I’ve been relieved that my earlier analysis of the various post poll options seems to accord within a seat or two with what the experts are now saying. Remember nothing should be taken for granted: Electionforecast.co.uk (the group the legendary Nate Silver has teamed up with) still thinks there is around a 5% chance that the Conservatives win outright. But if we ignore that possibility, the key numbers will be near these:
Zone M: Lab + SNP > 315 = Miliband is PM. (If SNP=50, critical Labour seat total is >265)
If it is close, do not discount some sort of deal with the LibDems too (under new leadership). In addition, if Labour does well, do not rule out a coalition with the LibDems to exclude the SNP.
Zone C: Lab + SNP < 290 = Cameron is PM. (Assumes the LibDem seat total is around 24)
If the seat count is close to 290, Cameron continues only with the support of a few UKIP MPs and the DUP. (In my view, we should be much more worried about a government dependent on the DUP than a government dependent on the SNP.)
Zone B: In between M and C, where Lab+SNP get between 290 and 315 seats, where it is all down to the Liberal Democrats.
This analysis by Harry Lambert is excellent in detail, but I think the overall gloss that Miliband is now the favourite is misleading if you read the text. Labour needs all the seats in which it is currently favoured, plus a few surprises. Electionforecast currently have the most likely outcome as Lab+SNP=315, which means we are just in Zone B.
My instinct was always that Clegg wanted to go with Cameron, and as each day passes this becomes much clearer. But that does not mean he will get his wish, if Labour plays its cards right and LibDem members have any influence on their party. The reason is that in terms of policy, and party members, the LibDems are nearer Labour than the Conservatives. Clegg would talk to the Conservatives first, and just as last time he will play it such that this coalition appears to be the only option. He can use the following three arguments:
1) The Conservatives have more seats than Labour (which assumes the SNP do as well as predicted). If Con>Lab+SNP this will carry some weight; if not less so.
2) Not working in a government dependent on a party that wants to break up the UK. I think this is a highly undemocratic argument, one that can ironically only hasten the break-up of the UK, and it becomes particularly odd if the alternative is a government dependent on the DUP. Incidentally it is also a stance that does the LibDems no favours in trying to keep (or ever win back) their Scottish seats.
3) Labour are not offering such a good deal.
What Labour can do is try and pre-empt this last argument by (if necessary) making the deal they are prepared to do public, so that the party sees what is on offer. Which means they need to think this through before 7th May.
In the end the LibDems got nothing from their current coalition on voting reform, and Labour could offer them something for sure. Not having to worry about a European referendum would also be attractive to the LibDems, particularly as Cameron could well advocate leaving. Labour could also be flexible about the type of arrangement: it could be a formal coalition, or it could be simply an understanding (that Miliband should be PM), but otherwise the LibDems vote on issues as their manifesto dictates. If they lose a lot of seats, that last option may appear attractive, particularly if the party is strongly divided over continuing with the Conservatives. There is also a strong argument that continuing in coalition with the Conservatives will bring about their eventual demise.
However, despite all this, to go with Labour would involve rejecting their current leadership’s advice (and maybe therefore their current leadership), and I suspect that will be too much for them in the end. Having helped them win a seat in the past, I hope I’m wrong.