TWO DOWN – ONE TO GO
TV debates have transformed the election;Education reform Bill still possible if election results in hung Parliament
David Cameron, the Tory leader, was expected to be the main beneficiary of the TV debates, but Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader has surprised most people by beating both Cameron and, less surprisingly Gordon Brown, a less accomplished public performer. Polls suggest that Clegg was not the outright winner of the second debate, with Cameron ,in particular, much more impressive in style and substance, but Clegg’s job was to consolidate and not to implode, which he more than succeeded in doing. What the TV debates have done is blown the election wide open. Electors have a pretty jaundiced view of politicians and Cleggs threat to break the duopoly is appealing to some, particular younger voters, though they are less likely to vote. The Lib Dems are virtually level pegging now with the Tories, with Labour in their wake. The election can produce three scenarios. A majority government, a minority government or a coalition. The last minority government was in 1974, succeeded relatively quickly by another election. Hamish McRae of the Independent reminds us though that while Minority or coalition governments may not last long the most severe fiscal cutbacks of the past century have been under them. Lombard Street Research has just done a paper pointing out that these were under the coalitions led by David Lloyd George in 1921 and Ramsay MacDonald in 1931, and under the Lib-Lab pact in 1977.
The best the Tories can hope for it seems is a small Parliamentary majority of say 10-20 seats. Still very much a possibility. Current polls suggest however it is more likely that while they win the most seats, they may fall short of an overall majority, say 10-20 seats short, which would mean doing a deal with the Lib Dems. Least likely, as this stage, is a Labour Government still in power on 7 May, but it remains a distant possibility. It is unlikely that the Lib Dems would cut a deal with Labour unless the Tories prove very inflexible over issues dear to the Lib Dem heart (PR etc). Any government though will need to make some hard decisions and this will self-evidently, be harder to deliver if it is a minority government. It does look though that our politicians may have to sit down in smoke filled rooms, cutting deals (OK maybe leave out the smoke filled bit). The Tories approach to managing the deficit is very different from both the other parties. However, if one looks at education policy, and the convergence of Tory and Lib Dem thinking it might be possible, either with a minority or coalition government scenario, to push through some fundamental reforms, on the supply side, to introduce a pupil premium,to reduce centralized controls and diktats and push school autonomy and the freedom to innovate. So even if we get a minority or coalition government, do not rule out an education reform agenda and an Education Bill in the first session of a new Parliament.