Sunday, April 25, 2010

Coalition Talk Increases

It's coaltion time in all the Sunday papers, who all seem to assume that a hung parliament is now almost inevitable. I have to say I don't. But there are three developments which deserve comment.

In the Sunday Times, Nick Clegg makes clear he would not prop up Gordon Brown if Labour got a low vote share but still got the most seats...

The Liberal Democrat leader is ready to tear up the rulebook and oust the prime minister if there is no decisive result on May 6. In a Sunday Times interview he warned that Brown’s position would be untenable if Labour got a low share of the popular vote but still ended up as the biggest party in the Commons.

“I think it’s a complete nonsense. I mean, how on earth? You can’t have Gordon Brown squatting in No 10 just because of the irrational idiosyncrasies of our electoral system,” Clegg said.

So far so good. He then says this...

The Lib Dem leader revealed that he would support the Tories if they won the largest number of seats and largest share of the votes. This would defy the constitutional convention which would give Brown first call on attempting to form a government.

“I tie my hands in the following sense: that the party that has more votes and seats, but doesn’t get an absolute majority — I support them,” Clegg said.

That seems to me to be a reasonable position. But would that extend to actually forming a coalition? According to Paddy Ashdown, no. In The People, he says that Clegg would not go into a coalition with the Conservatives. "It wouldn't work." This is interesting because Ashdown has been craeful to stay in the background in recent years and hasn't been very active in LibDem politics. It's a warning shot to Clegg.

But I wonder if the LibDems are in danger of overreaching themselves. This paragraph in the Sunday Times article stuck out like a sore thumb to me...

Senior Lib Dem sources have revealed that if the party secures a high share of the vote in the election, it will demand equal status in any coalition. Regardless of the number of seats it wins, it will open negotiations with a demand for half the seats in cabinet. “If more and more people support the Liberal Democrats, clearly that gives us a really powerful legitimacy to push for the things we want,” Clegg said.
Really? Clegg will have to deal with the parliamentary system we have, not the one he might like. I can see no way that Cameron would concede half the seats in a Cabinet to a party which might have only a fifth of the number of seats the Conservatives would have.

If there is not an overall Tory majority, the most likely outcome seems to be that Cameron would have to govern as a minority administration.

Senior Tory insiders say that if Cameron is in a strong position in a hung parliament on May 7, he will ask Clegg to support him on a “confidence and supply” basis — meaning the Lib Dems would back his Queen’s speech and support him in votes of confidence, but retain their independence to vote against legislation.
That would almost guarantee a second election before the end of the year.

Of course all this talk about coalitions leads to increased chatter about whether the Conservatives could support any change to the electoral system in order to lure the LibDems into a coalition.

I'll be writing further about that over the next 48 hours.


Martin S said...

"Will Clegg be able to resist the siren song of Brown? Tune in after 6th of May to find out. Meanwhile here is as trailer for the show"

'Come over to the dark side, Clegg. And bring your father, Cable, with you. He can be chancellor and you can be my deputy. And all three of us will rule these islands forever!'"

Paul Halsall said...

I will still be voting Labour, but I do think the Lib Dems would have a claim to half cabinet seats if they had the larger share of the votes, even if fewer seats, in any coalition.

The main job of any such government would be to hew to a center economic position (which the vast majority of voters will have voted for), and to establish proportional representation. And an elected Lords.

The Lib Dems could probably staff half the cabinet jobs, but I doubt they have the intellectual or experiential depth to staff half a government.

And although I will be voting Labour, I too would find a situation in which Labour came in third and Brown stayed in office *in anything other than a caretaker role* to be unacceptable.

Bryan Dunleavy said...

So we're into the scenario where the Lib-Dems will prop up the Labour Government with an alternative leader. Will we (the British Public) really put up with another unelected PM - even assuming Labour Party rules enable a quick transition?
I only ask?

DespairingLiberal said...

