Fraser Nelson

Bringing Clegg to the table

Bringing Clegg to the table
Text settings

My gut feeling is that Cameron will win with a majority. But I had a gut feeling that Carey Mulligan would get Best Actress at the Oscars. When Scotland play rugby, I have a gut feeling that they will win. My gut, alas, has a pretty poor track record. But if I look at the polls, it suggests that Cameron will not win outright, and that Nick Clegg will be needed to form a majority. Today's daily Sun/YouGov tracker has the Tories with a five-point lead - which suggests that Cameron is 26 seats short of a majority, and that Nick Clegg has just 22 MPs to bring to the party. The chaos scenario, outlined by Allister Heath in this week's Spectator cover story ("Britain on the brink"), comes back into focus.

So how afraid should we be? Not very, says Timothy Garton Ash. He observed in the Guardian last week that continental parliaments manage fiscal consolidation (the new phrase for 'cuts') with coalitions, so why not Britain? The answer, in one word: history. The below chart shows the elections in the last century. The red line denotes the length of hung parliaments.  The blue lines are parliaments with small majorities (ie, fewer than 15 seats). Westminster's adversarial system does not lend itself to coalitions, and even in Holyrood and Cardiff Bay recent attempts at coalition have collapsed. More importantly, if everyone thinks they're one year away from a new election how popular are cuts going to be?

I have been recently reading up on the 1974-6 fiscal and political crisis. One journalist is indexed more than any other during that period: Sir Samuel Brittan, now of the Financial Times. He's writing in next week's magazine about the crisis, replying to Allister Heath's piece, from a Lib Dem perspective. And if any CoffeeHousers want to ask "why should we care about a LibDem perspective" I refer you to the YouGov poll. Like it or not, we all may have to start paying attention to what Nick Clegg thinks. My gut feeling, of course, is that it won't come to it.