Defeat in May would be dire for either Cameron or Miliband. It would end their political career in ignominious failure. But winning would not be much better: they would be the weakest PM in living memory. Here’s why it won’t be easy for either of them:
Miliband would be a prisoner of his own MPs: The best that both Labour and the Tories can hope for is the narrowest of outright victories. The 21 seat majority that John Major ground out in 1992 is, probably, beyond either of them. Miliband would then find himself having to steer swingeing cuts past a party that is simply not prepared for them.
It is worth remembering that within months of winning in 1997, Blair faced a major rebellion from Labour MPs – 47 voted against and 100 abstained on changes to lone parent benefits. A revolt of this size would sink Miliband.
For Cameron, the bastards would be back: The sacked, the spurned and the slighted now make up a significant part of the Tory parliamentary party. Many of them are determined to scupper Cameron come what may. If he won a small majority, he would find himself dependent night after night on the support of Tory MPs who dislike and distrust him.
The Unions would balk at Labour austerity: Ed Balls is adamant that Labour would continue with the cuts and maintain the public sector pay freeze. If Labour does this, it is hard to imagine that the Unions will want to pay for the privilege. Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite, has already hinted that his union might back the creation of a new Workers’ party if Miliband were to disappoint it.
Europe will torment Cameron: If Cameron returns to Downing Street after the election, Europe will dominate from day one: After all, he’ll only have 18 months to win agreement from every EU capital to the treaty changes that he wants. But the bigger problem for Cameron is that Tory MPs will want sight of his renegotiation demands. But if he does tell them what he actually wants, a large number of Tory MPs will be disappointed. I have spoken to one normally loyalist cabinet minister who is expecting to campaign for an out vote on the grounds that Cameron is unlikely to change the terms of Britain’s membership sufficiently.
Then, there’re also the difficulties of running a minority government, with the minor parties all demanding their pound of flesh. While the collapse of the Liberal Democrats means that even if a coalition deal can be agreed and approved, it will not offer the kind of stability and parliamentary majority that partnership government has in this parliament. For these reasons, whoever ends up as Prime Minister after this election is highly unlikely to make it all the way through a five year term.