Like the other parties, the LibDems are a coalition within themselves. Ashdown represents the more conservative-minded wing and Clegg the more left-minded wing. So there is bound to be some bickering between these two wings about who they should side with in the event of a well-hung parliament.

I do wonder though where you are coming from in this Iain - just so we are all clear, would you yourself be in favour of a LibDem-Tory coalition to keep Brown out if it was clear that the Tories had the largest percentage of the votes but not the biggest number of seats? For is not precisely this scenario the most likely outcome on current polling figures?

Bryan Dunleavy said...

The real issue of concern is that the Liberal Democrat Party has been largely populated by lefty idealists who did not wish to get their hands dirtied with the grime of practical politics. If the LIb Dems now face the reality of power (which most of them have never prepared for), they will have to learn very quickly or it will be an effing disaster - whichever party they support.

Opinicus said...

Surely it depends how badly Cameron does.
There will at least 30 others in the new parliament. It must be possible and more congenial to do a deal with them if Cameron gets less than 326 but over 300 than to do a deal with the Liberals.
A deal with the SNP, Plaid, the DUP, the UUP, Farage and the Wyre Forest chappie should be possible over a federal parliament. All of those would be in favour of FPTP in their new national parliament. It means giving up Scotland but that's better than STV in England any day.

Steve Brundish said...

Clegg may have a good image but he is no strategist. Slating Brown when Brown offers him the holy grail of a change in the FPTP voting system. It seems to me the publicity has gone to his head. He really does not have any choice and will support Labour. After his out bursts he will be out in the cold(something Brown is very good at).

fendawg said...

Sunday Times/Iain Dale seem to miss out the third option, which has been called "The Miliband Option"; The Queen, by convention has to give the sitting PM the first opportunity to form a Government, which isn't technically tested until the vote on the Queen's Speech, therefore Brown remains PM until the first meeting of the PLP, which, under Party rules can remove him by acclamation. A "senior" figure (Head of the Home Civil Service is presuming David Miliband) takes over, and Clegg then enters negotiations with him, maybe on the proviso that, after being properly elected Party Leader, he then submits himself to a second General Election.

Steve Brundish said...

Clegg has a good image but his strategy is all over the place. He keeps attacking Brown in very personal terms but this is the man he will need to work with if he wants to change the voting system (which I thought was the holy grail of Lib Dem politics). He may get this but he will have no say in government and will look very silly back tracking on some of his more silly comments.

Sean said...

>Paul Halsall

"I will still be voting Labour ..."

Why? Seriously, Paul, Labour has brought this country to its knees. It began in 1997 with the strongest economy in Europe; today we have the second weakest after Greece. It will take a generation to recover.

I'm a Tory first, but otherwise it's Anyone But Labour (or the BNP, but for different reasons). A vote for Labour is worse than a wasted vote: it's a destructive one.

Paul, use your vote well. Don't vote for more Labour destruction.

Silent Hunter said...

Senior Lib Dem sources have revealed that if the party secures a high share of the vote in the election, it will demand equal status in any coalition.

Sorry, but I fail to see anything wrong with that - why not, if more people voted for them overall.

That's why we need to ditch the totally crap FPTP voting system - it's undemocratic.

DespairingLiberal said...

You are confused about what Clegg said Steve - he actually said that he could not support Brown for PM in a situation where Labour comes third in the popular vote.

I agree this would be appalling, but, the truth of the matter under the current Parliament / Queen must call a leader who Parliament votes for / system, it could happen. If it did, Clegg would have no choice.

angry and despondent said...

It seems the electorate could be falling for Blair-like spinning all over again with Clegg. You would have thought that having learned the hard way with Blair, intelligent folk would see through Clegg immediately. Despairing Liberal, I said in my post yesterday that Clegg likes to present himself as a Northern boy. Liking the part of the country where he lives has nothing to do with it. The fact that he mentions Sheffield in nearly every phrase he utters shows he's trying to divert attention from his posh roots. Why would he do that if he's not self-conscious about it?

