6 May 2015

Cameron ends campaign with ‘warning’

Am in Carlisle where David Cameron has ended his overnight campaigning odyssey. Appropriately it is close to Hadrian’s Wall – which sometimes seems to have run through this campaign.

His final message was a pretty negative one: a “warning” against the perils of a weak Labour government (available to you if you vote anything other than Tory, he said).

It was balanced by a promise (childcare, deficit reduction and much else) but his team knows full well which bit of the speech will make headlines.

Talk to voters in the shopping precinct and Scotland comes up quite often. The way the Tories raised the Scottish issue to win English votes was one of the few surprises of the campaign. Tory strategists crow about how they put it in the centre of the election debate.

Some traditional Tories wonder how you put back an already damaged unionist spirit back together again after painting Scottish voters’ democratic choices as leper-like.

In the Tory camp, the more seasoned number crunchers are saying they think the party will be above the 290 mark in MPs, which Labour and Tory teams expect would mean David Cameron walking back up Downing Street with an intention of staying put.

They also say they think that they are comfortably more than 15 seats ahead of Labour.

Younger figures in the team worry that you just can’t know.

Has the Lib Dem vote hardened, reducing the Tory tally of seats? Is Labour’s ground war a more effective machine on the day getting the vote out?

If the Tories are on 290 or more and are 15 seats or more ahead of Labour, David Cameron will explore his options for co-operating with the Lib Dems he’s been abusing for weeks and also explore in parallel his options for soldiering on alone in a minority.

His team are calculating that there are divisions at the top of the Labour Party which they could exploit. One senior Tory said “Ed Miliband’s about the only one who could bear to work with the SNP” when many others will be saying “hold on, this could f*** us up completely.”

Ed Miliband could survive that sort of scenario, his top team believes.

The Blairites aren’t ready with a primed candidate and many of them would be reluctant to see the leadership go to Andy Burnham who is out in front as best placed to win a quick leadership vote in most people’s minds.

If Ed Miliband’s gross gains in England and Wales (as opposed to his net gains after Scottish losses are factored in) are better than expected, he would have a legitimate claim to stay on as leader and the party might feel the Cameron government is so fragile you wouldn’t want to risk a leadership contest when another election could crop up in the middle of it.

But then again Ed Miliband could be in No. 10 by Friday.

If the swings in English Con/Lab seats play out like many of the polls suggest, Ed Miliband will be much closer than 15 seats and the Tories lower than 290.

My colleague Michael Crick is reporting tonight that senior union sources are suggesting Ed Miliband throws the constitutional kitchen sink at a Lib Dem deal to woo over the party in parliament.

It’s a reminder of how much things could be shaken up in the days to come in ways many of us won’t have forseen.

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