Can the Tories win a majority?

With the next general election less than two years away, can David Cameron dare dream of winning a second term outright? Matthew Partridge reports.

With things looking up for the Conservatives amid good economic news, the NHS controversy and a poll suggesting the party is level with Labour, could David Cameron secure a majority at the next election, less than two years away? "Less than three months ago, the Conservative party seemed on the edge of a breakdown," writes the FT's George Parker. However, with controversial election adviser Lynton Crosby telling Cameron to focus on "leadership", it now seems more firmly united.

The main reasons for the "Tory tribe coming back together" are "the upturn in the economy" and "Cameron's support for an EU referendum bill". At the same time, "Mr Miliband's economic strategy has been undercut by the public's acceptance of austerity and welfare cuts".

Conventional wisdom is "that the electoral arithmetic still favours Labour, making a Tory victory almost impossible". However, "this does not stand up to scrutiny", argues Leo McKinstry in the Daily Express. While "the Conservatives only need to gain 20 more seats at the next general election to win an overall majority", 25 Labour marginal seats are vulnerable to a 2% swing towards the Tories. Plus, "in five cases since the war, the incumbent governing party actually increased either its vote or its number of seats".

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The New Statesman's Rafael Behr thinks the Conservatives are getting carried away. He accepts that their attacks on Labour's handling of the NHS have put Ed Miliband and his party "under pressure". It has also made Conservative backbenchers "happier and more loyal to their leader". However, it is doubtful that this strategy "can be sustained over two years without alienating the public".

There are signs that even top Conservatives know that the coalition "may endure beyond 2015". The problem for Cameron is that "to win a majority, he needs to hold on to every voter he had in 2010 a rare feat for an incumbent and then win over a bunch of Lib Dem and Labour swing voters".

Matthew Parris, writing in The Times, agrees that Conservative assumptions of an automatic victory are premature. "Although David Cameron may hope for a decent overall majority at the next election, he cannot be confident of it." Parris points out that the two main parties have been steadily shrinking in importance since World War II. "In 1951 Labour and the Conservatives won between them 98% of the national vote. In 2010 it was 65%. The 1950s are not coming back." This means that the Conservatives still need to be "sympathetic to the possibilities of coalition".

Another five years of co-habitation with the Liberal Democrats may not be the worst thing for the prime minister, argues Paul Goodman in The Daily Telegraph. Cameron can make the case that the current arrangement has "delivered Conservative policies on crime, on the welfare cap, and on tax". All in all, such arguments don't "sound so bad", especially since even a small majority would risk "leaving him at the mercy of [leadership stalking horse] Adam Afriyie, and the 20 or so backbenchers who want rid of him".

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri