Cameron’s last desperate throw by rousing English nationalism is clearly aimed at saving Tory seats in areas where the UKIP challenge is pressing hardest, in order to ratchet up the total number of Tory seats which, when combined with likely allies, will enable him to just slip over the line back into Downing Street. On that basis, according to the latest polls, the LibDems might get 27 seats (a drop of nearly half), UKIP might get 1, and the DUP (Paisley’s fundamentalist Protestant party) will probably have 9 seats. Even these assumptions are far from certain: Clegg may not win his own seat and substantial sections of both the Tory and LibDem parties may well be strongly opposed to resurrecting a coalition that both loathed after their experience of the last 5 years. But even leaving that aside, to get to the magic number of 324 (i.e. after excluding the Speaker and the Sinn Fein MPs who refuse to attend Westminster), the Tories still need 287 seats. On current evidence is that likely?
If the election had taken place last weekend and had ended in accordance with the poll findings at that time, the Tories would have won 274 seats and the whole pro-Tory bloc 311, 13 short of the number required. The anti-Tory bloc of Labour, SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Greens, the SDLP, and Lady Hernon (an independent) would have totalled 333 MPs, 9 over the threshold necessary.
Those are the broad figures, but they still conceal some huge underlying political uncertainties. In particular, will the LibDems really sacrifice their profound commitment to Europe by assenting to a referendum on a British exit from the EU, all in order for Clegg and his allies to stay in power? Clegg is the most india-rubber politician of modern times, having sold the pass on tuition fees, austerity, education maintenance allowances, and some aspects of human rights: one wonders if there are any red lines he wouldn’t cross to keep himself close to Downing Street. But for all his overweening ambition, can he take his party with him?
There is also the uncertainty of what would happen if Clegg were defeated at Sheffield Hallam (the latest polls suggest he will probably just stay on). There would have to be an immediate election among LibDem MPs. If Ed Davey or Norman Lamb won, they would probably team up again with the Tories; if Tim Farron or Vince Cable won, they would be much more inclined to go with Labour.