I’ve written an opinion piece on the Social Liberal Forum website about why the Labour Party is making a major strategic blunder by embracing the “Con-Dem” narrative. This is a theme I expect to return to a lot over the next few weeks and months, at least until saner voices within Labour start to prevail.
If there is one thing the media seem to agree on, it is that Nick somewhat over-Clegged it today by claiming that the package of proposals he announced today represent the biggest political reform since 1832. The BBC have compared it unfavourably to Tony Hancock’s famously ignorant quip about Magna Carta (or the unstopable sex machine as it isn’t rather better known). C4 News’ Cathy Newman has branded it as “fiction” (it has been factchecked, so it must be true). Meanwhile the increasingly vituperative and bonkers Mehdi Hasan (what has he been on? His performance on Question Time last week was just embarrassing) has branded it, originally enough, as a “Con-Dem con“.
I feel the need to slightly back Clegg up here a little for the simple reason that universal suffrage was a process not an event, and that the watermark was in 1832. In terms of the UK constitution, electing the second chamber and changing the electoral system of the first is a big deal.
But yes, you certainly could claim that the reform is no more earth shattering than the 1997 parliament (the programme of which was drawn up in the Cook-Maclennan agreement and indeed initially resisted by Labour), or the various staging posts along the road to universal suffrage in the 19th and 20th centuries.
However, if the biggest criticism of the proposals (leaving aside the noto55 nonsense) is that it isn’t all that radical, then that’s fine with me. Clearly we can just rubber stamp it all and move on then?
There is two other criticisms of the proposals doing the rounds: the first is over these rumoured plans to create 170 new peers as an interim measure. The problem for people like Mehdi Hasan is that Nick Clegg explicitly ruled this out in the Q&A after his speech today. I’m sure the Lib Dems and Tories will create new peers over the next few years and in my view they shouldn’t, but after the hundreds created by Labour over the previous 13 years (and let’s not forget the loans for Lordships debacle) that is hardly something its supporters can claim any moral high ground over.
The other one is over these Tory plans to cut the number of MPs and ensure that the new boundaries are more equal in size. We are told this is gerrymandering on the basis that, um, it might remove some of the inbuilt Labour advantage inherent in the first past the post system. Both Labour and Tory politicians seem to be remarkably excited by this prospect, especially given the fact that most academics seem to agree that its impact will be marginal.
We are also to understand that it will weaken the constituency link and lead to MP being less able to handle individual bits of casework. The answer to that is: good. The notion of MP-as-caseworker is a toxic one which has undermined our political system over the past few decades. It is being done at the same time as bolstering local government, meaning that people will have fewer issues to go to their MP over. If you believe in fair votes – and thus a further dilution of the constituency link – and you believe in stronger local government. Both these things are entirely welcome.
If the Tories want to sow the seeds for the destruction of single-member constituencies in this way, I’m all for it. And if all the other reforms are so insignificant that we can just get on with them, I’m all for that too.
Independent political commentator John Rentoul does a neat line in pricking the balloon of journalistic and political hyperbole with his “questions to which the answer is no” series, so it is curious that he has managed to come up with an absurd, over the top conspiracy theory almost entirely devoid of fact today. Writing about Charles Kennedy’s article in the Observer on Sunday in which he poured cold water over the Lib Dem-Conservative coalition, Rentoul speculated:
What was he up to, eh? I can’t help thinking that he thinks he still has a chance of returning to the leadership of the party, the position out of which he believes he was cheated by Sir Menzies Campbell and his bag-carrier, Nick Clegg. Kennedy seems to be positioning himself to lead a Lib Dem rump out of the coalition government when things turn sticky in a few years’ time.
Ooh, maybe. Except for a couple of things:
1) If Kennedy is planning a comeback, somehow he has failed to spend any time ingratiating himself to the party membership. Since resigning as leader, his presence at party conferences has not been particularly high profile. Neither has he made much effort to ingratiate himself in the media (sitting on the This Week sofa for a month notwithstanding). He hasn’t exactly been working the rubber chicken circuit.
2) The general response that I have witnessed to the Kennedy article on Sunday amongst the membership has been one of irritation. It is one thing to oppose the agreement and take a principled stand. I have enormous respect for people who have put their head above the parapet in this way, such as Linda Jack (maybe we should make her leader if it all goes wrong?). It is quite another to express some concerns, sit on one’s hands during the crucial vote itself, write an innuendo-laden article in a national newspaper and then fail to even turn up to the party’s special conference to make your case.
