Opinion polls are a funny thing, dependent on so many variables such a sample size and distribution, the honesty of respondents, regional trends or biases and so on. As such, predicting the result of a general election as hard fought and full of variables as the one approaching in May is a tricky business.
However, I believe that one thing we can take from the opinion polls is that the likelihood of this election returning a majority for any one party is very small indeed, and as such the major parties need to shift their tack from campaigning for a majority to campaigning to be in the best place to lead a coalition.
As Voltaire said on his deathbed when asked to renounce Satan “This is no time to be making enemies.”
Scottish Labour figures have been repeatedly asserting that the ‘largest party gets to form the government’ (which is simply not necessarily true) in an attempt to dissuade voters from casting in favor of the SNP, with the threat that any Labour losses makes a Conservative government more likely.
However, if we assume that a majority in any direction is unlikely and remember that the SNP have already all but ruled out any arrangement with the Conservatives, then significant SNP representation in Westminster is unlikely to herald a good day for the arch-unionists…
However, while Labour act as if the Greens and SNP are their greatest foes for having the temerity to stand against them and ‘split the non-Tory vote’ what they are in fact doing is making it harder for them to come to a post-election arrangement which sees Labour leading the government for the next five years.
By putting all their eggs in the basket labelled ‘majority government’ Labour are jeopardizing their chances of leading a progressive coalition after May.
If they play hard-ball with the SNP – who have already shown themselves to be open to a confidence & supply arrangement without strings directly tied to Scottish independence – and the Greens, who are always willing to find common ground then these parties have little to lose by refusing to prop them up and indeed, would be taking a risk by facilitating even a relatively moderate centre-right party in government.
Assuming May leaves us with Labour in a position to form a government – i.e. without a majority but with the Conservatives unable to do so – if they have alienated the parties most likely to support them, then they could find themselves locked out of Downing Street and set on course for a second general election in 2015
Across the house, the Conservatives face similar issues, as even though some polls show them as having a chance of being the biggest party, their most likely supporters in UKIP, Liberal Democrats, DUP and Ulster Unionists are unlikely to have enough seats between them to push them over the line. It’s entirely possible that a snap second election could well be the best thing the Conservatives can hope for.
The moral of the story has to be that as politics becomes more pluralistic and fluid not only is it necessary for serious electoral reform to be considered by all, but that parties need to be less partisan and more willing to deal with those who may be allies even if they disagree on some things.
After all, the meaning of politics is “of, for, or relating to citizens” and it should be incumbent on our representatives to find common ground, in theory to best reflect the aggregate desires of the voting public.
Now that is a revolutionary idea…