Saturday, May 29, 2010

Election Retrospective Blogpost Part Three (The Last One)

"No overall majority" is the correct definition of the outcome I believe. A hung parliament had been discussed in the run up to election day and now we had one. Despite it being on the cards, the political commentators and pundits seemed ill-prepared for this and there were numerous people expressing varying opinions about what would happen next.

"Constitutional Experts" were consulted. This is kind of ironic because we don't actually have a constitution. We have a series of agreements, rules and statutes that are referred to at times like this and are often officially described as the "unwritten" constitution.

Some said the Conservatives had won the most seats and were the defacto winners and Cameron had to be the next prime minister. Others said another election would be required as a minority government cannot function effectively. Others said Gordon Brown had to walk the plank immediately as his position was untenable.

The actuality that was finally agreed was that Gordon Brown had to remain as prime minister and Labour remain as the goverment as nobody else was in a position to take the job and somebody had to stay and do it until a solution was found. This irked many people who were hoping to see Gordon Brown unceremoniously frogmarched out of 10 Downing Street as soon as possible despite it being correct that he should for the moment stay. They vociferously shouted that he was hanging on by his fingernails and was in denial by refusing to accept that winning less seats than another party actually constituted a defeat.

Cameron and the Conservatives, as the party with most seats would have the first shot at forming a government. This could take one of two forms. They either had to create a formal coalition with one or more other parties that would give them a majority of seats or they had to gain at least a formal agreement (officially called "confidence and supply") from one or other parties that they would support the Conservatives in votes in the House of Commons. This would allow them to operate an effective majority. If neither form of agreement could be gained then they could not form a goverment because all the other parties could (and probably would) always vote against them meaning they were a lame duck and a goverment, only in name. If no coalition or agreement could be made then The Labour Party, having gained the second highest number of seats, would try to make a similar arrangement that gave them a majority.

A coalition formed with The Labour Party taking the lead seemed to confuse a lot of people (myself included). How could a party that had not gained the most number of seats get together with other losing parties and be allowed to form a government? This rapidly became known in the media as the "coalition of the losers". However strange it seemed to people, this would be a legitimate government.

Simply by historical reputation alone the Conservatives are on their own in parliament. Almost all other parties of any size feel ideologically opposed to them. They are not natural coalition partners to anyone. The mathematically obvious arrangement they could make would be with the Liberal Democrats who although they had had a bad election had sufficients seats to give the Conservatives what they wanted. The Liberal Democrats however were formed by a merger of The Liberal Party and The Social Democrat Party. The Social Democrats were formed in the 80s by a splinter group of disilliusioned Labour politicians. Not natural bedfellows to the Conservatives at all. If the Liberal Democrats were to align with any other party it would ideologically be with The Labour Party.

Whilst the above is true, the reality is that our major political parties are much more closely clustered around the centre of the political spectrum than ever before. The Labour Party throughout Thatcher's period in office had made themselves unelectable through a combination of infighting and ill-conceived policies. Throughout Tony Blair's period in office the Conservatives had done pretty much the same thing and both parties, having realised this, had subsequently moved towards the centre ground. The centre ground was always held by the Liberal Democrats who I might uncharitably suggest gained a lot of their votes by just not being Conservative or Labour.

The weekend following the election saw a period of intense discussions and political dealings. These were centered around the initially unlikely possibility of some sort of arrangement between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. Many people believed that even if the Liberal Democrat leadership could thrash out a deal with the Conservatives, their membership would find any sort of arrangement with them unacceptable.

The Liberal Democrats were also furtively but legitimately double-dealing with Labour and seeing what their options were if a deal could be made there. One of the Liberal Democrats non-negotiable conditions of any sort of arrangement with Labour was that it must not involve Gordon Brown as leader and ongoing prime minister. He was therefore required to announce his resignation as leader of the Labour Party in order to allow discussions to progress. The problem with making a deal with Labour was that the sums still did not add up. Even if they had an agreement they still would not have a majority unless they could could also gain the support of all the minor parties as well. The minor parties comprised of Scottish Nationalists, Welsh Nationalist and the parties representing Northern Ireland. You may be interested to know that there are a group of MPs representing some Northern Ireland constituencies who refuse to attend the House of Commons as their political objective is to unite with the Republic of Ireland. They therefore refuse to pledge allegiance to the Queeen and because of this, cannot take their seats in parliament. Even if they could have been lured into a coalition, their support could not be relied upon as they have never been seen in parliament. Getting this incredibly broad coalition to agree on anything would be almost impossible, and politically, probably highly unstable.

The outcome of the above wranglings was a full-on Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government. On initial assessment, The Liberal Democrats seem to have been the winners. They gained a poor third place in the election yet appear to have gained considerable political influence in the new government. It is also however speculated that if the coalition fails The Liberal Democrats will have the most to lose as people will believe they made the deal only to gain power and in the process abandoned their political integrity. It is thought that a small but influential hard core of both Conservative and Liberal Democrats parties are deeply uncomfortable with the coalition and may actively seek to undermine and destabilise it. The phrase "won't last till Christmas" is freqently bandied around.

It's often been said that the coalition we have is the worst possible outcome because nobody voted for this sort of compromise government. It's true to say that nobody voted for a coalition because coalitions do not appear on the ballot paper but I personally believe that, as with most of our elections, relatively few people vote for a party because they believe unconditionally with everything that party says. They generally vote for the party with the most number of policies that they agree with, or for the party that has the least number of policies that they disagree with. Politicians hate to think any vote for them is anything less than a ringing endorsement of everything they believe in but you only have look at potential voters interviewed on TV to realise that very few are blindly affiliated to one party alone. Many people vote for the party that they least object to or they vote for a party simly because it is not one of the other major parties. If all the people who voted believed passionately in the party that they voted for then party membership would be considerably higher than it is. Only a small minority of the population is actually a paying member of any political party. In that respect, I think many people find some sort of coalition acceptable as long as it acts in the country's best interest which is really all that you ask from a government in the first place.

My normal, intermittent, and non-political blogging will return shortly. Thank you for listening.


Terra Shield said...

I totally agree with your final statement about coalitions being acceptable as long as it acts in the best interest of the country.... Over here, people accepted another unlikely "coalition" (it was an unofficial partnership of sorts)just because they wanted a change.

nursemyra said...

I got a little overwhelmed in the middle of this explanation..... is voting compulsory in England like it is in Australia?

King of Scurf said...

Terra Shield: Let's see how long they last. We all know that eventually politicians tend to revert to naked self-interest.

nursemyra: Sorry, I did go on a bit didn't I. Voting is non-compulsory. We get around a 70% turnout. Apathy rules.