4 May 2015

Tories: is it 290+ MPs or bust?

If the Tories get above 290 MPs they plan to give it a go walking back through the door of No 10 with the strong intention of staying put.


David Cameron will say either (depending on the numbers and the willingness of potential partners to pick up the phone) “I’m chatting to the Lib Dems and the DUP” or “I’m the guy with the most seats and votes and therefore I should govern even if it is alone” (ushering in a minority government).

In the latter case in particular he would have to shift quickly (as he did in 2010) from partisan language to “reaching out/consensus” language and try to add an additional rhetorical layer of legitimacy to his claim on the top job.

He would also face a mighty challenge from the Labour leadership if they felt they could command a majority in the Commons.

It will not be easy. He would, in those circumstances, be looking at Labour being on a number at or around 270 MPs. They might, with SNP and other parties’ support, get to 323, in those circumstances. It is far from a done deal that the Tories’ plan would work.

There are any number of hurdles in front of David Cameron in this scenario. The 1922 Committee Executive will take part in a conference call late on Friday afternoon to discuss what they make of what by then should be the full results. On Monday at 11am the 1922 Committee is holding a meeting in parliament. If David Cameron pushed for a coalition with the Lib Dems he could find himself trying to sell it here or taking the temperature to see if it would be fatal to try.

Whether Tory MPs would go for another coalition would depend on the Commons numbers and the stability on offer. Some in the leadership haven’t given up on turning the meeting into a show of hands – “a British Leyland style meeting,” one senior Tory says dismissively. Figures on the 1922 executive seem clear it would have to be a secret ballot.

If David Cameron decided to go ahead with a minority government, daring Labour to hook up with the SNP, senior Tories say he would not consider a Queen’s Speech defeat a sign that he must pack up and quit. Tories say that the Queen’s Speech is now amendable after the Speaker created the precedent last year. Tories say the government could come back more than once with altered Queen’s Speeches and still not have lost the right to rule.

All of this could yet look presumptuous by the Tories. Small shifts in votes can still alter the blurred picture. The first 30 most marginal Tory seats that Labour hopes to win need less than 16,500 votes to changes sides. That’s the capacity of Carlisle’ football ground, or 20 per cent of Wembley’s capacity.

Labour’s internal assessment last week put it at 285 (with an uplift from 12 seats in Scotland). It sees 270 as the magic number that makes its claim on No. 10 indisputable.

Labour will be hoping Russell Brand’s last minute endorsement has helped in the required shifts. He’s issued a Vote Labour plea to his followers, but having previously told them not to vote I wonder if he knows they needed to register some time ago?

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