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Tuesday, May 05, 2015 

We still need a Labour government.

So here we are.  With less than 48 hours until the polls open there is just the one thing that can be said for certain about what's going to happen once the votes start being counted: that absolutely no one has the first fucking idea about what's going to happen once the votes start being counted.

Obviously, we can make a few informed assumptions based on the polling evidence up to now.  The SNP are going to win a lot of seats in Scotland; the Lib Dems will in all likelihood be left with around 30 seats all told; UKIP will be lucky to win 3 seats, but their share of the vote could still wreak havoc on the Tories in the marginals; Caroline Lucas will in all likelihood hold on to her seat in Brighton, but it will take a miracle for the Greens to win anywhere else, with the possibility their share of the vote could also hinder Labour in some seats; and just to keep this somewhat wieldy, tactical voting will almost certainly be more important than ever.

Everything else is cast in doubt.  Without exaggeration, this is the first election in a generation where so much is uncertain.  In 2010 it was fairly apparent there would be a hung parliament and the Conservatives would be the largest party.  While a hung parliament remains all but certain this time, and it's also probable the Tories will end up with the most seats and the most votes, Labour could well be close enough on the former measure at least for the question of "legitimacy" to not rear its head in the way Cameron and friends, including Nick Clegg, imagine it will.  Alternatively, and as some have began to argue, the polls could as in 1992 be wrong.  The Tories might be within touching distance, not of a majority, but enough seats to govern in a coalition with the Lib Dems alongside confidence and supply from the DUP.  Many are also still to make up their minds, or will be doing so now.  Generally, the incumbent gets the benefit of the doubt.

Or it could be the exact opposite and we might be stuck in a situation come Friday morning where neither Labour or the Tories can make a minority government, let alone a coalition work.  The Conservative strategy should this happen seems to be, with support from their friends in the press, to do absolutely everything in their power to remain in government, right up to the point of defeat on a Queen's speech.  Gordon Brown had the decency it should be remembered to accept the numbers simply weren't in his favour in 2010, and resigned sooner than he perhaps constitutionally had to.  If the Tories fail, Labour will invariably try and govern in a minority relying on SNP, Plaid and Green support as and when it comes, and may well persuade the DUP also to vote in their favour.  Minority government as some have also reminded us is not just about persuading those nominally on your side, but also those on the other side; would the Tories vote down a Labour Queen's speech or budget that didn't give in to SNP demands for instance?  Would the Tories really vote down a bill on replacing Trident as one of their MPs suggested?

One thing that can be said with certainty about the campaign as opposed to the outcome is that it has not once captured the imagination of anyone, let alone the country at large. Nor has the gap between the two main parties, which is also larger than it has been for a generation, been communicated to so many of those struggling as to how to vote.  Labour and Conservative spending plans, while seemingly not that different, with both saying austerity will continue, in fact diverge massively.  Labour's plans allow it to borrow £25bn or more a year to invest; the Tories promise a slashing of the state so big that it's frankly inconceivable they would go through with itAs passed judgement on by the IFS, none of the plans on offer as explained in the manifestos are truly credible, but the Tories' are the most outlandish by far.

With the result so unpredictable, it's slightly premature to pass full verdict on the campaigns.  Nonetheless, to judge the Conservative campaign on how Lynton Crosby kept insisting there would come a "crossover" point, with the Tories taking a decisive lead, both he and David Cameron have clearly failed.  Such has been the dismal fare served up by the Conservatives over the past six weeks, a campaign that was meant to focus on two things, the economy and Ed Miliband has finished up instead focusing on just one, the danger of a Labour government propped up by the SNP.  The personal attacks on Miliband that promised to define the campaign ended within 2 weeks once the party realised they had stopped having an effect; the economy followed suit shortly after.  A party that on the surface has a respected leader with a good story to tell on a growing economy has been reduced to little more than pointing at a "dangerous" Scotswoman to stay in power.  Even more depressing is it might yet work.

The Labour campaign (outside of Scotland, at least) has by contrast made only slight missteps, like the spectacularly ill-judged "Edstone" unveiled at the weekend.  Considering the thin meat of the pledges on that (mill)stone, Miliband has consistently played a weak hand well.  Anyone surprised by how he hasn't been a complete disaster fell into believing the bullshit spread not just by the right-wing media but also from some within his party, convinced Labour can't win if it tacks even slightly to the left.  Labour won't win outright, but anyone who claims with a straight face that his brother, Alan Johnson or someone in the shadow cabinet would have done a better job is lying to themselves.  Labour alone out of the parties has kept campaigning up to the last, has tried to do things (slightly) differently, whether it be Miliband agreeing to be interviewed by Russell Brand or even today appearing on a fashion vlogger's channel, and has at the very least attempted to be positive.  Trying to return to government after a single term out of office is always going to be a struggle, especially when Labour's exhaustion in 2010 was so total, the Tory narrative of the crash and the recession accepted without question by so much of the media and the public.  If Miliband's last 5 years should be judged on anything, it ought to be on whom the high priests of capital have declared for: the FT and the Economist both want a continuation of the coalition, despite the impact an EU referendum could have.  Indeed, in the media at large it seems only the Mirror and Guardian will end up supporting Labour, with the Indie also calling for a coalition: Miliband has scared the right people in precisely the right way.

