We're heading for a minority Labour government backed by the SNP

The Guardian have a very useful web page called Election 2015: The Guardian poll projection. On it, each day, they update their state-of-the-parties graph with the latest polling data, which then flows into an infographic showing the parliamentary arithmetic and possible government options after May 7th.

One can, perhaps, quibble with their numbers to the degree of 4-5 seats either way for each party.

But basically, as time progresses and we approach May 7th like a freight train at 120 mph, it is becoming clearer and clearer what kind of government we are going to wake up to on May 8th, or,more likely, some time between May 8th and May 21st.

Large SNP gains have been predicted by the polls for so long now that they seem unlikely to be a chimera.

The SNP may win less than the 52 seats predicted currently by the Guardian’s poll of polls, but they are going to have a large wodge of seats nonetheless.

The Tories are not, it seems, suddenly going to overtake Labour by a large margin.

So we are left with only one realistic option for May 8th: A Labour minority government supported in some way by the SNP. The SNP are not going to support the Tories. So Labour + SNP (perhaps + Lib Dems) is the only combination which adds up to the necessary 323 seats to survive a Commons confidence vote.

There could be small shifts in the balance of the strengths of the parties as the campaign progresses. We should also bear in mind the Fixed Term Parliament Act if Cameron tries to soldier on and is defeated in a Commons confidence vote (In which case Miliband will have 14 days to form a government which commands the house.) But basically we’re looking at Prime Minister Ed Miliband with a sort of telepathic arrangement with the SNP (as the latter does not want to do any deals – is Ed Miliband good at reading Nicola Sturgeon’s mind while she is 400 miles away running a separate government?). I have a hunch that the SNP will be more ready to deal with Labour than Labour will be to deal with the SNP. I suspect Sturgeon/Salmond and co. have been sharpening the sgian-dubhs for decades in readiness for this moment. They’ll be all over Labour, who’ll still be punch drunk from losing their traditional Scottish sinecures.

This will be an extraordinary result. Labour will have suffered an enormous, historic defeat in Scotland but will, nevertheless, be forming a government with the tacit support of their sworn enemies, the SNP, who are committed to ending the union anyway.

Also, would the Scots be saying (via the referendum last year) that they want the union but (via the May 7th election this year) saying they want the party who are committed to breaking up the union making it (the union) work? That thought makes my brain wobble a bit on its axis, but I am a soft Sassenach, so forgive me, dear Scots.

I am not entirely sure of the exact choreography of how such a Labour minority government comes into being. It is possible that the Tories come out of the election as the largest party with David Cameron still in Number Ten. Does he go to the Queen or just stay there and bolt the doors? Does the Queen ask him to form a government? Does he try to form one? Or say he can’t straight away? Does the Queen then send for Ed Miliband? Answers on a postcard, or in the comments thread below, please.

We have got used to a simple kissing of hands of the Queen by the leader of the largest party after an election. Job done – is the norm. But there is precedent for a less definitive process during the reign of Queen Victoria, for example. Peel/Melborne, Peel/Russell. Often the comings and goings at Buck House resembled a revolving door whizzing around until any old passing random politician could be found sober enough who reckoned they could cobble together a vaguely viable government for a few months. A new Prime Minister then finally emerged staggering out of the Queen’s palace, blinking into the light. David Cameron’s ancestor, William IV had similar experiences, I seem to remember. I exaggerate, but the point is that there is long precedent for messy and drawn-out formations of governments in this country. We have just forgotten about such perignations after decades of reasonably clear-cut election results.

I’m not sure where this leaves David Cameron. He said, inexplicably in my view, that he won’t seek another term as Prime Minister in 2020. Well, if he isn’t going to be Prime Minister after May 8th or 9th or 10th or 21st, then one presumes the Conservative party may obligingly speed up the process, grant his wish early and look for a new leader straight away. So we could have Ed facing Boris, or George or Theresa across the Commons with the Lib Dems led by……Nick? Tim? Norman?

The May 7th election has been likened to an “electoral fruit machine” (Hat-tip: John Tilley of this parish). Likely events after that election would appear to be rather akin to throwing a pack of cards up in the air and then seeing where they all land on the floor. Constitutional lawyers should cancel any holiday they had booked in May. I hope there are no road works planned for The Mall, as there will be quite a few limos haring back and forwards down it.

I have got a feeling that the likely post-May 7th fluid and novel scenario will, for once, see politicians behaving like grown-ups and playing nice together. Here’s hoping – it happens in many councils.

As an aside, as a rock solid Republican, I can see the advantage, in this situation, of having a head of state, such as ours, who has been around the block a bit.

I should add the proviso that all the above could be wrong!

If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to read Tony Greaves’ excellent “What happens next?” articles, about what happens after the election: here and here.

Update 27/3 13:37: The methodology behind the Guardian projection is explained here – and it uses constituency polls as its first piece of data. For other projections see here on the May 2015 website. My table below shows the various projections as they stand today. The green squares show the possible combinations of parties which meet or go over the magic 323. This shows that, as the polls stand, the only show in town is Lab/SNP or Lab/SNP/LD.


Photo by Paul Walter


3 thoughts on “We're heading for a minority Labour government backed by the SNP

  1. Fascinating. Do you think there’s a scenario in which Labour might even prefer EVEL rather than the threat of SNP backseat driving? Or would that be handing too much to the Tories?

  2. Not necessarily. A slightly weaker than expected Tory performance , and/or a slightly stronger Labour one, could leave Labour at or just shy of 300. They will be able to rely on 3 SDLP votes, so even on a bad day at the office the Lib Dems should be able to get Miliband to 320 on confidence and supply, thereby shutting out Salmond, which is to the Liberal Democrats’ advantage as well as Labour’s.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s