The number of MPs who may be facing a “Portillo moment” on election night just keeps getting longer.
Already on the list was education secretary Nicky Morgan, who would be defeated by Labour on a swing of 3.6%; employment minister Esther McVey, would would lose her seat to Labour on a swing of 3.1%; and chief secretary to the treasury Danny Alexander, who is at threat from the SNP.
They have now been joined by Douglas Alexander, shadow foreign secretary and Labour’s election coordinator, who is also at risk from the SNP; and Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, who is facing a growing challenge from Labour.
The swings needed to remove Clegg and both the Alexanders are huge. In Clegg’s case, Labour will need to muster a 19.7% swing, while the SNP will require an 11% swing to defeat Danny Alexander and a mammoth 20.8% swing to beat Douglas Alexander.
Yet in each of these three cases, recent opinion polls have shown the incumbent losing.
Two polls have suggested Clegg is behind Labour in his seat of Sheffield Hallam, one by Lord Ashcroft and one by Survation. According to Ashcroft’s Scotland constituency polls, the SNP are currently eight points ahead in Douglas Alexander’s seat of Paisley & Renfrewshire South, and a staggering 29 points ahead in Danny Alexander’s seat of Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey.
Such a cull of senior MPs hasn’t been seen on an election night since 1997. And there could be more ministerial casualties. Equalities minister Jo Swinson is at risk from the SNP in Dunbartonshire East; defence minister Anna Soubry could very easily lose to Labour in Broxtowe; and energy minister Amber Rudd in Hastings & Rye is another Labour target.
The chance of every single one of these “Portillo moments” coming to pass feels remote. All the same, I wonder if the knowledge that an upset is possible might encourage more voters to try and turn it into a reality. This was the case with Michael Portillo himself in 1997, and could well be a similar incentive to electors in, say, Sheffield Hallam.