It is entirely possible this coalition will go tits up and the Lib Dems will find themselves adrift. However, one thing that none of us can deny is that we all share responsibility for the decision to enter government. If we do find ourselves looking to find a new leader in a few years time, it is unlikely to go to someone who has simply carped from the sidelines.
Hmmm… this article has opened a bit of a can of worms for me. Along with (Baroness) Liz Barker and (now Sir) David Williams, in 2004 I drafted the current rules for electing the interim peers list. Unaccountably, I am yet to receive any kind of honour myself.
Earlier today, I tweeted Stephen Tall to inform him that the list elected in 2006 still applies. Having now got home and looking at my old papers, it would seem that it is actually more complicated than that.
The paper we produced provides two options, and a suboption if Option A is approved:
A) 30 people shall be elected to the Interim Peers list every two years. However, in the first year (2004), 60 people shall be elected.
B) 30 people shall be elected to the Interim Peers list every two years. People shall remain on the list until the next election has been declared.
OPTION TWO (if A is passed):
C) People elected to the panel shall remain on the list for life.
D) People elected to the panel shall remain on the list for 10 years.
In addition, the following other people shall be on the list ex-officio:
* Former Liberal Democrat MPs
* A special case shall be made for the Hereditary Peers who were elected in 1999 if they are to lose their seat before democratic reforms of the Second Chamber have been put in place.
Annoyingly, my records don’t include the records of what was eventually decided by the FE (my computer crashed) and I can’t remember precisely what happened. I seem to recall that Option A was passed, but that only 30 would be elected initially and that the term of office was reduced to four years. It is certainly the case that in 2004 only 30 were elected (not 60) and that none of the 2004 list restood in 2006, although they did restand in 2008:
Source: Colin Rosenstiel. If you are aware of any (non-defamatory) reason why any of these people are now ineligible, please say so in the comments below and I will update the list.
Can anyone from Cowley Street confirm what the position is?
The list of former MPs gives Nick Clegg an even wider pool to draw from as this includes everyone who has at any point been a Liberal, Social Democrat or Liberal Democrat MP. The “elected” hereditaries are not currently eligible for inclusion in this list as they have not been thrown out of the Lords yet.
Finally, the policy also spells out how the party is to make appointments:
An advisory panel shall be created consisting of the President, the Vice Presidents, the Leader of the Lords Party (or his/her nominee), the Chief Whip in the Lords (or his/her nominee) and one representative from the Commons Party. This panel shall be responsible for creating a shortlist of recommended candidates for the Leader to consider.
The Advisory Panel shall be requested to evaluate candidates on criteria, including the following:
- Conscientious, hard-working individuals capable of working in a team, who are aware of the time they are expected to commit as a working peer and would be capable of giving it.
- Experts in particular fields that the existing Lords Party is currently lacking in.
- Diversity. The Party is committed to making the Lords Parliamentary Party more representative of wider society.
Role of the Leader:
The Leader shall have final say in the appointment. In addition, the Leader is invited to nominate one candidate of her/his choice from outside the list at each round of nominations if s/he wishes. If the number of peers appointed and nominated from the list exceeds the number remaining, the Leader may make further nominations from outside the list.
The line about the leader having the final say is a reflection of the UK’s current wibbly-wobbly constitutional position. In other words, while you can blame us for getting a lot of things wrong, you can’t blame us for this.
Two further points:
Firstly, if the party is to suddenly get 95 peers to appoint, in my view the interim peers list system will completely break down. It was never intended as an automatic entry into the House of Lords, subject to places being made available – hence the establishment of an advisory board. It was drawn up in an era when we expected peerages to be appointed by the handful, on an annual basis – not more of less stop for four years and restart with a big splurge.
I would be surprised if, after vetting, the party’s powers-that-be would end up appointing even half of these people. Nor, regardless of the rights and wrongs of appointment, do I believe they should be. If the Federal Executive and Nick Clegg is planning to make these appointments even halfway democratic it needs to review the policy quickly.
Second, frankly the whole system stinks. We shouldn’t be making these appointments at all as they highlight quite how foetid the appointments process really is. The party is going to get hammered over every single controversial appointment (and there are bound to be some), and rightly so. At the very least, Nick Clegg should not appoint a single new peer from whom he has not got a signed pledge to support an elected second chamber and stand down at the first opportunity.
7:16:15 PM: I’ll be one of the bloggers on LBC’s election coverage tonight: http://iaindale.blogspot.com/2010/05/join-me-for-lbcs-election-night.html
7:19:25 PM: Hard to tell from @glinner’s tweets if his Tory tellers were breaking the rules or not.
