Could there ever be a Liberal Democrat Prime Minister?
Ming Campbell talked bravely this week about taking the Lib Dems from a party of opposition to a party of government.
A few rare Lib Dem loyalists aside, no-one seriously believes that the party might win the next general election. At Betfair, you can get odds of 75-1 against the Lib Dems being the largest party or winning an overall majority in the next election – and only Â£2000 has been bet. But what about after that?
Obviously very little can be said about politics beyond the next election. But here are two comments. Firstly, in say, 30 years, the Lib Dems (or any successor party) are likely still to be in third place, whatever the party might hope.
Secondly, governments almost always get less popular until they lose power. In just three democratic countries to my knowledge, a single party remained in almost unbroken power for decades. They are the Congress in India, the Social Democrats in Sweden, and the LDP in Japan. Today, only Japan’s LDP remains dominant.
In Britain in 1983, the Tories gained 58 seats despite being in government. But even then, their share of the vote dropped by 1.5%. They took seats off Labour while the Labour vote collapsed in favour of the Alliance. No governing party has gained seats at an election in Britain for decades.
However, a hung parliament is the favourite outcome of the next election, rated around 40% by punters at Betfair. That may well lead to a coalition – or at least substantial influence for the Lib Dems with a minority government.
If the Lib Dems were to hold between 40 and 80 seats over the decades, hung Parliaments could well become the norm.
Official oppositions would normally have to win at least hundred seats to win an overall majority directly without there being a hung parliament first. For example, the Tories need about 125 seats in the next election to form a government; Labour need only lose 44 for a hung Parliament.
So we could well be moving into an era where, even if there is no change in the voting system, the Lib Dems are coalition partners a lot of the time, perhaps in one in three parliaments. My guess is that in 15 years, the Lib Dems may well be between 40 and 100 seats – I can be no more specific or definite than that. If anyone offered odds today against a Lib Dem prime minister by that time, they might be 20-1 against?
Of course, in Harold Wilson’s famous phrase, it all depends on ‘Events, dear boy, events.’
Gavin Baylis is a Lib Dem activist and former parliamentary candidate.