a majority coalition than the Conservatives.
9/10 Martin Boon (ICM)
I’ve not recovered from the Scottish referendum campaign yet, and here we go with another wildcard strewn nail-biter. For me, Labour on 30 per cent will only fractionally nudge past their woeful 2010 showing – behind the Tories on 33 per cent – but enough to secure more seats (290 for Labour, 280 for the Tories) on boundary wackiness. The Lib Dems will secure 14 per cent of the vote and 35 seats; Ukip will also get 14 per cent, but that only gets them a couple of seats. As for Scotland, I’m bewildered, but as you asked I’ll say 30 seats for the SNP, which wipes out a breathing-space victory in seats for Labour.
10/10 Lord Ashcroft (Lord Ashcroft Polls)
Declined to take part. His spokeswoman said: “As he has said many times, his polls are snapshots not predictions.” Health warning: when The Independent on Sunday carried out a similar exercise in April 2010, at the start of that year’s election campaign, eight out of eight pollsters predicted a Conservative overall majority.
The only party outside the big two to admit it wants bums on Cabinet seats is the Lib Dems. Nick Clegg’s party has been eclipsed by the new kids on the block – Ukip, the SNP and the Greens, the latter hoovering up Lib Dem 2010 voters who might otherwise have gone to Labour. The Lib Dems get little credit for ensuring stable government since 2010 and deserve more. Indeed, the fact that they could lose half the 57 seats they won last time is one reason why the smaller parties are reluctant to join a coalition, fearing the same fate.
Although the Lib Dems are often written out of the script, they could still be the third largest party after May and play a pivotal role in a hung parliament. They insist it will be the voters who decide who leads the next government. But the election is so tight that the Lib Dems might just be in a position to put either Labour or the Tories in power, perhaps in combination with another smaller party.
Last weekend, Mr Clegg said the Lib Dems would again put “heart” into a Tory-led government, to ensure spending cuts are done fairly, or “spine” into a Labour one, to make sure Labour did not shy away from tackling the deficit. I don’t doubt that Mr Clegg could perform either role. But despite its bigger policy overlap with Labour, his party might prefer to be the “heart” than the “spine.” As one Lib Dem adviser admitted: “It would be a lot easier to be the good guys again, reining in the nasty Tories, than the bad guys telling Labour to make cuts.”Reuse content