In Depth

Is Cameron-Clegg coalition really doomed to extinction?

One prediction says it’s curtains – but Peter Kellner of YouGov says they have a chance of a comeback

Columnist Don Brind

With new polls showing the Tories slipping back (see below) after gaining ground last week, and with the Lib Dems faring no better, the Cameron-Clegg coalition appears to face inevitable collapse on 7 May.

Or is there a slim chance it will survive the election and live to rule for another five years?

Polling Observatory, a group of four academics, are convinced the show is over. They predict that when you add up the seats won by the Tories and Lib Dems on 7 May, they will fall short of 326 (the magic number that gives you a Commons majority) by more than 30.

How do they reach this grim reckoning? They predict that the Tories and Labour will be tied on 34 per cent of the national vote come the election. That represents a 3.7 per cent swing from the Tories to Labour since 2010. 

“In other words,” they say, “every seat which the Tories won by less than 7.4 per cent in 2010 would go to Labour. There are 63 of these, which would easily make Labour the largest party, all other things being equal.”

As for the other parties, they expect Ukip to win 15 per cent of the national vote, the Lib Dems just over eight per cent and the Greens six per cent.

When they translate these vote shares into Westminster seats, Polling Observatory predict: Labour 285, Tories 265, Lib Dems 24, Ukip 3. (They offer no individual seat prediction for the Greens.) And they reckon the SNP will have 49 Scottish MPs.

This means, they say, that “a Tory-Lib Dem deal would only muster 289 seats … 34 short of an effective majority. In contrast, a Labour-SNP pact would have 334 MPs: a double-digit majority.”

Not so fast, argues Peter Kellner, chairman of YouGov. He predicts the Tories will emerge from the election with just shy of 300 seats and Clegg will hang on to 30 – just enough to scrape together the magic 326.

Kellner is not the only pollster who believes the Conservatives will win more seats than Labour – but he is by far the most bullish of forecasters on the Tories’ behalf. 

His prediction relies on the Tories opening up a five per cent lead over Labour - 36 to 31 per cent - by 7 May, compared to the current 34 per cent tie in the current YouGov average.

Even more striking is his prediction that the Lib Dems will climb from their current seven per cent to ten per cent while Ukip will drop back from 14 to 12 per cent. Those movements all favour the coalition’s prospects; any share the Greens can achieve will only hurt Labour.

What drives Kellner’s optimism on behalf of Cameron and Clegg is the history of past elections which, he claims, shows an inevitable swing towards the government as polling day approaches. The Polling Observatory team sees no sign of that happening this time round. 

However, Kellner’s expectation of a Tory breakthrough looked more realistic a week ago when the Ashcroft poll had them opening up a four per cent lead over Labour. The latest Ashcroft poll, released yesterday, shows that lead shrinking to two points. 

Populus shows a striong gain for the Tories, but only enough to have them level-pegging with Labour, while the March ICM poll for The Guardian has Labour within a point of the Tories thanks to a three per cent advance. Kellner’s own company, YouGov, has Labour back in the lead.

Populus: Lab 34 (up 2), Con 34 (up 5), Lib Dems 8 (u/c), Ukip 15 (down 3), Greens 5 (down 1).

Ashcroft: Con 31 (down 3), Lab 29 (down 1), Lib Dems 8 (up 3), Ukip 15, Green 8.

ICM: Tories 36 (u/c), Labour 35 (up 3), Lib Dems 8 (down 2), Ukip 9 (u/c) Greens 4 (down 3).

YouGov: Con 33 (down 1), Lab 35 (up 1), Lib Dems 7 (u/c), Ukip 13 (down 1),  Greens 7 (up 2). 

Ashcroft’s latest constituency polling, due to be unveiled this week, will hopefully give us more pointers. He’s returned to some of the key Tory-Labour battlegrounds, where past surveys have found consistent Labour leads. 

The narrowing in the national polls since the Ashcroft surveys began gives the Tories hope that some of the key marginals will stay blue on 7 May – who knows, maybe even enough to make Kellner’s prediction come true.

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