Election forecasts

One week to go

“Nobody knows who’ll be prime minister by the end of next week,” said Justin Webb at the start of the Today programme on Radio 4 yesterday. Actually, we do: it will be David Cameron. And it’s likely to be David Cameron for not just the day after the election, but also the weekend after, and quite possibly a good deal of the following week.

Cameron will stay prime minister for as long as he think he can piece together a majority in the House of Commons to win a vote of confidence. This could be some time. In fact, it’s highly likely to be some time, for Cameron gives the impression of someone who is willing to try almost anything to remain prime minister, should circumstances allow.

Equally he seems to be the sort of person who, the moment he realises the game is up, will concede defeat gracefully. The immediate aftermath of the election may be messy, but it will be a sort of dignified mess, with much emphasis on decorum and procedure amid the bartering and gossip.

As sitting prime minister, David Cameron certainly has the upper hand over Ed Miliband and it’s worth remembering this, regardless of how the country votes a week today. As the incumbent, most scenarios favour Cameron and all allow him to make the first move. Here are four of the most obvious ones:

1. 1992 scenario

The Conservatives pull off an unexpected victory that leaves them not merely the largest party in parliament but with a small, working majority. It would be a remarkable turnaround and fly in the face of what every opinion poll is suggesting, but it’s a scenario that a few commentators – Dan Hodges of the Telegraph, Margaret Thatcher’s former election adviser Lord Bell – believe is still likely.

2. 2010 scenario

A rerun of the last election. We get a hung parliament with the Tories once again the largest party in terms of both seats and votes, and with the arithmetic favouring another coalition with either the Lib Dems or the Lib Dems plus the DUP. If a coalition is not desired by one or all of these parties, a looser arrangement could easily work, if for a more limited period: a precedent being the Lab-Lib pact of 1977-78.

3. February 1974 scenario

The Tories win the most number of votes but Labour win the most number of seats. As Ted Heath did in 1974, Cameron is quite entitled to stay in office and work at putting together a coalition or a pact that would see him win a vote of confidence in the Commons. Parliament is not due to meet for the first time until 18 May, which gives him plenty of time. The State Opening isn’t until 27 May, which means a vote on the Queen’s Speech isn’t likely until the very end of May or even early June.

4. 1923 scenario

The Tories win the most votes and seats, but are dwarfed in the Commons by a combination of the next two parties. In 1923 this was Labour and the Liberals; in 2015 it’s likely to be Labour and the SNP. Interestingly, the sitting Tory prime minister Stanley Baldwin waited a full month before resigning, hanging on until parliament reassembled and he lost a vote of confidence, rather than give up after a few days of fruitless coalition discussion. It’s not inconceivable that Cameron would do the same.

In each of these outcomes David Cameron remains prime minister for at least a few weeks after the election, at most for the lifetime of the next parliament.

The one scenario I can see him deciding to step down quickly is if the Tories do so badly – losing 50 or so seats to Labour, despite Labour also losing 30+ seats to the SNP – that it is pretty obvious even a Tory-led minority coalition would not be workable. But even then, I doubt he will gone by the end of next week. Monday 11 May feels like the most likely date, once all the VE Day anniversary commemorations are over.

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Discussion

6 responses to ‘One week to go

  1. Thank you Ian for a good website which I have also enjoyed since the beginning of the year. I hope it continues.

    Providing no party has majority in next parliament and no coalition has majority and we end up with a informal arrangement or pact, how long do you think next parliament will last please Ian? I would think 3 years maximum but in all probability 10 months meaning next election May2016.

  2. 1992 seems unlikely, but who knows. A rerun of 2010 is certainly more likely, but perhaps even more likely is one of the last two.

    In the absence of a formal coalition, my guess is that a minority government will last 6 to 12 months, meaning another general election this autumn or next spring.

    So, imagine Cameron is still prime minister, but the parliamentary arithmetic means he can’t form a stable coalition, and Miliband can’t either. Would Cameron hang on for as long as he could as a minority government? (And if so, when would the Lib Dem ministers lose their appointments?) Would Labour call a confidence motion immediately after the new parliament assembles, or perhaps try to embarrass the Conservatives a bit first?

    The protracted timetable has already created some election fatigue, and the public is not going to thank either major party for triggering another general election in short order. I expect the likes of the SNP might be afraid of losing some of their gains, but the Lib Dems might hope to get back some of their losses. I expect Plaid, UKIP and the Greens might want to have another go. Could they all afford another election campaign within a year?

    • The whole point of 1992 (at least why it was used as an illustration here) is that it was seemed unlikely at the time! (Although, to be fair, I’m only 30 so my recollections of it are decidedly unclear and this opinion is more or less based on what I’ve read.)

      I really can’t see another election soon after this, given the constraints of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act (two thirds super majority, etc.). Even less so if it’s a Labour minority – the Tories would be able to afford another crack in short order but Labour would really struggle, especially given that a spring election would mean it being held in tandem with the devolved elections. Maybe a couple of years of unstable government, who knows, maybe even a minority Labour government ordering its own MPs to abstain on a confidence vote and then the Tories being unable to form a government within the 14 day period?

  3. I think a repeat of 1923 (Tories dwarfed by a combination of the two next biggest parties) is the most likely outcome of the election. However, Baldwin didn’t face a 24-hour news cycle and could afford to take a leisurely approach to resigning. Cameron will have anti-Tory politicians and commentators baying around the clock for him to quit long before parliament assembles and a vote of confidence can be held.

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