Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The General Election Starts Here...

You know how it is.  You write a blog about the stacks of Labour leaflets piling through you’re door.  You finish the first draft and then find that according to the fixed term act, the Prime Minister’s appointment (below) with Brenda to mark the start of the Westminster Election campaign.  This, as they say, will be one of those land speed efforts…

‘Call me Dave’ Cameron’s pitch for his second (and last) term in office is that he needs to “compete the job of turning the country around” and that the choice was stark between himself and the main contender for his job, Ed Milliband.  Opening his campaign, Miliband agreed with Cameron saying the choice was stark by saying the choice was “to carry on with a Conservative plan based on the idea that as long as the richest and most powerful succeed, everyone else will be OK.  Or a Labour plan, a better plan, that says it is only when working people succeed that Britain succeeds."

It says it all about this election that normal targets have barely been mentioned.  However they do bear repeating.  The Cameron needs a swing of 1.8% on his showing in 2010 to win an outright majority, an overall gain of 20 seats.  Number 11 on that target list will be Morley & Outwood – the seat of the Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls.  Miliband needs to gain 69 seats (without any losses) to gain an outright majority – a swing of 5.1%.  Only Thatcher (in 1979), Blair (in 1997) & Cameron have won on swings higher than 5%. The Balls factoid apart, none of this is that relevant when polling shows both of the main parties struggling to get past the 300 seat mark.

The start of the election campaign being reduced to ceremony is not the only change from five years ago.  The Conservatives have been in government with the Lib Dems.  Opening the defence of their 57 seats, Nick Clegg painted the other two parties as extremists, saying the Lib Dems were the only party that could keep the other two parties tethered to the centre ground.  Five years ago, a meltdown in Lib Dem voters would have been good news for the big two.  This time around, the expected meltdown in the Lib Dem vote (which remember was 6.5m votes, their best as the Lib Dems) is expected to help Labour, but might help the Tories retain and gain seats.

Five years ago both the SNP and UKIP were outsiders (in a Westminster sense).  While UKIP’s vote looks as if it is starting to fade, if they stick around the 14% mark it will still harm Cameron’s chances of staying in Downing Street after May 8th.  The calculus for the SNP is completely different. 

Since the referendum, polls have suggested that the SNP have reaped the benefits of “Yes Scotland’s” street campaigning with leads in the polls averaging in the high teens.  The most  recent poll shows the SNP ahead of Labour by 16% and suggests a swing from Labour to the SNP of 18%.  That swing would see the SNP capturing 28 seats from Labour (and all but one of the Lib Dem’s seats).  Were the SNP to comfortably hold on to their polling, this would represent a major roadblock to Miliband’s hopes of winning the election outright and would embarrass the Progress wing of Labour seeing Labour out New Laboured by our own MacNewLabour.

The big if will be if they can hold on to that poll lead.  Remember that there’s a group of 20 Labour seats around the 12-18% swing mark.  Should Labour eat into that lead, the SNP’s chances of taking a majority of Scottish seats recedes markedly. The big unknown unknown as well will be the proposed pro-union tactical voting pact.  This shouldn’t be discounted as Holyrood by election victories for both Cara Hilton (in Dunfermline) and Alex Rowley (in Cowdenbeath) both had the whiff of being aided by a Tories voting to keep the SNP out.  It would be ironic if Scottish Tory voters voted to boost the chances of Milliband entering No 10.

Even if this is the tightest election since…  mmmm…  well the last one…  a prediction or two is almost customary.  I think UKIP will win at most three seats, Carswell will hold his seat, Farage will win his.  I think that the SNP won’t gain 40 odd seats – the polls will narrow and I think the SNP will get somewhere in the high 30’s seat wise.  And I suspect that Cameron will still be in Downing Street come May 8th.  A Tory/Lib Dem pact looks like the most workable partnership (with possible aid from the DUP) so that would spike Milliband even if Labour emerged as the largest party.  Remember that the only cast iron rule to hung parliaments is that the incumbent gets first dibs at forming a government – both Heath & Brown could not form coalitions.

As with last time, this election could come down to an unscripted moment or gaffe.  Cameron’s car crash interview with Paxman doesn’t seem to have harmed him.  We will see what happens with the first set piece debate of the campaign, but the small things could be the decisive factor.

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