The prospects for a hung British parliament following the May elections throughout the United Kingdom looked strong today. A new poll by ICM, published in The Guardian and The Evening Standard, shows that the Conservative lead over Labour has fallen to just seven points in the last week.
The steady decline in David Cameron’s conservative support comes from his own failure to explain his policies, especially on the economy. In televisions interviews this week he has been unable to explain where and when cuts in public expenditure will be made and what the tax implications of his policies are.
Gordon Brown, under attack in the media for reports of his bullying and boorish behavior aimed at how own staff and colleagues, looks to be improving his performance. His campaign, basically “take a close look at Labour and an even closer one at the Tories” seems to be paying off. His bullying is being “spun” by his handlers and his wife as the behavior of a man determined to ensure that the right policies are in place for the Britain of the future – a man passionate about the work he is doing. So far this spin seems to be working. Indeed, there is now talk of Brown calling a snap election some several weeks sooner than the May 6th vote everyone is expecting.
What is also working is Labour’s claim that the leadership of the Conservative party are upper middle class and “toffs”. In translation, “wealthy, aristocratic smarty pants”. In contrast, the claim is that Labour is still “of the people, for the people”. In fact, both parties are headed by people with a similar educational background and with wealth. While more conservatives inherited wealth, both parties have their fair share of toffs.
The battleground will be the economy and the size of public sector deficits and debts over the coming decade. A former leading conservative, Dominic Lawson, writes in The Independent today that the conservatives may actually be better off losing the coming election. Whoever wins will have to make substantial cuts in public expenditure and raise taxes so as to balance the books and get Britain back within normal ranges of public sector debt. Doing so will be massively unpopular and will likely lead to a single term government.
Even if the conservatives were to be the biggest party in a hung parliament after the coming election, that would not give David Cameron the immediate right to try to form a government. The incumbent Prime Minister is constitutionally entitled to make such an attempt himself. Edward Heath attempted this in February 1974, with his failed effort to persuade the then Liberal leader, Jeremy Thorpe, to support a Conservative Party which had fewer Parliamentary seats than Labour. One can imagine Gordon Brown seeking to construct a coalition with the independents, nationalists and others so as to stay in power. The irony would be that doing this and then taking the needed economic steps would confirm his reputation as the “dreadful Prime Minister”.