It’s just over two weeks until the nation goes to polls, and my prediction from the very start of this blog has been borne out – this will be the most uncertain and unpredictable election for a generation, most probably since the snap election of February 1974. I will admit however that two things have not gone as I expected – I did not expect the SNP to so comprehensively out-manoeuvre Labour in Scotland, and I expected that there would be a small swing from Labour to Conservative, and a larger swing from UKIP to Conservative. Instead of which, the major feature of this campaign is that the polls have largely stood still.
We should take one great encouragement at the very start – in such an unpredictable environment, the choice is truly ours. Very small shifts in the vote in individual seats all across Britain can have a profound impact on final seat numbers in the House of Commons, and in determining whether we have a hung Parliament (as all the pollsters are predicting) and whether it will be David Cameron or Ed Miliband who is able to pull together enough votes to ensure they can form a government – the BBC have actually got a very interesting game that aptly illustrates just how much the type of coalitions possible can vary according to very small changes in the numbers of seats held by a party.
I now want to contest one of the great assumptions doing the rounds at the moment – that a hung parliament is a certainty. I grant you that is what the opinion polls are currently telling us, but as one pollster in particular continually observes, opinion polls are snapshots of current intentions, not predictions of future outcomes! There are lots of uncertain variables – not least of which is that the election is decided constituency by constituency, and not in terms of the overall national vote. That could mean that the SNP for example, have a massive swing to them overall in Scotland, but finish second in many seats due to tactical voting by Unionists for the strongest non-SNP party. There is no accounting for how well the Liberal Democrats have ‘dug in’ to seats they already hold, or where their vote will go in the seats that they do not. And it could mean that the Conservatives (or, though I think it unlikely, Labour) do enough in 326 seats to win those seats, even if they suffer elsewhere.
I also think it is highly probable that this election will be very similar to the 1992 election on two fronts. Firstly, the conduct of the left-leaning minority parties (ie. the SNP, Greens, and Plaid Cymru) participating in the Leaders’ Debates very much had the tone of parties that assumed the election was going to fall into their lap, and that they could turn up to coalition negotiations with an extensive shopping list. There was more than a strong resemblance to Labour’s celebratory rally in the 1992 election when Neil Kinnock’s shadow cabinet were presented as though certain they would be the next government. The British electorate take a dim view of such self glorification, and may think twice about their desire to hand the balance of power to these parties.
Secondly, the tone by these parties (and to a certain extent the media) has been thoroughly anti-Conservative. I will be the first to admit the Conservatives have not got everything right, and I can think of several policy areas where I wish the Government had said more. It was nothing short of ridiculous however to see the left-leaning party leaders lining up to take pot-shots on ‘austerity’ while not making a coherent argument for a credible alternative. My distinct impression is that the prospect of a hung parliament was generating a certain triumphalism by the left, which one imagines makes it more difficult for moderate voters to admit that they approve of the government’s record on the economy. But the government, while not eliminating the deficit completely as I would wish, has performed an economy recovery that has been described as ‘textbook; by the IMF. Unemployment has decreased, real wages are rising, and the deficit is being reduced, with a concrete plan to eliminate it completely – and the left leaning parties have not set out a credible alternative. Similar to 1992, I think a lot of voters will not find it easy to admit publicly that they approve of the Conservative plan with so much public anti-Tory sentiment – but in the calm space of the voting booth they will not be prepared to trust any party that won’t take the public finances seriously.
I also want to challenge the assumption that somehow voting for a left-leaning alliance of parties will somehow ensure our economic recovery will be ‘fairer.’ It is not fair to borrow for our lavish lifestyle today and leave the cost to our children, grand-children – or potentially even our great-grandchildren. It is not fair to raise taxes so high that wealth is driven away from the UK so that the burden of taxation falls on those not able to so easily move their wealth, and who also can least afford to carry that burden. And it is certainly not fair to inflict five years of economic mismanagement on the nation by Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, who still refuse to admit that they spent and borrowed too much while they were in government under Gordon Brown.
Which is why I make an unashamed appeal for how you should use your choice. It is clear that either David Cameron or Ed Miliband will be Prime Minister – no other party will command a large enough number of seats. I am not only voting Conservative – I am actively campaigning in Oxford for our local candidates to be elected, because they are the only party with a credible and coherent plan to ensure the economic recovery continues, and to eliminate our spending deficit – and the only way to get that security is by voting for your local Conservative candidate.