New Times,
New Thinking.

1 October 2009

Shock, horror: Tories may not win

Polls show hung parliament still on the cards

By James Macintyre

Another day, another round of Brown-baiting. But despite this shallow game — happiness and charisma are more important than substance in this media age — and despite the misplaced hysteria over the Sun‘s cynical stunt aimed at overshadowing Labour’s conference, there are a few largely ignored signs that the Cameron-has-already-won consensus is premature.

My colleague Mehdi Hasan and I have long made the point that Cameron’s Tories (roughly 30-40) are polling way below Tony Blair’s Labour (roughly 40-60) in the 1990s, and it is worth reading Blair’s former adviser Benjamin Wegg-Prosser, writing a blog from Russia on the subject here. Now, a largely unnoticed poll has Labour closing the gap, to 30-37 against the Tories. Mehdi today put the numbers into the Electoral Calculus website, as you can here, and the result came up as 294 seats (Con), 266 (Lab) and 58 (Lib Dem).

Hung parliaments are often predicted but don’t come: yet it has to happen one day, and it is looking increasingly likely next year will be that time. Part of Brown’s strategy in making an announcement on the “Alternative Vote” may have been to win over the Liberal Democrats in the event of this happening. But because AV is not proportional, it probably won’t be enough. As Mehdi has outlined, the Liberals have moved from a position under Charles Kennedy, in which they would have got into bed with Labour, to one — guided by Vince Cable — in which a Tory alliance looks more likely.

The frenzy over Gordon Brown’s premiership will be given a boost by jubilant Tories in Manchester next week. But the Tories, as Alastair Campbell has said, have yet to “seal the deal” with the electorate. I think I am the only journalist in Britain who still thinks Brown could win a slim overall majority. But if we are heading for a hung parliament, he will have to do more — including a possible rethink on that elusive election-day referendum on electoral reform — if he is to survive.

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