I haven’t called an election wrong since 1959, but this time I am unsure of Thursday’s outcome or the turbulent aftermath
Since this is the last weekly column I will write for HSJ in an association that stretches over nearly 40 years, I feel I should do something foolish.
Why not call Thursday’s election result?
In recent months I’ve told people that I haven’t called an election wrong since 1959, when I was 13, and thought Labour would win.
Instead, Harold Macmillan became the last Etonian to win an outright Commons majority. Three grammar school Conservatives have done so since, but no Etonians, Dave.
I parade my record (1970, February 1974 and 1992 were the tricky ones) not to boast, but to emphasise that this time I am unsure of Thursday’s outcome or the turbulent aftermath.
‘One of Miliband’s five Queen’s speech priorities would be the “time to care” bill’
Five all-UK parties, plus assorted nationalists and our well meaning friends in the National Health Action (NHA) Party, are fighting a system designed for two. It makes for unpredictability – a win for sod’s law.
Much more than usual we will be voting blind, unsure what it will mean. It’s been my complaint against NHA activists on Twitter, although it also applies to high minded Greens, that in some marginal seats they will salve their consciences at the price of replacing a pro-NHS Labour or Lib Dem MP with a Tory.
That’s a voter’s right, but he or she must accept the ethics of consequence as well as of principle.
In Scotland progressive voters face an arguably tougher choice. Is Labour doomed to be replaced by the seemingly leftwing SNP, which cut NHS Scotland’s budget? It’s 2015’s big question.
- All HSJ’s election coverage
- Election 2015: Where do the main parties agree on health?
- Alastair McLellan: The new health secretary will be more hands on than Hunt has ever been
The SNP will do very well, but not as well as polls predict. Why? Because some pollsters don’t ask voters the candidates’ names, only their parties. Good MPs earn a personal vote. Incumbency may save popular local MPs, including Lib Dem ones.
UKIP and the Greens will be squeezed by the familiar binary choice: is it David Cameron or Ed Miliband for Number 10? They’ll poll lots of votes, but six seats between them would be a good night. They’ll be crosser than usual on Friday.
After months of 34/34 per cent stalemate, Cameron is pulling slightly ahead in the final days, much as John Major did in 1992. Miliband is a better bet than Neil Kinnock was, and has campaigned above expectations and a lacklustre Tory campaign.
But is the public mood warmer towards his left leaning, anti-austerity populism than it is worried in dangerous times by his flakier policies?
In HSJ terms, one of Miliband’s five Queen’s speech priorities would be the “time to care” bill – another top-down disruption of the NHS, whatever shadow health secretary Andy Burnham says.
‘Cameron will try to hang on to power, but maths may defeat him in the Commons’
Do voters want that? Do they believe Labour’s “secret Tory NHS plan” scares? Who benefits from today’s Economist Intelligence Unit’s flattering NHS verdict?
Burnham is right to say “of course” a minority Labour government would hold “dialogue” with the SNP.
Talking is what Parliament is about and Ed can call Nicola Sturgeon’s bluff. But how much do English voters fear it?
Unless voters decide they want a very different, “quiet life” Britain to reflect our permanently reduced circumstances, Cameron will emerge with more seats and votes than Labour. He will try to hang on to power, but maths may defeat him in the Commons.
PM Miliband would then have to manage great change at home and abroad, with an oligarch press and Boris Johnson crying “illegitimate”. I hope he is up to the challenge, but fear he may not be. I will be back in two weeks to explain why I was wrong.
- This is Michael White’s final weekly column. He will now be writing for us on a monthly basis.
Michael White writes about politics for The Guardian