On May 8 two constituencies at either end of the Kingdom are going to be amongst the last to be called. In Orkney and the Shetlands votes are difficult to gather although the Scottish Secretary, Alastair Carmichael looks set to keep his seat. In St. Ives voters are split and the race looks very tight. Yet, these two seats could decide the fate of the next government. This closeness explains why politicians are getting just a bit more desperate as they seem to run out of road.
As politicians become ever more shrill in their denunciation of the other side’s policies or behaviour the more they serve to accentuate the real truth; that they are all heading into this election in a position of extreme weakness. This is because a minority government with no coalition as such is looking increasingly likely.
This means that both Labour and Conservatives are working overtime on how they can get enough seats to be able to pass a confidence vote on a Queen’s Speech through the Commons and next year (or earlier if there was an emergency budget) a supply motion on a Finance Bill. Expect to hear a great deal about ‘confidence and supply’ agreements over the next two months.
Conservative strategists think that they will need to secure between 284-290 seats to achieve a workable agreement (NB. not necessarily a coalition) with other parties. For instance, if the Conservatives were to bag themselves 285 seats the Liberal Democrats 28 and Ukip 1, with the support of the DUP they could conceivably just scrape through.
The Labour Party are making similar calculations, with a different block altogether, something which has already caused a great deal of debate about the role of the SNP.
What happens if the Conservatives don’t make 285 seats and the Lib Dems lose even more? In the current polls models which go beyond taking a Uniform National Swing are predicting 270-280 seats for the Conservatives and a similar result for Labour. Today’s model puts Labour as the biggest party in terms of seats by two.
Post-election planners are contemplating what this will mean. There are a few major things to consider. Firstly, constitutionally Cameron remains the PM. If he remains the head of the largest party things will be easier for him. If things remain as tight as they are however be ready for a titanic battle.
The numbers show just how influential the Liberal Democrats will remain under such a scenario; certainly pivotal but scenario planners in the parties still look through a glass darkly for a number of reasons:
Some polling suggests that Nick Clegg and several of his key Ministers are in serious trouble in their own seats meaning that their own negotiating team may be seriously weakened. Secondly, the Liberal Democrats are publicly committed to working with the largest party in the Commons and also to not working with Ukip. Where would that leave a “Blukip” pact as the Deputy Prime Minister has described it.
Conservatives and Labour will both be pushing for the level of votes in the House that will get a Queen’s Speech through but it will be difficult to achieve this if the parties keep putting out demands and committing to red lines in their negotiations. Pressuring the Lib Dem leadership will have to become the sport of Labour and Tory politicians alike.
Expect therefore to see the Labour Party begin to put pressure on Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems on whether they are willing to prop up a weak Conservative government and also whether the Lib Dems are willing to give Cameron and Ukip a referendum on UK membership of the EU in return for power. This will be an almighty turnaround from the rhetoric at the moment, which is entirely focused on Labour’s relationship with the SNP. Despite all this movement between the parties the polls look remarkably fixed. All the current shenanigans will serve only to weaken bonds between politicians who are going to be remarkably inter-dependent when the final results come in from St. Ives and the Shetlands on May 8.