Ed Miliband spent a lot of his Today programme interview refusing to answer questions about how a minority Labour government would work because he is focusing both on the ‘big issues’ and on ‘winning a majority’. Both are good things to focus on when the polling stations haven’t yet opened, though of course how a government would pass laws is generally a big issue too.
But what’s interesting is that behind the scenes some Labour figures do still sincerely think they could win a majority. One senior Labour MP told me in the past few days to remember that in 1992 the polls didn’t move until the very last minute and produced a majority government. I thought they were getting their excuses in early for a last-minute Tory majority, but what they meant was that the Labour party could end up with a surprise majority. Perhaps they haven’t spent much time in Scotland, or perhaps they know something we don’t. But it’s more difficult to find a Tory who’ll say the same: the consensus among Conservatives tends to be that the polls will move at the last minute to deliver the Tories as the largest party, not as the majority party.
Perhaps this is also why the Tories are so keen to start framing the post-election narrative now. They want it to be about legitimacy, and they want to plant the idea in the minds of voters that a legitimate government is the one formed by the party with the most seats, not one formed by parties whose combined forces make up more seats. Playwright James Graham has written a fascinating piece for today’s Guardian arguing that ‘on 8 May, whoever controls the narrative acquires the keys’. This is what the Tories are already trying to do and what the Sunday Times yesterday reported David Cameron would do on 8 May in the form of a statement. Labour may be optimistic about its chances, but it needs to make sure that it is having a jolly good go at the framing business too.