A Hung Parliament? Yikes!

by Alex Massie

A new poll of 60 marginal seats Labour won by between six and 14 points in 2005 gives the Tories just a two point lead: 39%-37%. That's good, but not enough to win a majority. No wonder Allister Heath worries that Britain is heading towards the worst of all possible worlds: a hung parliament in which neither party has a majority

It is a calculation that should fill all of us with an immense sense of dread: there is now a 72.2 percent chance of a hung parliament. Or so says Michael Saunders, Citigroup's chief European economist and the one man in the City everybody listens to when it comes to the interaction between parliamentary politics and the financial markets. His model, which incorporates the standard data about the Westminster first-past-the post system, and into which he has fed all of the latest polls, also suggests that there is just a 6.2 percent chance of strong Tory majority, a 19.1 percent chance of a weak one and 2.5 percent chance of a Labour majority. Given the terrible state of our public finances, and Britain's desperate need for a strong government with a clear commitment to fiscal reform, all of this is little short of disastrous.

If no-one wins a majority, Gordon Brown, as the sitting Prime Minister remains in office and has first dibs on cobbling together a coalition with, presumably, the Liberal Democrats (this explains Brown's entirely opportunistic recent conversion to the cause of electoral reform). If that proves impossible then the party with the largest number of seats will be asked if they can form a government, whether it be a majority coalition or a minority ministry.

Suffice it to say, as Allister points out, the markets aren't likely to be enthused by any of this.

So what will the Liberals do? Their difficulty is that while the electorate seems unlikely to be enthused by the idea of their propping up Labour many of their own MPs and local councillors see the Conservatives as a bigger danger (to their own prospects if not the national interest) and are, consequently, more comfortable with a Lib-Lab pact than with sleeping with the Tories.

Relatedly I've a piece at Foreign Policy today marvelling at how Gordon Brown, despite his unpopularity, isn't dead yet.