It’s an odd thing, but our first instinct for the current issue of IFA Magazine was to keep it strictly non-political. To stay on the sidelines and let the electorate do its job on 7th May, with neither fear nor favour.
And here we are instead, majoring on the run-up and the possible outcomes from one of the most thrilling general elections in forty years. We’re still sticking to the fear nor favour principle, although some of the advisers we’ve been talking to haven’t been slow to declare their allegiance to the incumbent team.
What was it that changed our minds? Partly the fact that neither Ed Miliband nor David Cameron is particularly liked by the party he leads. Cameron’s performance in the one televised debate he’s appeared in made him look as though he’d rather have been somewhere else, doing something more interesting. And Ed “hell, yes, I’m tough enough” Miliband seemed more intent on making his jaw look square than anything else.
The clincher, though, is that, with barely a week to go, both parties were on 34% or thereabouts and neither seemed to have the slightest chance of forming a majority government. With the SNP’s impressive Nicola Sturgeon bearing down on Miliband like some sort of movie mobster (“listen, Ed, ya gotta show respect”), and with Cameron desperately fending off sly approaches from UKIP’s Nigel Farage (“listen, David, you know we agree on Europe, so why not just come clean and admit that we could get along just fine?”), both leaders seem paralysed by the impending awfulness of having to sup with the devil.
It would be one thing if that meant that either Labour or the Tories would probably find themselves in a formal coalition with one or more other parties. Just as likely, however, is that they’d struggle along as minority administrations, dependent on the vote-by-vote backing of their flexible-pact partners. That didn’t work for the Lib-Lab pact of 1977, which lasted for just 18 months before James Callaghan got fed up with the total policy paralysis it engendered and condemned himself to a further miserable two years before a vote of no confidence swept him away.
Then again, maybe the Lib Dems will find their feet on 7th May and preserve the current coalition? Maybe we’ll even get a grand coalition of Labour and Tories? Or maybe the Queen will tell them all to go back to the polls to have another go.
The uncertainty is bad for business and bad for Britain. One-party government, it seems, is gone, and the three-legged race is how it’s going to be. Better get used to it, chaps.