The key General Election question is whether the Conservative Party can secure an overall majority – or does it have to form either a minority or coalition government. If the Conservative Party did secure a narrow overall majority, there would be considerable relief at Conservative Central Office: such an outcome seemed unlikely shortly after the first TV debate when Nick Clegg joined the electoral party to make it a three horse race. But a narrow overall majority brings its own risks. After all, the financial markets, possibly through a falling £ sterling, would demand strong action to tackle the £163 billion public sector net borrowing deficit.
Inevitably, this means deep – and very divisive – public expenditure cuts. The current turmoil in Athens bodes ill for those who believe that large public expenditure cuts can be readily implemented. A very small overall majority would probably compel the Conservative Party to call a further General Election, well before its five years of government were out. The nearest precedent is 1974, when two General Elections were held. In the February poll, the Labour Party won four more seats than the Conservative Party. In October, Labour sought a renewed mandate and secured a tiny overall majority of three, which lasted – with backing from the Liberal Party – until 1979.
If he did win a very small overall majority, David Cameron would hope to hold out for some years. Fighting a second General Election, on the back of savage public expenditure cuts, is hardly likely to attract votes. Moreover, despite its desperate financial state, the Labour Party will presumably have a younger – and more voter-friendly – leader. The Liberal Democrats, too, would hope to build on their recent momentum to remain genuine third party contenders.
If the Conservatives do squeak home with a wafer-thin overall majority, would it be a pyrrhic victory?