Howard Wheeldon's second wish is a Tory win. His first is anything but a hung parliament.
The press is not alone in deciding that the chances of a hung parliament have significantly increased. Even those standing for election to Parliament next week have come to similar conclusion. Me……? Well I used to be uncertain but now I am not so sure meaning that I can only hope that between now and election-day we see some kind of resurgence for the Tories and the recent bout of Lib Dem support goes into reverse. The good news is that there is now some evidence that this is exactly what may be occurring. Great, but even so, plenty of doubts remain as to whether this is happening fast enough to give the Tories enough of the overall vote in terms of seats to have a sufficient workable majority!
We must hope that whatever the result is we do not end up with a hung parliament. I have lived through several and from a business position would prefer not to live with another. Indecision and inability to move in any direction best sums up the evils of a hung parliament in the UK. Its fine in Italy perhaps, even in Germany, but in Britain, aside from necessary wartime coalitions, the idea of a hung parliament just doesn’t work!
Looking at each of the three parties in turn for a moment in this mid term election report I can at least begin to see considerable trouble ahead for Gordon Brown. No, don’t feel sorry for this bully of a man – one who is now under enormous pressure to pull something out of the bag that he will try just about anything! Mr. Brown is the master of his own demise and we should perhaps be thankful to the Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg for knocking the final nails in the New Labour coffin this weekend by saying that he would not prop up a defeated party. Indeed, we are now told that in a last desperate attempt to woo flagging support Mr. Brown has cast aside his advisors and gone off in a huff, deciding to run the remainder of Labour’s campaign on the hoof. I smell trouble ahead as that can surely only make things even worse for the Prime Minister in terms of winning back votes. Indeed while this move may not signal a complete falling out with the spin-doctor-in-chief, Lord Mandelson, it signals that having lost patience with how the campaign is going Mr. Brown is now launching a last ditch effort.
On Saturday, whilst watching the motley crew of Messrs Brown, Harman and Mandelson on TV presiding over affairs of state, I concluded that the body language talked of nothing but failure. Certainly they were not at one; what with Mandelson looking at his watch while Brown waffled on, clueless Harriet Harman providing nothing to the debate and Mandelson himself looking as if the end can’t come soon enough. The bottom line is that Gordon Brown is to me already yesterday’s man. Indeed, I suspect that within three weeks we will see signs of a leadership challenge unless of course just as Kinnock did in 1992 he does the decent thing and resigns.
But if Labour is out of ideas to halt the widening credibility gap with voters, what about the Tories? In terms of floating voter appeal undoubtedly Mr. Cameron needs to do better than he currently is but at least the latest polls do show that he and the party as a whole have through the past week hung on to all ground. Indeed there are even small signs that Mr. Cameron has managed to increase overall support this past week, something that if right could show that floating voters may be cottoning on to the dangers of the potential of a hung parliament by coming back to the Tories. I might also mention that Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, has come out with some good new ideas this past week and that this has surely helped. Whatever, somehow the Tories do now appear to be getting the message through and, with a more aggressive attitude and approach from the leader, it is my sense that this week will show that they are making new ground. Of course the BBC debate Thursday will be crucial. Meanwhile politics is an imperfect science and predicting elections has absolutely no science behind it at all. But if any of the three parties comes across as speaking as one ten days before the election I have to conclude it is the Tories.
So what about the Lib Dems? Without doubt and almost by accident rather than design the first of the three TV debates put Nick Clegg into a position that former leaders such as Jo Grimond, Jeremy Thorpe and Lord (David) Steel could only dream of. Trouble is that when you get to the top there is only one way to go – down. That is just where Nick Clegg is heading for the simple reason that no party can win the vote or even a share of power when most voters would struggle to name more than two of its senior members. OK, Mr. Clegg has done a brilliant job of getting himself known and indeed, loved by many voters – particularly those that have never voted before and couldn’t care less about who runs the government or know what government even does. As for finance spokesman Vince Cable and who even I would admit did the most professional job of all parliamentarians during the Northern Rock affair in terms of speaking sense, this is not a man that we should welcome anywhere near the Treasury. Put it this way, with Labour in control of the Treasury one half of the population suffers; with the Tories in charge of the Treasury one quarter of voters – the rich amongst them – will suffer hardship to get us through this mess. With the Lib Dems and with Vince Cable in Number 11 95% of the electorate will suffer pain and hardship. Now, name another member of the Lib Dem front bench or leading hierarchy apart from the former leader Sir Menzies Campbell and the unfortunate Charles Kennedy? No, I can’t name one off hand either without going on to Google!
So where are we going with the vote next Thursday? My own view – one that of course could just as well be very wrong of course – is that over the next week voters will increasingly see the dangers of a hung parliament meaning that almost by default the Tories will regain some of the previous lost ground. Whilst it may well be in five years time, the nation is not yet ready for a party like the Lib-Dems that only a few months ago had national support of maybe 15% of the popular vote. However, the Lib-Dems are now a force to be reckoned with and their star will in my view rise if they come together with variations on some of the policy themes already established. The Tories – the natural enemies of the Lib-Dems – would do well to watch out over the next five years. Labour is already discredited in my view and despite fears that it could still hang on to power I believe we will see it losing further ground in the week ahead. As for the Tories – well they can and should win an overall lead in terms of both seats and maybe even the number of votes although it is increasingly hard to see that they might have sufficient leeway for much in the way of overall in the House of Commons.
The prospect of a hung parliament then cannot be ruled out. It is the worst of all options for the nation right now and will, should this occur, lead to a loss of confidence by those that we need to have on board right now supporting us. Sterling would undoubtedly be hit but moreover, far from feeling that this was the right thing to do given the problems we face, I believe that ordinary voters will soon feel disenchanted over the lack of ability for the government to govern. We have of course been down the road of a hung parliament before and no doubts we will do it again. We survived then and eventually it led to the emergence of a period of strong government.
Howard Wheeldon, senior strategist BGC Partners brokers