Friday, 7 May 2010

And so it is done. What next?

Well, with the exception of 1 seat, which is having its election on the 27th of May, its done. The election is over. The seat in question is a Tory safe seat so I think we can safely project a final result of:

Con: 307 Lab: 258 LD: 57 Others: 29.

A fascinating result, and a hung parliament. I'll leave Tom to discuss our prediction, but first some discussion of what next. Firstly what happened to the Lib Dem bounce? We have little data at the moment, but my educated guess is that the opinion polls reflected a lot of people who don't normally vote saying that they were supporting the Lib Dems, who then didn't vote...

Firstly Brown. Brown is attempting to patch together a deal with the Lib Dems. This will inevitably fail. Firstly a Labour-Lib Dem alliance does not have a majority. Labour are talking to the SNP and Plaid, and with the SDLP (a Northern Irish party that takes the Labour whip) and the Alliance Party (a Northern Irish party whose first MP I expect will do the same with the Lib Dems) and the Green (who prefer Labour by default) we get 328 seats, where 326 is a majority... This is laughable. Such a government cannot last. It will also not be able to pass proportional representation (certain to be a Lib Dem demand) because Labour MP's like Tom Harris will not accept proportional representation and will definitely rebel against it and defeat the bill. Clegg knows this. Brown is done. All talks of Labour heading any sort of government are not going to happen. This is WITHOUT noting that the Tories swept England, and it is impossible to imagine a government forming policy on English matters on the basis of winning OUTSIDE England. Its just not morally legitimate, and will be unacceptable to the English.

Cameron has stated that he wishes to form a coalition with the Lib Dems (Lib Dems would be in cabinet. Policy made jointly). The ideal situation for a new government is a solid majority, so that rebels have less effect and less negotiation is necessary. Once a coalition is formed the process of creating new legislation and passing budgets should theoretically not be that dissimilar from a normal government (negotiation between politicians still happens in British politics, it just happens within parties). This would be the stablest option, and provide a solid majority. There are some areas of agreement between Lib Dems and Tories. Nonetheless there is a fair amount of disagreement between Lib Dems and Conservatives. Particular areas are defense, crime, immigration, Europe and the electoral system. Europe I don't think is a huge issue. We are not going to enter the Euro anytime soon (the LDs are pro-Euro but as a 'long-term aspiration', it can be ruled out in this parliament), there are no treaties on the horizon, and the Tory plan to renegotiate Britain's place in the EU is largely unfeasible anyway. Defense... my feeling is that the Lib Dems would be willing to give in on Trident. Crime and immigration is tricky territory but doable, but electoral reform is a dealbreaker. Cameron has offered an all-party committee on electoral reform. Its not enough at all, however it may be a start and Cameron has not ruled out a referendum on electoral reform. However the Conservative Party is solidly against electoral reform and the Lib Dems will need to give up a lot and the Tories would no doubt campaign against it, if they did manage to get it, I suspect it is a bridge too far for the Tories (a new electoral system may mean the end of the very concept of a majority Conservative government). A coalition also risks alienating centre-left voters, and angering a large section of the Lib Dem membership, or even MPs. Coalition is unlikely.

It is possible that the Lib Dems could support a minority Conservative government on budgets and confidence votes (Queen speeches) in exchange for some key demands. This would keep a Conservative government going, and then their legislation would have to be passed on a bill by bill basis. An alternative would be to not vote on rather than actively vote for Conservative confidence and budget bills, but in this case its much the same effect.

The Lib Dems could refuse to work with the Conservatives altogether. The Conservatives could potentially still have a minority government by getting support from the nationalists, and from the Unionists in Northern Ireland. The problem with this is that those MPs will want extra money for their regions, which is the OPPOSITE of what Cameron wants, and will mean he has to cut deeper in England, which would exceedingly dangerous for his position.

Another thing the Tories could do is govern as if they have a majority anyway, and bank on at least one or two opposition parties being nervous enough about the consequences to pass confidence bills. This has been the norm in Canada for some time and they have a system that shockingly resembles our own. This, however, runs the risk of unstable governance, and the other parties have to be aware that if the Conservatives poll well they may well be convinced they can secure a majority and take the country into a fresh election at will. It also runs the risk that if the Tories poll terribly the opposition will take them down to secure victory.

