Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, has built himself a box this weekend and jumped right into it.
In an interview with the Financial Times on Saturday, he clearly declared that he’ll have no truck with a government that relies upon the support of either UKIP or the SNP. But his bluster fails the Westminster arithmetic test. While the few UKIP MPs anticipated will be insignificant to a Tory-Liberal minority coalition, ruling a 50-strong SNP contingent out of any Lib-Lab pact could sink the anti-Tory consensus which the majority of the population support.
Thus demonstrating the Liberal Democrats are not particularly Liberal and most certainly undemocratic.
Clegg’s campaign has been designed to return him as Deputy PM, regardless of the suitor. Lib Dems have been fantastically arrogant in the campaign, claiming everyone else is effectively, mad, bad or dangerous to know. Only they, say the Lib Dems, are clever enough to be in government. Self praise is no praise at all. Polls show the electorate agree.
Has Nick Clegg got previous on strategic thinking?
In 2010, he led his party into coalition with the Conservatives. He got the Liberals into UK government for the first time in many years, got promises to deliver some of his policies but toasted quite a few others. He tells us (self praise again, Nick!) he stabilised the country and moderated Tory policies. What we can all see is he exceeded any realistic personal ambition by securing the Deputy PM position. All on the back of 3 good performances in TV debates and a campaign free of serious scrutiny and hitches.
Five years later, his popularity and that of his party has plumetted. The Lib Dems have been trussed up like kippers by their coalition colleagues, his ministers saddled with all the bad news in early months of the coalition. He gave up his cast iron promise on Tuition Fees in order to secure a voting system referendum which he and his party were simply unable to win. And the Prime Minister has cleverly played GE2015 TV debates, neutering his Deputy PM while limiting his own exposure.
Clegg’s strategic plan effectively rules out his support for any Labour government.
How? Well the polls are very tight, and consistent. The parliament will be hung with no single party holding a majority. Nor is there much difference in the vote share and seats between Labour and Conservative, even considering the SNP advance in Scotland.
Regarding polls from Scotland, the SNP lead is unshaken. It is even growing two weeks out from polling day! Ashcroft polling tell us that the SNP advance is repeated across the country, regardless whether the constituency incumbent is Labour, Tory, Lib Dems or SNP. A forecast of seats following May 7th, represented by Betfair in their election prediction app, is
- Conservative – 280
- Labour – 264
- SNP – 51
- Liberal Democrat – 28
- Others – 24 (includes 18 NI seats)
- UKIP – 3
326 seats required for a majority.
Although Tories would have most seats, a Lib Dem coalition delivers only 308 seats. UKIPs 3 seats are neither here nor there in terms of majority and the Tories would look to Northern Ireland for a strong Unionist party performance and their backing.
The most credible deal would be between Labour and Lib Dems with SNP support, but Clegg has ruled that out, hasn’t he ? That arrangement would comfortably exceed the majority required for stable government, but Nick Clegg has whipped himself up with the anti-SNP fervour of his (Tory) bosses.
A Labour led minority government could still be delivered without the Lib Dems.
An arrangement between only Labour and SNP would command 315 seats. Add the 6 seats potentially secured by Plaid and the Greens, you get tantalisingly close with 321. That could be enough for a majority with SDLP support, particularly considering effective majority would be reduced by the seats that Sinn Fein abstain from taking.
Come up with different seat numbers, from different polls if you like, but it’s unlikely the deal results above change significantly without a change in voting intentions.
Unless Labour can perform better than the Tories in English seats, then they will need support of the SNP and other progressive parties to lock the Tories out of Downing Street. Failure of Miliband to grasp that thistle would be catastrophic.