Could 2010 see two general elections?

Could 2010 see two general elections?

What if the first one isn’t decisive?

The general assumption about the result of the next election is that the Conservatives will win it. The opinion polls point to a Tory win, as do the bookies, where the Conservatives are heavily odds-on. That said, favourites are not certainties and a hung parliament remains no longer than 3/1 (with Paddy Power).

If that is the result – and it will be if Labour lose more than about a couple of dozen seats (under the new boundaries) but the Conservatives fail to gain around 120 or more – the country will be in a position is has not found itself for over a third of a century. While both Callaghan and Major ended up with minority administrations, only one recent general elections has produced one from the outset: February 1974.

Going back before World War II, the 1923 and 1929 elections also failed to deliver decisive victories to any of the competing parties. One thing that all three elections have in common is the length of the parliament that followed: they were all short.

It’s surely unlikely that a hung parliament resulting from a May 2010 election would enjoy a long life either. The big decisions looming on public spending make an era of consensus politics improbable: there will be much to oppose for those not in government and the differing beliefs in the necessity of each parties’ policies make compromise much more difficult. A second election could easily result from either a government seeking a renewed and strengthened mandate (especially if the government only took over a few months earlier) or because the other parties voted it down.

So far, we’ve heard little about the prospects of a second election within at most two years and I think this is part of the reason that the idea of an October poll still gets raised from time to time.

The theory goes that Labour should seek an early dissolution in order to minimise losses and perhaps even prevent the Conservatives from gaining a majority, before tax rises kick back in, unemployment rises towards 3 million and other predictable bad news stories kick in.

However, there’s a snag or two with that thinking. For one thing, if the stories are so predictable then the public is likely to have already built them into their expectations. For another, it ignores the possibilities open to the new government if it doesn’t win a workable majority. First among these is the ability to do what Wilson did in 1974 and go back to the country in short order to strengthen his position.

David Herdson

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