The aftermath

The electorate have spoken. In spite of the worst efforts of Britain’s right-wing press, the 2010 General Election has resulted in a hung parliament with David Cameron’s Conservatives winning the most seats (306) and the largest share of the vote (36%). Neither of these numbers represents anything like a clear mandate to govern, but equally Labour’s position has weakened considerably due to an exodus of support and the Liberal Democrats have not made the breakthrough many expected.

So what happens now? The last couple of days’ headlines have been dominated by Cameron’s overtures to Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems, while a succession of senior Labour figures have talked up their electoral reform credentials (not that impressive, since you ask). The media commentary seems to be “who will the Lib Dems go into coalition with?” A better question might be “do the Lib Dems need to go into coalition with anyone?”

Given the arithmetic thrown up by Thursday’s results, it’s difficult to do anything other than sit on the fence when it comes to predicting how this will all pan out, but one thing seems clear – Gordon Brown is surely finished. If Cameron’s wining and dining of Clegg comes to nothing, there would have to be a highly complex series of negotiations between around half a dozen parties to form the “progressive alliance” which would keep Labour in government. It would seem inconceivable that these parties could support Brown as Prime Minister given the clear rejection he has just received at the polls. If Labour were able to quickly and ‘cleanly’ replace their leader such a deal may have legs, but the permutations still appear painful and the nationalists’ demands may prove a step too far.

On paper a Tory/Lib Dem arrangement looks more likely. Between them they could command a comfortable majority in the House of Commons without needing to strike deals with nationalists or Northern Ireland parties. There are even areas where they could find policy convergence (ID cards for example), but there would also need to be painful compromises over massively divergent policy positions on issues such as Europe, immigration, taxation and spending cuts.

Would it all be worth it for proportional representation? I firmly believe that electoral reform is a vital change but I’m also prepared to accept that it is one that should be won by virtue of argument, rather than the surrender of principle to a Conservative Party not exactly cherished among the Lib Dem grassroots.

Electoral reform will be the reason a Tory/Lib Dem coalition will (probably) not happen so perhaps that’ll put an end to all this talk and everyone’s blushes will be spared. The Tories are instinctively opposed to a fair voting system, but it’s difficult to see how the Lib Dems would benefit from climbing into bed with Cameron if they don’t get PR.

The temptation for the Lib Dems to accept Cabinet posts is totally understandable. As Michael Portillo pointed out on Newsnight on Friday,  the increased profile of government would give them a terrific opportunity to demonstrate they can run things, particularly on the back of the most eye-catching of the three major parties’ recent election campaigns, but principle must be the most important consideration.

I have to be honest, any kind of arrangement with the Tories is not something I want to see. I’m firmly of the belief that the Conservative ‘philosophy’ (such as it is) is selfish, socially destructive and fundamentally malign. Could the Liberal Democrats moderate a Cameron government by working alongside it? I doubt it. Once a deal is done, while concessions may be agreed, there is no doubt who the dominant coalition partner would (and should) be. Personally I would prefer the “progressive alliance” option, but I think there are too many obstacles in its way.

I expect the end result of all of this to be a minority Conservative government for the simple reason that the alternatives are too complex and uncertain, and as a result you can probably expect another General Election within a year.

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9 comments

  1. If the LDs refuse a serious proposal from the Conservatives on anything but a refusal of PR & then accept one from a Labour party which has lost & which could not provide a stable government they will be seen to be merely an adjunct to Labour. A party which says it will never work with any government apart from a Labour one will automatically se abouy half its voters correctly feeling betrayed. In any subsequent election the LD would be wiped out.

    The should & must stand foursuare for PR – if only because that alone can ensure continuity over more than 1 electoral cycle – everything else must be negotiable.

  2. I agree with Jeremy – a minority conservative government is going to have to be the only way forward. Todays protests show that now is the time for the LD’s to hold fast, show integrity and wait for futher elections in 2010/11. Also, on a selfish note, if this happened I may get Evan Harris back as my MP!

  3. Hi Jer. Just a quick thought. Another general election will probably be called within the next six to twelve months. The only way the LD’s are going to improve on this election is by a change to the system prior to the next election. The conservatives may well promise electoral reform, but would know doubt call an election before it has happened. Therefore, hopping into bed with labour to get the reform pushed through before the next election seems justifiable.

  4. Every time I turn on the TV I have this over-riding fear that they’ll be reporting on a Tory/Lib agreement.

    I really will have completely lost my faith in politics if Clegg throws his hat in with the blue scourge.

  5. I’ve read this Jeremy and been reading papers and watching the telly. I spent a couple of days really cheesed off about a Tory win but then remembered that my over-riding concern is fair votes. I’ve blogged today about this. I really believe that, at the moment, they are all behaving in a way that shows the strengths of multi-party government. However, there must be no deal with anyone if they don’t offer something which will genuinely lead to this kind of mature politics becoming a fixture in british democracy.

    1. Couldn’t agree more, and this is why I don’t think there’ll be a deal. Cameron is slippery enough to give ground on PR but he’ll never sell it to his party.

  6. Which is why there is no danger in talking to him. Its win/win. If he gives ground, Clegg gets fair votes. If he doesn’t, Cameron doesn’t get into power. Its Cameron that needs Clegg, not the other way round.

  7. If the LDs acceot an offer on a PR referendum & then Cameron or more likely his party reject then in the ensuing election the LDs are likely to gain votes from the Tories. Cameron has already miscalcultaed once by refusing a referendum deal with UKIP which cost him 20-30 seats (in over 30 seats the Tories lost the majority is less than the UKIP vote) & I do not think he will do so again. Hoewever the LDs also have to be seen to be playing fair if they want to pick up such Tory votes.

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