The prospect of Labour winning has Conservatives starting to build up funds for a quick second election

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December 28, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith

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Some interesting gossip emanating from Conservative HQ is that they have started to solicit donations to fund a second election campaign soon after the first in May. The scenario envisaged is that Labour win the most seats but cannot get an agreement with the SNP, who may be in the best position to support their government. The Conservatives would then force a vote of no confidence in the government, triggering an election. Under the new rules of Fixed Term Parliaments, this vote of confidence would need 66% of MPs to vote in favour of it, which would mean some Labour MPs doing so.

Given the continuing fragmentation on the left, this is an entirely plausible scenario, as many Labour MPs might not want to be clinging onto power as a lame duck minority government. Some may feel that once the public have had a go at making their distrust for the current political elite clear in the May 2015 election by voting for UKIP or Greens or the SNP, they may see the chaos that has ensued and in another vote may go back to vote for the big parties. This, the Conservatives feel, would benefit them more, as so many more voters will have defected from them to UKIP, but will have seen that it is actually true that if they go to bed with Nigel Farage they might wake indeed wake up with Ed Miliband in Number 10.

All this of course depends on whether it is actually so that Labour will need the SNP in order to form a government. This is partly about the number of seats that the SNP win, most of which would be taken directly from Labour in Scotland of course. But also it depends on the way the SNP want to use the political process. They could for instance say they they would support the Labour government only if they discontinued Trident, which is at the moment, their stated ‘red line’. They have also mentioned an ‘end to austerity’, which could give the Labour Party the cover under which to forget their stated desire to reduce the deficit. However, given the way the public still look at Labour on the economy, doing the latter would be disastrous for their future electoral hopes if it were done in the hope of short term political gain. Doing the former, with all the attendant consequences of unilateral disarmament that ending a Trident entails, would possibly see Labour oversee the end of the UK’s influence globally in terms of NATO and the UN Security Council. I’m not sure they want to do that.

However, an interesting point to make about the SNP’s position after the 2015 election is that should they not be able to reach agreement with Labour, trigger another election, and the Tories won, they could be blamed by many in Scotland for “letting in the Tories.” True, but my view on this is that the SNP want the Tories in power for five more years at least, so they have an enemy in Westminster government they can point at and claim gives more reason for a second independence referendum.

Will the Lib Dems come to Labour’s rescue? Well they may not have enough seats to make it work, but even if they did, the overhanging bitterness of the 2010 coalition negotiations as detailed by books by both sides (Andrew Adonis and David Laws) may make it difficult. Ed Miliband has indicated he may have a problem entering a coalition with Nick Clegg, which wasn’t helpful, and what’s more, both Labour and the Lib Dems have a discipline problem, with a senior Labour source noting the other day that “we have 20-30 colleagues who can’t be 100% relied upon to vote for our own comprehensive spending review.” So a coalition with the Lib Dems may not work so well.

Labour could also bring in some SDLP MPs from Northern Ireland, any Green that wins, and even possibly join with the DUP in Northern Ireland, who they have been courting recently by pointing out how Conservative coalition policies were hurting their constituents. But this arrangement is unlikely to persist for a long time.

Ultimately, such is the electoral calculus at the moment I would put good money on a second election happening quite soon after the first. I think it is even more likely to happen if Labour have a problem forming a majority, as they are just less likely to be able to make the compromises required to form those coalitions than the Conservatives.

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