How many seats does Cameron really need to govern?

Answer: not as many as you think.

The latest polls continue to show David Cameron roughly 50 seats short of the 326 he needs for an overall majority. Even if the Tories perform disproportionately well in the key Labour marginals, Cameron will still struggle to cross the line.

Headlines claiming that the final Ipsos MORI marginals poll shows the Tories are on course for a clear victory can be safely ignored. The survey, of 57 Lab-Con battlegrounds, did not include the 23 Lib Dem marginals Cameron needs to win for a majority of one. Various polls have shown that the Tories will struggle to win any of these and, in the wake of Cleggmania, it's possible that the Lib Dems will even start to make gains from Cameron.

Yet several factors mean that the Tory leader may not need as many as 326 MPs to govern effectively. First, Sinn Fein MPs, of whom there are now five, refuse to take their seats in Westminster on republican grounds. Second, with the new Ulster Unionist-Conservative alliance, any MP elected under the joint banner will take the Tory whip.

The Ulster Unionist Party may have no MPs (its sole remaining MP, Sylvia Hermon, recently resigned over the Tory pact), but it is expected to make some gains at the Democratic Unionist Party's expense. The combined absence of Sinn Fein and the UUP presence could hand Cameron the equivalent of an extra seven or eight Commons allies in total.

But at best this still leaves him 20-30 seats short of an overall majority. However, the Tory leader may not be as fearful of leading a minority government as some suggest. As Paul Waugh points out, many of Cameron's policy pledges do not require legislation:

Cutting the number of ministers? Doesn't require legislation. Merging departments? Doesn't require legislation. Cutting budgets, back-office staff? Doesn't require legislation. Setting up a new "war cabinet" or shifting policy on Iran? Doesn't need legislation. Cutting bureaucracy in the police, schools and NHS? Can be done through secondary legislation, ministerial directive or guidance.

Tory strategists are comforted by the experience of Scotland, where, against the odds, Alex Salmond's minority government has performed well and passed a barely revised Budget.

There seems little reason to doubt that Cameron will be in a strong position to form a minority government, with the Lib Dems offering "confidence and supply" in a hung parliament.

Indeed, as James points out, the bookmaker Paddy Power has already started paying out on a Tory victory. This is one publicity stunt I don't think they'll come to regret.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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