Voters think the government has failed on crime, benefits and Europeby Peter Kellner / July 17, 2014 / Leave a comment
David Cameron is a lucky leader. He has been able to blame Labour for the tough measures his government has taken. He is likely to fight next year’s election against a backdrop of a recovering economy and rising living standards. He faces an opponent that most voters think is too weak to be Prime Minister. The scene is set for what should be a decisive Conservative victory.
Yet that’s not where we are heading. The Conservatives may well end up as the largest party in the new House of Commons; but Cameron needs to increase his appeal substantially if he is to achieve the kind of majority he needs in order to have five years to do what he really wants to do, rather than rely on cooperation from the Liberal Democrats; the placid behaviour of his more Eurosceptic backbenchers; a fair wind from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists; or some mixture of all three.
At the moment, Labour holds a narrow lead over the Tories. If we assume that the next nine months conform to the pattern of past parliaments, Conservative support is likely to rise, while Labour slips. On their own, however, such shifts would simply make the Tories the largest party in a severely hung parliament—say, Conservatives 300 seats, Labour 290. Cameron would not merely have failed to lead his party to a clear-cut victory; he would have presided over a net loss of seats. It’s not clear that he could even remain in the position of party leader, let alone Prime Minister.
To be sure of staying on in Downing Street, Cameron probably needs his party to gain enough seats to allow it to govern alone. This does not necessarily mean the 326 seats that deliver an overall majority. If the Tories won 315 seats, for example, they would be able to outvote the combined forces of Labour and the Liberal Democrats. (It was their failure to do this in 2010, when 307 Tory MPs faced a total of 315 Labour and Lib Dem MPs, that made…