God help us if that charlatan Cable gets any influence at the treasury. He's flip-flopped yet again on what he said last week in the debate with Andrew Neil. Cable agreed with Neil that the 6bn pounds of savings the Conservatives want to make isn't a great deal of money and wouldn't be a danger to the recovery. Now, in another interview he say it would be. Is this how his predictions work? One day saying a particular outcome will occur and two day later saying the exact opposite will happen! He's hedging his bets so he can point to the correct "prediction". What a fraud!
Added to that Cable's ludicrous defence of keeping the money donated by fraudster Michael Browne shows the LibDems to be just as shady and corrupt as Labour - if not more so.

Simon Gardner said...

Hysterical watching Paxo ask Cameron if he would serve in a Clegg Government. Cameron seemed to have swallowed a whole sack full of lemons.

wild said...

Sean Haffey said

'Paul Halsall - "I will still be voting Labour"....Why?'

And answer came there none.....

Paul Halsall said...


I live in Bury South, a Lab/Con constituency. I will vote for Ivan Lewis for a start because he has responded well to my many emails, letters, etc. He holds regular surgeries in all parts of the constituency, and is a model MP. He was also born, brought up, and lives here.

I will vote Labour because I am a democratic socialist. I believe in wealth redistribution, a big state, etc., etc.

That does not limit my political views. I could see voting green in some circumstances, and I would do so if I were in Brighton.

I oppose Labour's heavy handed prisons and immigration policies. And I oppose ID cards.

OTOH, I oppose Trident, but support an EU federal state in the future.

I can argue with you about all these positions, but I have thought about them.

For me, in Bury South, it means voting Labour. In another seat, I might vote differently, but I would never vote Tory, UKIP, or BNP.

You may not agree with my positions, but a Labour vote in my area is the right one.

david h jones said...

Sarkozy, Merkel, Berlsucsoni, Aznar, Balkenende ... all right of centre, conservative leaders of their states. All states with variations of PR.

As a non-Tory, I just don't understand why you Tories are so afraid of PR. You'd have to go into coaltion from time to time, but you're more likely to be in power than a left wing party.

Get over it.

wild said...

"I will vote Labour"

declares Paul Halsall, because unlike

"lower middle class Tory oiks like Iain Dale"

he believes

"very strongly in class warfare"

and in

"wealth redistribution, a big state, etc., etc."

So does he want a nice big majority for the Labour Party? No, he declares

"With any luck there will be a hung parliament"

So why does a "hung parliament" further his "big State" agenda I wonder?

FF said...

The most remarkable thing about this election,it seems to me, is the inability of the Conservatives to reach out beyond its core vote. More than Labour being in third place (only about 5% points have separated the two parties in most polls since the start of the campaign). More even than the meteoric rise of the Lib Dems.

David Cameron has basically failed to answer the question: why should voters who rejected the Conservatives in the past switch to them now? This is the Lib Dem's opportunity.

To govern with a good support, the Conservatives can go for the broad church - people of many persuasions are accommodated by the one Party. Or it can stick to its core values and create a workable government with other parties in coalition. But it seems the Conservatives are unwilling to make either of the compromises that would see them firmly in power.

wild said...

"All my emotions are for Labour and it's core values. I will vote Labour...But what would probably be the best outcome would be some sort of severely hung parliament where Lib Dems would restrain Tory excess, but demand PR. PR would ensure we remain a centre-left nation for ever."

Paul Halsall

DespairingLiberal said...

Angry, I don't disagree that he makes a bit of a thing about Sheffield - but what MP doesn't go on about their constituency as if it's their favorite place in the whole wide world? When in many cases they spend as little time there as they possibly can? I think it's a bit rich for Tories to single out Clegg for this criticism - until the last few years when they came under closer scrutiny, many Tory MPs were hardly ever in the House or Constituency.