The Lib Dems however must attempt to make a multi-party government work, for two reasons. Firstly, if this parliament collapses and there is a new election then Cameron can legitimately say 'Hung parliaments are unstable. Look at the last one. Vote for me and a solid Conservative majority to actually get things done. Not a mess.' This line will work a lot more effectively than in this campaign, as the immediate evidence will be there. The Lib Dems also need to prove to the British public that multi-party government CAN work in 21st century Britain. This may well be vital if the general public are to accept the central Lib Dem policy - proportional representation. If a new election is called then it will feed into the conception that political parties cannot work together and that only single-party governance can provide stability. Unfortunately for the Lib Dems Cameron is not stupid. He is aware of this, and may be able to stop the Lib Dems short of PR. However giving up PR will wrack the party to its bones. It would be giving up its holy grail, and its best shot at that holy grail in 90 years. That said, there is nothing to stop the Lib Dems supporting the Conservatives AND attempting to pass a bill forcing a referendum on AV (which Labour has in its manifesto) with Labour. AV is NOT proportional, but it would help the Lib Dems, and some see it as a first step to a proportional system. That said, it is unclear whether Labour would still accede to this, manifesto or no manifesto, or whether the necessary other seats will be found and cutting deals with both parties at the same time will not go down well.

Whatever happens, the next few days are going to be fascinating, and event-filled. The various permutations are incredible, and what happens next will be truly historical.


  1. Roddy McShoddy7 May 2010 at 19:49

    15 million people voted for Labour or Liberal Democrats. That's 52% of the total votes and I think most of them (and thus, around half of all voters) want a Labour-Liberal Coalition. As you have outlined, this result cannot be achieved. so the 36% of people that voted Tory will get more say than the surely much greater number that wanted a progressive alliance.

  2. Surely your point that Labour backbenchers will rebel on electoral reform applies just as equally to backbench Conservatives? The Tories have been cut short by FPTP as well.

    Alex Salmond has come out and said that his party certainly would not be getting into bed with Cameron. That leaves the door open for Brown to orchestrate a more inclusive coalition with the nationalist parties in my mind. Salmond may moan about Brown, but no party in modern history has done more for decentralisation and nationalist self rule in the UK as Labour. The Lib Dems have also been the consistent champion for decentralisation, a Lab/Lib Dem option would be clearly the favoured option for the 'other' 29.

    For these reasons, I think a Labour/Lib/nationalists/Green coalition will prove the more stable. Labour look set to offer Clegg whatever he wants to make it happen as well. I don't think many people in this country will understand Clegg choosing the option to be Cameron's lapdog and get little of his own way, when there is such a glamourous alternative of him basically setting the agenda of a new coalition.

    It may be upset by backbench revolt and constant Tory 3-line whips, but why not at least give it a go? These major areas of political reform Clegg is speaking of could be pushed through. They can't have three line whips and total consensus on every issue every week; obviously the rest of parliament will be quite boring, but coalition governments invariably are.

    The last point is that if myself and other voters are disappointed in Clegg for appearing to choose the Conservatives, there is a good chance that many Liberal front/backbenchers will be disappointed in this agenda Clegg is taking. And he still needs to consult his party about the deals he has been trying to make. Hopefully it has all been an exercise to make Brown and the Labour Party ready to offer him whatever he wants for the alternative coalition. I think (hope) there's a lot more dealing to be done before it is all settled.

  3. Clegg HAS been consulting his party. So far it appears to support his negotiating strategy. Lib Dem rules say he must have 2/3rds support of his MPs and Federal Executive (the party's chief committee A Tory backbench rebellion on electoral reform probably wouldn't be able to defeat the bill, especially if Labour support it too. Tories and Lib Dems together would have about as big a majority as Blair in 2005. Lib-Con cooperation will be much stabler.

    It isn't a betrayal of the left either as Sunny Hundal outlines quite nicely:

  4. Well Clegg has met his party now, yes, but he hadn't for the duration of the day after he was talking to Cameron. That's what I was talking about (and when I wrote that) - his position on just considering the Conservatives seemed quite assuming and premature.

    Some of the points this supposed Liberal columnist is bringing up to avert a Liberal Labour coalition are pretty tedious. The West Lothian question? That has dogged English politics for centuries, why will it suddenly become of extreme importance now? suddenly become the downfall of the government.

    There is no denying that Clegg will get a fraction of his own way beneath Cameron. He won't even get electoral reform, just promised a national discussion on it (do the majority of the electorate even care? would it get past a referendum?). Cameron is playing Clegg like a fiddle.

    This is only going to become four years of the Lib Dems desperately proving that coalition governments are compatible with British political culture; and Clegg will be so determined to do it that barely any of his policies or input will influence the coalition agenda. Cameron will know it so he will get through every policy he wanted, with Clegg ratifying it trying to show the country what a team player he is. It will be essentially a Conservative-lite majority government.

    Am I disappointed? Yes. Is this a betrayal of the left? Yes. The Lib Dems differ from the Conservatives on a whole ideology, let alone specific policies. I have the news on in the background, and it has some bloke wondering how Clegg will sell 'this deal' to his party without solid plans for electoral reform. So it's far from one disappointed voice in the wilderness here, or just from the voters, but across the party and actually from within politics.