Could it be much tighter than it appears?
On Friday, in the immediate aftermath of Barnsley, I speculated about the possibility of the Lib Dems failing to hold their nerve, the coalition falling apart, and the chances of this leading to a general election this year.
I rate the possibility of it happening at no more than 25%.
But what would happen in such an election. Would Labour, in line with all the polling, the local council by elections and, of course, Barnsley and OES, romp home to a clear victory giving them a majority in the commons? I’m not so sure.
Voting intention polls between elections are based on the hypothetical premise that “there is a general election tomorrow” which of course there isn’t.
On the plus side for Labour a new contest would be fought on the old boundaries with the seat bonus that gives them. On top of that, unlike 2010, Labour would not be led by Gordon Brown and there’s no doubt that the former leader was a big negative.
EdM’s party would have the current government’s record and policies to make into issues and although voters might agree generally with the notion of cuts they are much less supportive when they see how it would affect them personally.
Undoubtedly the Lib Dems would lose seats – most of them to the Tories enabling the blues to get that much closer.
The defining issue would be the economy and whether voters had confidence in the strategy that George Osborne is pursuing. The blue rhetoric would all be about them trying to get the mandate to sort out what they said were the problems bequeathed to them by the last Labour government.
The red team would be pressed repeatedly to set out what their cuts programme would be with lots of references to statements in Darling’s budget last March about a cuts programme that would be instituted this year. At the moment they’ve been allowed to side-step the specifics – a position that would be highly difficult to sustain in an election campaign.
Then there would be the public’s view of Ed Miliband. In all the polling his positive ratings trail Cameron’s and past election experience suggest that this could be crucial.
This is a hard call but I think the blues would end up with most seats.