With another poll showing the Tories short of the lead they need to be sure of a majority—ICM
for the Sunday Telegraph has the Tories on 38, Labour on 31 and the Lib Dems on 21—we are going to hear even more about a hung parliament and the role of the Lib Dems; I can’t remember any Lib Dem leader getting as much media attention as Nick Clegg has had these past four days. But if the Lib Dems are a potential party of government, then they should be a subject to a whole another level of scrutiny. For example, in the Newsnight education debate, David Laws implied
that the Lib Dems would ringfence spending on the NHS when Vince Cable has explicitly ruled that out. If there was such a difference of opinion between two senior front benchers on the Labour or Tory side, it would be written up as a splits story. But Laws’ comments when almost unnoticed.
When the Lib Dems have been put under the same level of scrutiny as the major parties are they have, generally, not come out of it well. Vince Cable, generally regarded as the Lib Dems’ biggest asset, looked a lot less impressive when Andrew Neil subjected him to the kind of interview that Osborne and Darling have to go through.
Having said this, I’m still sceptical of the prospects of a hung parliament. I expect that the nature of the marginals and the Tory work there mean that a six or seven point Tory lead will translate into a Tory majority. I also suspect that in a tight campaign the Lib Dems will get squeezed as they did in 1992.