Another day, another poll: this one had Tory, Labour and Lib Dem on 38, 30 and 20, which at least gave “only” 12% for “others”, but otherwise just fuelled talk of a hung Parliament. Why so?
Ah well. It’s all about the gap that an opposition party has to cross if it wants to form any kind of majority – let alone a working one. And over the years that gap has been widening.
Back in 1959, the number of MPs not part of Tory or Labour was just seven. Six of those were Liberals: this was the age when the Parliamentary Liberal Party could indeed be fitted into the back of a taxi. So the scope for a hung Parliament was very narrow: an opposition party merely needed to gain another seven MPs to cross the gap.
It was all rather different in 2005. The Lib Dems, as successors to the 1959 Liberals, now had 62 seats. Moreover, the various Northern Ireland members, 18 of them, mostly did not take the whip of any major party. Then there were nine nationalist MPs from Scotland and Wales, and two Independents. That’s a gap of 91.
So Young Dave and his chaps need to gain enough to wipe out the Labour majority – and then another 90-odd on top of that. Only then will they be in a position to form a majority Government. The only other way is to squeeze the Lib Dems, but the days when the Super Soaraway Currant Bun would routinely field a “Libs In No Seats Shocker” edition during the General Election campaign are over – well, credibility wise, anyway.
And the Tories would prefer any majority to be substantial enough that a few by-election losses would not cause too much concern: many in the party still remember the erosion of John Major’s 21 seat advantage during the 90s.