In the throes of hectic reporting, it’s easy to slip up over the odd stray NI MP. Nick Robinson totting up notional rival power blocs.
Possible total: 322
IND UN: 1
Possible total: 315
SNP + PC: 9
With the help of Svlvia and possibly the sole Green Caroline Lambert, the Labour bloc should hit 324, which is enough, after subtracting the absent 5 SF and the Speaker from the 326 threshold. In the other bloc, the Cons are one seat less by 5 votes in FST to 314, not quite enough. But even the Guardian doubts the stability of a wider rainbow coalition taking in the SNP and Plaid.
The prospect of NI influence on the outcome is fading, at least for now. Cameron’s “big open and comprehensive” offer to the Lib Dems of an all-party committee to consider electoral reform in exchange for a coalition or support for a Cons minority government, is spurned both by Tory diehards: ” not enough” and by electoral reform zealots “the death of the Conservative party.” Brown’s offer in this area is bigger, by promising immediate legislation and an early referendum; but Cameron’s is more detailed in social and economic policy. Even the Guardian admits that Brown’s putative rainbow coalition looks shaky and takes a lot for granted.
Rearranging the blocs, a Cons/ L-D coalition or lesser deal would put Cameron comfortably over the top with 363 seats.
Cameron and Clegg are now at their peak of their powers, such they are in these minority stakes. If electoral reform is the Lib Dems deal maker or breaker, now is the time to strike before a second general election increases the government majority. There may never be a better opportunity.
On the other hand, to avoid getting dragged down in a Tory-led austerity coalition before an early second election, why not hang loose?
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London