If plenty of voters are still undecided, they can hardly be blamed for being so.  The campaigns at large have for the most part been ridiculously safe, neither the Conservatives or Labour wanting to be seen to have committed a "gaffe".  This is in spite of the one truly electrifying moment of the campaign being last week's Question Time debate, although contrarily I'd still say the opposition debate was better in quality overall.  All three of the leaders stood up well to a barrage of hostile questioning, precisely the kind they have spent so much of the campaign trying to avoid lest it be judged they screwed up or were secretly recorded insulting their interrogator.  David Cameron's debate avoiding gambit has undoubtedly paid off, but certainly not to the extent the Tories must have hoped; by the same token, Ed Miliband's personal ratings have improved, but not to the extent Labour must have hoped had the one-on-one debate Labour demanded taken place.  Whoever leads the next government, something has to be done to make sure the prime minister of the day is not able to both prevaricate and dictate to the broadcasters over the debates in such a way again.

As I wrote at the end of March, and nothing since has happened to change my mind one iota, in fact quite the opposite, we need a Labour government.  Whether it's a Labour minority government, a Labour-Lib Dem coalition, a Labour government with an extremely slim majority, whatever the outcome, what's on offer from Ed Miliband's Labour party is preferable to that of David Cameron's Conservative party.  This is not always down to Labour's policies being superior, although they nearly always are, so much as the Tories' being destructive, cruel and discriminatory.  When the party can't so much as bring itself to include the "spare room subsidy" in its manifesto, at the same time as it proposes to cut a further £12bn from welfare while refusing to say where, the lack of honesty ought to be causing far more ructions than it has.  Such has been the Conservative way of denying their policies have affected anyone who isn't a scrounger or a work-shy layabout: food banks haven't expanded because of the astronomical rise in benefit sanctions, but as the JobCentre can now refer people to them.  Pensioners have been protected as both the working and unemployed poor are told "we are all in this together".  To the Conservatives a job, any job, is a way out;  Labour under Miliband has recognised that work increasingly doesn't pay.

How we then get to a Labour government is the real question.  To start off with the easy stuff: if, like Chris, you live in either a rock solid Tory or for that matter Labour seat where the nearest challenger has no hope, feel free to vote Green, TUSC or however you feel.  From there on it gets trickier: fairly obviously, if you're in a marginal where Labour has any chance, with the one exception of the sitting MP being an utter cock, vote Labour.  I'm fairly certain the sitting Tory in my constituency will hold on with a reasonably comfortable majority, but I'm voting Labour just in case.  Where the choice is between the Lib Dems and the Tories, it's a far more difficult decision.  The best possible remotely plausible outcome to my mind will be a Labour-Lib Dem coalition, but for that to happen both parties need to do better than the polls suggest.  It would almost certainly require in addition for Nick Clegg to lose in Sheffield Hallam.  When Matthew d'Anconservative says Clegg retaining his seat is key to the Tory clinging to power strategy, it's evident removing the Lib Dem leader is vital.  The problem is not knowing if yesterday's ICM poll suggesting Clegg will win fairly comfortably is more reliable than the Ashcroft polling saying it's too close to call.  Those in the Tory-Lib Dem marginals may well have to play it by ear and vote Lib Dem despite every instinct screaming they're boned whichever way it goes.  Much the same goes for those few seats in Scotland where it's either the SNP or the Lib Dems, although we can make an exception for Danny Alexander.  Finally, in Brighton Pavilion a vote for Caroline Lucas so long as you can separate the MP from the underperforming Green council ought to be a gimme.

Lastly, if the UKIP and Green shares of the vote hold up, voting reform will surely have to be looked at again.  If the SNP win 40 or more seats on the back of a 5% share of the vote while UKIP win 3 or less on a percentage that could be double that, something will have to give.  It will hopefully also finally get through to the blockheads in the Tories that the way things are going they might never win a majority under FPTP again; no reason then to continue blocking a system that has the potential to make every vote count.  Until that happens, it's a question of holding our noses and voting for the least worst viable option.  And even if you disagree with everything I've wrote here, voting regardless of who for is always better than the alternative.

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