The White Water Election
By Andrew Hawkins, Chairman

The only certainty from GE2015 is that we can now safely say that a longer campaign does not equate to a more memorable one.

Nor does it help voters make easy decisions.  ComRes has been polling undecided voters throughout the campaign for ITV’s Good Morning Britain. The final wave was published this morning and reports that only one-third of voters who were undecided at the start of the campaign are now certain which party they will vote for.  And more than one in ten, 13%, remain ‘completely undecided’.

More positively, the proportion of people who say they are ‘absolutely certain’ to vote (even if they don’t know who for), has risen to 78% in last night’s ComRes poll for ITV News and the Daily Mail.  That metric can sometimes be a good indicator of turnout.  In 2010 for example, it reached a high of 71% compared to 65% turnout on the day.  In 2005 it reached just 62% whereas turnout that year was 61%.  Whether or not an accurate predictor, though, a high proportion of people who are at least engaged in the election campaign can only be a good sign.

Less encouraging is that, at the end of this long and arduous campaign, voters appear inured to the parties’ promises.  When asked by ComRes for ITV News who people trusted most to tell the truth about their plans for public spending cuts or raising taxes, only 23% of people trust Labour’s honesty and 22% trust the Conservatives’.  And that is despite Labour’s stone monstrosity and David Cameron’s curious promise of a legal straightjacket to stop tax increases.

On the eve of polling day, we appear none the wiser as to who will govern, with what agenda, or for how long.  So given the choppy outlook, here are the most likely outcome scenarios translated into white water grades:

Class 1: Very small rough areas, requires no maneuvering. (Skill Level: None). 

A majority for either of the main parties.  But it is about as likely as Emily Thornberry making her next vehicle a white van.

Class 2: Some rough water, maybe some rocks, small drops, might require maneuvering. (Skill Level: Basic Paddling Skill). 

An easily-constructed Coalition between Conservatives and Lib Dems.  We all know the kind of deal (eg. EU referendum in exchange for the six Lib Dem red lines).  It would be more plausible than Class 1 but still a surprise.

Class 3: Whitewater, medium waves, but not much considerable danger. May require significant maneuvering. (Skill Level: Experienced paddling skills). 

A three-party Coalition or confidence & supply between the Conservatives, Lib Dems and DUP, or a two-party agreement between Labour and Lib Dems. This is probably about as likely as Dan Hodges having to streak down Whitehall in settlement of his bet that UKIP won’t poll more than 6%.

Class 4: Whitewater, large waves, rocks, maybe a considerable drop, sharp maneuvers may be needed. (Skill Level: Advanced Whitewater Experience)

Minority government on very tight numbers.  If led by David Cameron it could also require support from the Lib Dems, DUP and UKIP on a vote-by-vote basis.  Would be very risky, especially since keeping parties as diverse as the Lib Dems and UKIP on-side would be nigh-on impossible without huge collateral damage.

If led by Ed Miliband it would involve Labour, the Lib Dems and SNP (and possibly others like the SDLP).  Under this scenario it would be hard to see how Labour could ever recover in Scotland, or indeed how the Union could remain intact, especially if the SNP do well in the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections.

Most polls have been pointing to this outcome for the past month.

Class 5: Whitewater, large waves, continuous rapids, large rocks and hazards, precise maneuvering. Often characterized by "must make" moves, i.e. failure to execute a specific maneuver at a specific point may result in serious injury or death. (Skill Level: Expert)

This is a variant of Class 4 but with problems at the start of the new Parliament in terms of the Queen’s Speech pencilled in for 27th May or the first Budget, expected in June.

It recedes in likelihood from Class 4, thanks to the powerful survival instincts of both Messrs Miliband and Cameron who know their jobs are on the line if they fail.

Most scenarios assume a lack of internal dissent but that cannot be taken wholly for granted.  The Conservatives have not won a majority since 1992, despite David Cameron leading the charge in 2010 against the most unpopular leader in Labour’s long history.  And Ed Miliband will have to answer to his colleagues if the Party under his leadership takes a hammering in Scotland.

To conclude with a crumb of comfort.  There is one positive surprise from this election: against many expectations the public have not grown bored of it, even despite the negativity of the campaign and the presidential emphasis.  So it would be highly appropriate if, on the day before the 70th Anniversary of VE Day, the public surprise us by turning out in great numbers to express their will.  Hope, not cynicism, can still win the day.

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