If you take an average of all the latest predictions of the election result, the numbers remain tipped ever so slightly in Labour’s favour. By lining up the parties who would plausibly support a Tory minority government against those who would do the opposite, the anti-Tory bloc has the edge – but only just:
With the Tories projected to win 277 MPs and Labour 267, it’s virtually a dead heat and I don’t expect these kind of figures to change much between now and Thursday. It’s a cliche to say it really will come down to a few hundreds votes in a few dozen seats, but it’s a cliche worth repeating – even though in truth the same goes for every general election.
You’ll see that I’ve left out Ukip. There’s no way they’d serve in a coalition with the Lib Dems (and vice versa). Some sort of semi-formal Tory-Lib Dem-DUP arrangement does feel more practical, if not particularly durable. Ukip would back such an arrangement if it meant there would be an EU referendum, of course, but their extra two or three MPs would not bring this bloc any closer to outranking the other.
When you bunch together Labour, the SNP, the SDLP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens, you get to 327: one over the number needed for a theoretical majority, and four over the number needed for an actual majority (once you remove the Speaker and Sinn Fein from the arithmetic).
Would a loose affiliation of these parties prove attractive enough for the Lib Dems to swap sides and support a Labour-led administration? Much may depend on how many – or how few – Lib Dems lose their seats on Thursday, including Nick Clegg himself.
The media has made hay with the moral and constitutional legitimacy of a Labour-SNP deal, concluding with near-unanimity that it would be a disaster. But what about a Conservative-Lib Dem-DUP deal? What about the moral and constitutional legitimacy of that particular concoction?
Much of the mainstream press has been gripped with a hysteria about all of this, particularly the role of the SNP. I take a more relaxed view. Whatever works will work. If it doesn’t, a way will be found to make things work. If that means another election, so be it. We’ve had minority governments before – as recently as 1996/97 – and the country didn’t grind to a halt. Scotland functioned perfectly well with a minority government from 2007-11.
I actually think Ed Miliband came over as the most pragmatic of the main leaders on Question Time on Thursday when he spoke about simply putting a Labour Queen’s Speech to the Commons and taking things from there. The way things are shaping up, he may get the chance to do just that. But, as I argued the other day, David Cameron already has the upper hand. Whether he can be as pragmatic as his Labour counterpart may prove to be the decisive factor.