7:21:38 PM: If they insisted on having his poll number, an offence was made. If they politely asked it’s a fine practice we should support (@glinner)
7:28:36 PM: 251 people now attending the Demo for Democracy (Sat, Traf Sq, 2pm). Another 361 maybes: http://bit.ly/9eBApD
7:29:42 PM: Other rallies taking place in Glasgow, Manchester, Bristol, Oxford and, MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL, Middlesbrough: http://bit.ly/9eBApD
7:30:34 PM: (not gonna retweet the seperate links again – just follow the ones found on the Trafalgar Square event page)
7:32:01 PM: RT: @alexfoster: Cor, there’s a queue outside the polling station. Longer queue in chippy thobut.
7:33:14 PM: Seeing reports of queues everywhere outside polling stations. Brits usually queue in Post Offices, not to vote. Most un-British.
7:33:52 PM: I mean, seriously, queuing to vote? That’s what foreigners do. Usually outside mudhuts in Africa. Tsk.
7:34:18 PM: We’ll be putting purple ink on our index fingers next.
7:35:32 PM: RT: @paulwaugh: Lord Ashcroft’s ominous question. http://bit.ly/aRnsLK
9:39:12 PM: Just noticed my blog is still set on UTC (Azabaijan to be precise). Have hopefully solved it now.
9:39:53 PM: If it looks like I’ve been tweeting exit polls an hour before close of poll, it’s because of the time code. Don’t arrest me please.
9:41:27 PM: Must. Eat.
9:43:55 PM: Hmmm… blog now seems to think I am an hour into the future. #fail.
10:03:52 PM: RT @AIannucci: #ge2010. Labs, Lib Dems, Others: Charge! There’s 1 more hour to stop Pudge-Face and his Moon-eyed Loons.
10:04:48 PM: RT @Gilesyb: Dow cratering. FTSE due to open v down. On the + side, cheaper all the time to holiday in Europe. Hold off on the Greek villa
10:05:39 PM: RT @guardiantech: General election turnouts since 1945 http://bit.ly/9VGodA
10:10:10 PM: WTF is @icmresearch doing tweeting ‘rumours’ about its own exit poll? Pollsters have misbehaved a lot in this election.
10:11:10 PM: RT @Glinner: RT @mat: I just bought Greece » you woz robbed.
10:13:07 PM: RT @alexwilcock: Jimmy Carr on #alternativeelection just recommended porn, but he’s already the biggest wanker on TV (Farage being injured).
10:18:50 PM: RT @paulwaugh: Hearing lots of queues to vote. My gut says that’s a Lib surge that cd do for Labr. But hey, what do I know?
10:40:31 PM: RT: @caitlinmoran: #C4altelection Rod LIddle is the God Particle of cuntdom. His twottery fills the universe.
11:06:40 PM: RT @chickyog: BBC Exit Poll: CON 307, LAB 255, LD 59, OTH 29 << would mean Hung Parliament, Lib Dems boned.
11:08:25 PM: RT @qwghlm: If the Lib Dems lose total MPs despite the rise in the popular vote, oh my word… #ge2010
11:14:27 PM: WHERE ARE THE PERCENTAGES?! What is this? Amateur hour? Why are they sitting on them?
11:16:21 PM: RT @iaindale: Blogpost: Iain Dale’s Diary Readers’ Exit Poll http://tinyurl.com/3x476o4
11:17:12 PM: RT @qwghlm: Worth keeping in mind 2005’s exit poll predicted the Lib Dems to gain just 2 seats, they gained 11 http://bit.ly/cz0HOe #ge2010
11:18:48 PM: @BBCElection Fuck your uniform national swing bullshit and give me the percentages. Now.
11:19:49 PM: RT @alixmortimer: RT @rob_knight Is this the BBC exit poll? #ge2010 http://twitpic.com/1llhsr
11:27:43 PM: RT @lordbonkers: This exit poll is wrong. I know because all my tenants show me their votes before they go in the box
11:29:49 PM: RT @TiggerTherese: Blimey! What is this crazy sudden turn towards PR from Harman, Mandy, et al?
11:34:39 PM: RT @BBCElection: Scots voters going to polls http://bit.ly/aM64FE » er, still? Are you quite sure?
11:50:15 PM: RT @politicshomeuk: Channel 4 exit poll split: Con 38, Lab 28, Lib Dems 23 http://polurl.com/61756
11:52:28 PM: RT @lewis_baston: Mandelson and Harman both all-out for electoral reform.
11:53:02 PM: Can’t believe the Sheffield RO blaming students for not bringing their polling cards with them. Does he not know the law?
