A coalition may be more stable that a government with a tiny majority, but either way we could be back at the polls within two years.
The report from the IFS this week, largely eclipsed by bigotgate and debate#3, that none of the main party’s proposals are sufficient to address the economic deficit means any government cutting into public services, more deeply than they admitted in the campaign, is going to find themselves deeply unpopular. They will need a full five year parliament to give their party two or three years to recover in the polls to have a hope of regaining the seats they’ve won at this election. A majority of say three seats will leave an unpopular government crippled by fear of rebellion and by-election. Like the Major government, the last thing they could afford would be to go to the country and face electoral wipe-out. The paralysis that the Murdoch press are trying to portray as the scary consequence of a hung parliament is far more likely with a single-party government. My guess would be we could face a very early election and the party handed the poison chalice of power will then be in meltdown.
But consider a Lib-Dem supported coalition: Nick Clegg has made it clear that electoral reform is a pre-condition. Following an early referendum on electoral reform, if the Lib-Dems have (as seems likely) gained far fewer seats in this election than their proportion of the vote share, the incentive to withdraw and force a new election in the new system would be high. And that will be an exciting election (not just the game-show hype we’ve got now) because suddenly all the parties will be freed from the tyranny of appealing to the centre ground, the “150 voters in 150 constituencies” that Julia Hartley-Brewer observed will decide this current election.
Electoral reform is by no means guaranteed, of course. The Lib-Dems could find themselves in deadlock (again, if they withdraw from a coalition as a result the outcome, once again, is an early return to the polls). And it will certainly not be the result of a Conservative government, should Cameron be able to form one. But I am hopeful. And perhaps it’s because for the first time since he became leader of the Conservatives it seems to me that there is actually possibility that Cameron will be Prime Minister (albeit most probably with Lib-Dem support) that I am thinking wishfully of electoral defeat at a premature election as the reward for the unlucky victor in this current talent contest.