Recent opinion polls written up by Anthony Wells of YouGov show the Conservatives at 34, 33 and 33 per cent, and Labour at 38, 37 and 37 per cent. Let's apply three conclusions. First, neither of the main parties is in a strong position. Second, David Cameron has closed the gap on Ed Miliband, and may well close it further if economic recovery continues. Third, the former has to get anywhere between ten to seven points ahead of the latter to win a majority, thanks to Britain's vote distribution – unless you buy Peter Kellner's imaginary scenario of a disproportionately good result for the Conservatives in key marginals.
In short, prudent Tories shouldn't rule out the possibility – to put it no higher – of the next election producing much the same result as the last one, and thus think ahead. What should the Party do in such an event? Should it take a different road from that taken in 2010, and urge the formation of a Conservative minority government? Should it seek to come to a deal with one or more of the minor parties, such as Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionists? Or should it follow the same path as last time, and seek to re-form the Coalition with the Liberal Democrats? And if it makes the last choice, what should Cameron's "red lines" be?
We shall be writing this week about party members' view and this site's view. And we begin with whether they, and not Tory MPs only, should have a say in any decision to enter a second blue-yellow Coalition at all. We believe that the answer is yes – and so do they, according to our latest survey of over 800 party members, but the majority is a long way from overwhelming. By 57 per cent to 43 per cent, respondents said that members as well as MPs should vote on any such proposal. Readers will interpret that result in many ways. Here's my view on what it would mean were there to be any such ballot.
It's hard to read the 43 per cent return as meaning anything other than: "we're content to leave the decision to Conservative MPs". It follows, then, that the overwhelming majority of them would back any recommendation by those MPs that the present Coalition be re-constituted (and remember: any sounding or ballot would only be held in such circumstances). To gain a simple majority of party members, the Party leadership would have to persuade an extra eight per cent or all those who voted to join them. This seems to me to be a very long way short of mission impossible.
Were I Cameron, wanting either a second Coalition (because it would give me a more stable Parliamentary majority than a narrow victory), or at least to have the possibility of one in my back pocket, I would find this result rather encouraging.