Wednesday, 6 May 2015

General Election: Possible Outcomes

by Barney Wostenholme

The best election summary I have read is this from Anthony Wells of UK Polling Report:  which considers the four main types of seats which could change hands:
  1. Conservative vs Labour Battleground
  2. The SNP Landslide
  3. Liberal Democrat Defence
  4. UKIP Targets
He writes very well (far better than me) and I would recommend that you read it for a sound, practical analysis. I don’t know whether this is the closest fought election in a generation because I’m not old enough to remember any other elections except for 2010. It seemed clear to me that pretty well everyone thought the Conservatives would be the largest party and David Cameron the Prime Minister, the known unknown was whether he’d have a governing majority or have to rule in coalition. This time around it seems clear that pretty well everyone expects there to be a hung parliament, the known unknown is who will be able to form a government out of it. That is a pretty big known unknown and it is why all of the pundits are busy cooking up predictions and ‘build your own coalition’ games. The way I see it there are three possibilities:
  1. Labour minority government: If the polls are right, I think this is the most likely outcome. Labour would form  a government made up of exclusively Labour ministers. This government would be based on Labour tabling left wing budgets and Queen’s speeches and challenging the other left wing parties (SNP, Plaid Cymru, Greens, SDLP, and even Lib Dems) to vote for them. This may sound an unstable arrangement, but as long as Labour play their cards right it could work for a limited time. It would be very hard, for example, for most left wing parties to vote against legislation to raise the minimum wage (even if it results in jobs being lost) or legislation to raise the 45% tax rate to 50% (even if it results in revenue being lost). This arrangement would almost certainly not be able to last for five years, which given the Fixed Term Parliaments Act could be a problem. I don’t think this will be a problem, because when all of the unambiguously leftie-friendly policies have gone through it would be in almost every party’s interests to table a vote of no confidence and see Labour lose it. I predict in this instance the government would last for two years.
  2. Labour/Lib Dem coalition: Labour would probably need at least 290 seats for this to work (not what the polls are suggesting, but not impossible with 30 gains from Con and 10 from Lib). This would mean Liberal Democrat ministers in government again which would cause some short-term constitutional confusions but would probably end up quite stable and last for a full five-year term. If this is possible, I’m sure Labour would prefer the stability of this option to the uncertainty of option 1.
  3. Conservative/Lib Dem coalition: This seems, at the moment, the only way the Conservatives will continue in government. If this happens I imagine both parties will grin and bear it and last a full five-year term. It could even be better for the Conservatives to lose seats in Con/Lib marginals because (bear with me on this) Liberal Democrat seats do not make it significantly less likely that there will be a Conservative-led government after the election, but they will make it significantly more likely that Labour will have to rule as a minority (option 1) than in coalition with the Lib Dems (option 2).
NB option 2 or option 3 might also have to involve a DUP presence in government. This would probably be quite easy in either circumstance and could involve a DUP Defence Secretary and a commitment to 2% of GDP to be spent on defence, as the DUP seems to be suggesting this is the most important condition for their support. I hope it is clear that there is really no overlap between these possibilities. That is to say, as soon as the votes are counted, I reckon there will only be one possibility. If the Conservatives + the Lib Dems (+ the DUP) can form a government, they will. If Labour + the Lib Dems (+ the DUP) can form a government, they will. If neither of these can, the only hope of getting legislation passed is Labour relying on other left wing parties. To put it in terms of numbers, we’ll assume 50 SNP seats, 30 Lib Dem seats, 8 DUP seats, 12 ‘Others’ seats, and the remaining 550 are either Labour or Conservative. L = ‘Number of Labour seats’, C = ‘Number of Conservative seats’. L + C = 550. If L > 290, Labour forms coalition government with Lib Dems and possibly DUP. (option 2) If C > 290, Conservatives form coaltion government with the Lib Dems and possibly DUP. (option 3) If 260 < L < 290, Labour forms minority government. (option 1)
This means that if the country votes in a more left wing way (more Labour gains from Conservatives) there is more likely to be a less left wing government, because Labour would have enough seats to form a coalition which the Lib Dems would make significantly less left wing that a Labour minority government would have to be.

If that hasn’t confused you, let me know so I can try harder next time. One final thing: I will be watching about four seats very closely because they are the ones which I have personal connections with. In three of them I don’t really mind who wins because the serious contenders all seem decent enough. I do, however, care about the outcome in Croydon Central quite a lot. So I have a plea: If you can vote in Croydon Central, please consider voting for Gavin Barwell, who has, in my opinion, done everything you can ask of a Local MP. I have personally benefited from a ‘Parliamentary Summer School’ he gave which really helped me and other with A-Level Government and Politics. His support of ‘Lillian’s Law’ is a perfect example a caring MP doing hard work for constituents who are deeply passionate about a particular issue, for good reason. His Private Member’s Bill to tackle stigma of people with mental health issues is pretty much the best thing you can do with a Private Member’s Bill. He has gone above and beyond his duties as a local MP, and in a democracy we should reward people who do that. The majority (lol) of what I know about politics comes from John Rentoul, who is @JohnRentoul on Twitter. I highly recommend following him. I hope some of this has made sense and I look forward to reading it again in a few months to see if anything I’ve said has been proved right.

This article was originally published on Barney's blog at

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