As I write these words, we’re just days away from the UK General election, which has been billed as the most unpredictable for a generation or more.
That might be true, but is it totally unpredictable?
While the exact outcome is going to be pretty difficult, we can certainly get a sense of what is more or less likely to occur.
I’ll be broadcasting on-air overnight that night for Global: Europe’s largest commercial radio group. I have teams across the south region region waiting for the ballot papers to be counted, and the results to come in. It’ll be a long night for all of us in the broadcast media, but an exciting one, not least because the exact outcome is so uncertain.
But the opinion polls – which have remained pretty consistent throughout – do give us at least some sense of what we might see come the early hours of Friday 8th May.
Firstly, a quick disclaimer about the figures. Polls, let’s not forget, predicted a trouncing for John Major’s government back in 1992, almost right up to election day, only for him to re-enter Downing Street with an increased majority.
But the polls are the best we’ve got, and with the figures in them being so fixed for so long, there’s a good chance that they are painting at least a reasonable picture of the outcome.
If you extrapolate the percentage-based polls into actual seats won for each party (a risky business), we can see a lead of ten or so seats for the Conservatives over Labour, around half of the Liberal Democrats losing their seats, a less than impressive result for UKIP, and domination in Scotland by the SNP.
What kind of a parliament does that create, and how do we create a government out of it? I feeling that our system is quite outdated. In my book from a couple of years ago, “TREASON: And Other Good Ideas“, I suggested a system where the people directly elect the head of the executive branch. That way, if you ever get a fragmented parliament (the legislative branch), you at least know that the Prime Minister is in his or her position with a reasonable degree of legitimacy.
However, we live in a different world to the one I suggested then, so for now, we have to deal with the system as it stands. And as it stands, things might get ugly.
Simply put, neither the Conservatives or Labour will win enough seats for an outright majority. That’s something we can be at least fairly certain of.
For the Tories, it looks very unlikely there will be enough Lib Dems to form a coalition with, and even factoring UKIP and the DUP from Northern Island, there may not be enough for a “grand coalition.”
It’s looking equally as grim – if not more so – for the Labour Party. They could form a coalition with the SNP, as they’d have enough seats between them to form a government.
But this would be almost impossible after Labour’s leader Ed Miliband ruled out a coalition. If he went back on his word now, he’d possibly push Labour out of No. 10 for a decade or more. Plus, most people in the UK would see this as an illegitimate government (even if it wasn’t technically), as only people in Scotland could vote for the SNP, who could hold Labour to ransom for anything they wanted.
There’s a slim chance that Labour could form a coalition with other left-leaning parties other than the SNP (like Plaid Cymru in Wales and the Green Party if they do better), but again, there’s a good chance Labour will have fewer MPs than the Tories, and so any government not formed mostly of Conservatives could be seen as not “right” by many people: “How can a party have the most MPs but not be in government?” The answer, is “well, it’s our quirky system”, but that won’t be satisfactory to many.
So I’ll put my neck on the line and do something fairly daft: I’ll predict the outcome for the least predictable UK general election in a long time:
I think that we’ll end up with a minority Conservative government. It’ll be a short-lived entity, which will build bridges and alliances in some areas, but fail to pass many of its bills as they wind their way through the parliamentary system, but possibly just about getting Labour to sign off on its Queens Speech, for the sake of stability if nothing else. Then, as soon as this October, or maybe into next year, we may go to the polls again. It might end up being a poisoned chalice for the Tories who end up stuck between a rock and a hard place, while becoming so unpopular that they lose the subsiquent election convincingly.
I’ll report on events as they happen on the Heart and Capital networks, and LBC. It’ll be interesting to see just how wrong I am.
We’ll find out soon.