So after some 36 years, we have a “hung” parliament again with no party in overall control. There’s a joke in there somewhere to do with hanging politicians from lampposts, but I cannot quite see how to fit it in. Except to say that the politicians should sort out some sort of consensus government in a fairly short order.
The overall effect of the way that the public voted is that we effectively voted for a coalition government – no single party obtained a majority so the only stable government will be a coalition government. There are people going around saying that only the Tories have the moral right to form a government because they are the single largest party (on just 35% of the popular vote!); those that believe that misunderstand that we are in a “balanced parliament” situation where it is the largest coalition that has the votes to form a government.
Without second guessing the results of the negotiations, there are some obvious possibilities.
Conservatives On Their Own As Minority Government
This is the option that could quite easily see the Conservatives in the electoral wilderness for another generation. Everyone can see that the only sensible option for a stable government would be to form a coalition to ensure a relatively stable majority. Opting to go it alone, would indicate that the Conservatives are unwilling or unable to share power with any other party despite it being in the best interests of the country.
A minority government of this kind is likely to be so unpopular with both the other politicians and the public that it would be unlikely to last for very long and quite possibly would result in the Tories being pushed to third or fourth place in the polls at the next election.
Frankly it does not seem very likely – I would expect that if the Liberals cannot get a good deal with the Conservatives, they will go across the road to Labour.
This combination seems a little unlikely to be honest – a coalition between unrepentant reactionaries and progressives ? The discussions are going on as I write this, and it is quite possible that some sort of agreement could result in such a coalition government. But there is a fundamental conflict between the two parties – Liberals are very interested in electoral reform, and the Conservatives are very much in favour of the current system which has seen them form the majority of governments in the 20th century.
If such a coalition forms, I see it as only lasting until electoral reform has taken place … or when the Liberals realise that the Tories promises on electoral reform were just a big con. It is also likely to be a coalition with a considerable level of bad feeling – whatever the leaders might feel, the ordinary MPs and ordinary supporters just are not going to like it very much.
These two parties are almost natural allies in forming a coalition government as both are progressive parties. And the resulting coalition government is likely to be more stable than a Lib-Con coalition. There are those who would say that that such a coalition would be ignoring the will of the people who have voted Gordon Brown out.
Well, they would have a point if Labour were attempting to form a minority government, but that is not what this is about. Between them, Labour and Liberal have more than 50% of the popular vote, so can quite legitimately claim that as a coalition they have a more legitimate claim on government than the Conservatives alone who have just 35% of the popular vote.
The question would be, would the Liberals go back on their word not to work with Gordon Brown, or would Labour ditch Gordon Brown and elect a new leader to work with the Liberals ? It would certainly make some kind of sense for Gordon Brown to go as a sort of symbol of the end of the Labour government. After all, whilst nobody has “won” in the old fashioned sense of getting an overall majority, it is certainly the case that Labour has lost it’s overall majority.
But the biggest problem with a Lib-Lab pact is that it would have to be a “rainbow” coalition of essentially everyone who does not want to see the Tories back in charge. This adds up to around 329 MPs including the nationalist MPs from Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland (but ignoring Sinn Feinn who do not take up their seats). Whilst the nationalist MPs may not work with Labour on their own in their respected countries, they very well may support a rainbow coalition as the best way to prevent the Tories from getting in.
Well it makes sense numerically, but can anyone really see this one being a realistic possibility ? Not likely.
It is fun to contemplate what may happen, but the only real answer to all the speculation is to wait and see what happens. There is an interesting possibility of electoral reform, which may very well be finally accomplished – if the Liberals stick to their guns and insist on it as a precondition for their membership of a coalition government.
And indeed it could well the that insistence that breaks any coalition between the Liberals and the Conservatives. Various comments leaked by the Conservatives indicate that they at least do not believe in electoral reform, or believe how important electoral reform is to those who believe it is vital.
If we end up with a coalition government (or a less formal arrangement that amounts to the same thing), we will end up with a government much more like governments in countries with less unfair and far more sensible voting systems. We will end up with a government much less likely to resort to extremist policies and a government much more likely to reflect the collective will of the people.