Are we returning to a Tory-Liberal hegemony?
He was quite wrong.
Not only did he get the second horse wrong; in his zeal to do his bit to ensure a Cameron victory, he swatted Nick Clegg away like a flea.
Unlike His Holiness, His Grace is not infallible in any pronouncement. And he humbly apologises to his readers and communicants if he has given the appearance of compromising his customary acuity and erudition for the inane superficialities of party politics.
The polls have been all over the place. And the four out last night (Ispos Mori [marginal constituencies], Sun/YouGov, Opinium and ITN/ComRes) are all essentially in agreement that the Conservative Party is ahead (at 36% [marginals], 35%, 33%, 37%) with Labour and the Liberal Democrats squabbling over second place (at 36%-20% [Labour’s best by far], 28%-28%, 28%-27%, 29%-26%).
After Nick Clegg’s consummate, eloquent and confident performances in the three Leaders’ Debates, and with the announcement that even The Guardian has abandoned Gordon Brown for the shiny, ‘new’ Liberal Democrats, we may be returning to a Tory-Liberal hegemony: the era of Gladstone versus Disraeli; to the politics of Lloyd George and Chamberlain, Asquith and Churchill.
And it must be noted that Disraeli was a ‘One Nation’ Tory, while Churchill ratted to defect to the Liberal Party and then ‘re-ratted’ eventually to become Tory leader. Of course, today’s LibDems are but a pale reflection of Gladstone’s great Liberal Party. And Churchill would never have dreamed of defecting to the party presently led by Nick Clegg. And were Gladstone alive today, he would doubtless feel more at home in the Conservative Party, for there is a distinct liberal tradition within Conservatism which is often misunderstood; and although conservatism and liberalism are held in tension, they are not entirely mutually exclusive. It has been said that no one who has a heart can resist being a liberal and that no one who has a brain can avoid being a conservative.
So if you have a heart and a brain...
If the three-horse race does give way to two, it is between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats. It looks as though Labour are about to go down with their worst result in more than 90 years: they are braced for their most disastrous election showing since 1918. Gordon Brown is in mortal danger, threatened with performing worse than Michael Foot did in 1983's wipe-out, when he polled 27% of the vote.
Astonishingly, Labour’s Ed Balls is still encouraging Labour supporters to vote LibDem ‘in order to keep the Tories out’.
But the LibDem surge does not come as a result of the televised debates: it is quite wrong to suggest that David Cameron made a tactical error by agreeing to grant Nick Clegg equal billing with the two main parties. As Mike Smithson at PoliticalBetting has argued, the Lib Dem surge started way before the first debate: ICM had them at 27% in a poll whose fieldwork was mostly done before the debate started. Since they are usually ignored throughout the parliamentary term, the third party often get a bounce during an election campaign as they suddenly receive more coverage than usual from broadcasters who are obliged by law to grant them equal airtime.
If we are in a new Tory-LibDem era, unlike that of Gladstone and Disraeli, politics is no longer about policy or philosophy; it is not about conviction or oratory. This election is about performance, charisma and ‘box office’.
And Gordon Brown simply does not have it.
Political discourse is now encountered emotionally and intuitively as well as rationally. Thus politicians who can emote (Tony Blair, David Cameron, Barack Obama) are perceived as being markedly more successful than those who cannot (Gordon Brown, Michael Howard, George W Bush).
And Nick Clegg belongs well and truly in the ‘box office’ camp: he is an actor – every bit as award-winning as Tony Blair and David Cameron, and an entire Oscar better than Gordon Brown. There is no point casting a tedious dullard in a leading role: we are in an age which demands experienced thespians – Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, Tony Blair, David Cameron.
And Nick Clegg.
And he will now continue to eclipse just about whoever succeeds Gordon Brown, be it David Miliband, Harriet Harman, Ed Balls, Jack Straw…
Only Alan Johnson has greater popular appeal.
As Nick Clegg manoeuvres for the top job, Labour might regret not taking Cranmer’s advice of more than a year ago to dump Gordon Brown for Alan Johnson.
This has nothing to do with policies, or reason, or even politics. It is simply about perception, popularity and feeling. For in the postmodern age of unreason, that is all that matters. While the rational politicos worry about policies and argue over manifestos, the overwhelming majority of the electorate vote more in accordance with how they feel than how they think. This is not subject to any discourse of reason.
And, in an age of unreason, let us consider for a moment what might happen if the Conservatives do not achieve an overall majority on Thursday and the Liberal Democrats come second:
As is the convention in the case of a hung parliament, the Queen will invite the incumbent prime minister to Buckingham Palace and ask if he can form a government.
Gordon Brown will say yes.
He will ask the Liberal Democrats to form a coalition ‘to keep the Tories out’.
Nick Clegg will say yes.
But he will have a price: having come second in the country (in the number of votes cast if not the number of seats attained), he will demand the head of Gordon Brown and seek himself to be named Prime Minister.
And while Labour enters a period of civil war to decide on Mr Brown's successor, we will be stuck with the first Liberal prime minister since Lloyd George.
Except that Nick Clegg is no Lloyd George, and neither is he a Liberal.
Just another centrist, pro-European, anti-State, anti-British, anti-individualist, socialist federalist.
May God preserve us.