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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Labour tensions boil over at fractious MPs' meeting

Corbyn supporters and critics clash over fiscal charter U-turn and new group Momentum. 

"A total fucking shambles". That was the verdict of the usually emollient Ben Bradshaw as he left tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party meeting. His words were echoed by MPs from all wings of the party. "I've never seen anything like it," one shadow minister told me. In commitee room 14 of the House of Commons, tensions within the party - over the U-turn on George Osborne's fiscal charter and new Corbynite group Momentum - erupted. 

After a short speech by Jeremy Corbyn, shadow chancellor John McDonnell sought to explain his decision to oppose Osborne's fiscal charter (having supported it just two weeks ago). He cited the change in global economic conditions and the refusal to allow Labour to table an amendment. McDonnell also vowed to assist colleagues in Scotland in challenging the SNP anti-austerity claims. But MPs were left unimpressed. "I don't think I've ever heard a weaker round of applause at the PLP than the one John McDonnell just got," one told me. MPs believe that McDonnell's U-turn was due to his failure to realise that the fiscal charter mandated an absolute budget surplus (leaving no room to borrow to invest), rather than merely a current budget surplus. "A huge joke" was how a furious John Mann described it. He and others were outraged by the lack of consultation over the move. "At 1:45pm he [McDonnell] said he was considering our position and would consult with the PLP and the shadow cabinet," one MP told me. "Then he announces it before 6pm PLP and tomorow's shadow cabinet." 

When former shadow cabinet minister Mary Creagh asked Corbyn about the new group Momentum, which some fear could be used as a vehicle to deselect critical MPs (receiving what was described as a weak response), Richard Burgon, one of the body's directors, offered a lengthy defence and was, one MP said, "just humiliated". He added: "It looked at one point like they weren't even going to let him finish. As the fractious exchanges were overheard by journalists outside, Emily Thornberry appealed to colleagues to stop texting hacks and keep their voices down (within earshot of all). 

After a calmer conference than most expected, tonight's meeting was evidence of how great the tensions within Labour remain. Veteran MPs described it as the worst PLP gathering for 30 years. The fear for all MPs is that they have the potential to get even worse. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.