12:27:42 AM: Don’t go to bed mad at #ge2010 results – go to bed knowing you’re taking back parliament. http://bit.ly/Takeitback #ukelections #takeitback
12:50:15 AM: RT @politicshomeuk: Channel 4 exit poll split: Con 38, Lab 28, Lib Dems 23 http://polurl.com/61756
12:53:02 AM: Can’t believe the Sheffield RO blaming students for not bringing their polling cards with them. Does he not know the law?
12:55:06 AM: Surely they could have predicted high turnouts from the opinion polls?
1:01:14 AM: Has Bob Marshall-Andrews predicted he will lose yet? A fine election night tradition. 🙂
1:01:48 AM: I’m on LBC from 1am-1.30am apparently.
1:12:23 AM: @AngryFromMCR @apptme2theboard I know. I was joking.
1:15:38 AM: My old school chum Chris Philp is on LBC at the moment. Nothing personal Chris, but I hope you lose.
1:16:36 AM: Philp doesn’t sound too optimistic about his chances. If he thought he had a chance, I wouldn’t expect him to be giving interviews.
1:17:32 AM: Hope @joswinson’s team remember to tell her her own result this year (we, um, sort of forgot in 2005).
1:18:54 AM: .@markpack has predicted a LD gain in Hampstead and Kilburn on LBC.
1:27:13 AM: 699 signatories now on http://bit.ly/bbjvrH #takeitback
1:50:20 AM: The Alliance?! FTW! Well done in Belfast East!
1:51:17 AM: Well done @stevewebb!
1:54:51 AM: Sorry but not surprised to see Martin Linton lose Battersea. One of the better Labour MPs.
2:29:01 AM: Have been informed by an insider that Glasgow North is ‘kess i’. This is either some clever code or a mistype.
2:50:50 AM: It has to be said, we aren’t seeing any evidence of #cleggmania in the Lab-Con marginals.
2:55:04 AM: 1,243 now calling to #takeitback: http://www.takebackparliament.com/
2:55:52 AM: Bloke on LBC calling from Chippenham. Sounds close.
2:57:57 AM: Sad to hear about the Tories holding Newbury.
3:00:08 AM: Kirsty Allsop is completely shitfaced on the BBC at the moment.
3:01:26 AM: Shappi Khorsandi has been at the ales as well.
3:18:30 AM: Unconfirmed rumour that Lembit has lost Montgomeryshire.
3:20:11 AM: This really is the weirdest election night ever.
3:22:04 AM: Montgomeryshire count coming now
3:22:43 AM: Lembit rumour was true. The LDs have lost Lloyd George’s seat!!!
3:25:13 AM: @lewis_baston Wasn’t Montgomeryshire so safe in 2001 that it was the only LD const you didn’t profile in your guide? What a waste!
3:37:35 AM: There is one very clear loser from this election: the pollsters. Utter, utter fail.
3:38:58 AM: I’m still hopeful of a slight increase in the LD vote share and some net gains. But talking 1s and 2s not 10s now.
3:42:13 AM: David Heath did phenomenally well. Just goes to show what you can do with a platoon of Hawkmen at your disposal.
3:42:27 AM: (yes I know that was obscure)
3:43:44 AM: Well done Chris Huhne. Given the results tonight, I’m very relieved.
3:58:09 AM: RT @jenyockney: i think the portillo equivalent line this time is — were you up for “what the fuck is going on!?”
4:01:30 AM: A 17% swing in Merthyr but not a gain. Don’t know whether to celebrate the swing or commisserate the loss.
4:03:07 AM: The boargamer’s MP Nick Palmer has apparently lost.
4:08:06 AM: RT @bigdaddymerk: Dorries is back. another 5 years of comedy gold.
4:08:53 AM: RT @markpack: Sky News auto-subtitles screaming: “Tories have taken dope. Tories have taken dope.” Err… Dover?
4:10:41 AM: Nice to see the LD national share is slowly creeping up now.
4:25:09 AM: RT @libdemvoice: Jo Swinson HOLDS East Dunbartonshire >> congrats Jo!
4:48:24 AM: @drevanharris Good luck – and hang in there!
4:49:04 AM: Sad to see the LDs lose Rochdale but on a personal note like Simon Danczuk.
4:52:32 AM: Fundamentally, this result is so random. Not only does this look hung, it is hard to see how another GE will unhang it.
4:53:24 AM: We need a voting system in which the nation can make an actual decision. #takeitback http://www.takebackparliament.com/
4:55:49 AM: How can we be doing so badly while getting such humungous swings like in Merthyr and Redcar?!
4:56:55 AM: Remember folks: Canada went NOC in 2004. After three GEs it is still NOC. FPTP eventually breaks with multi-party politics.
5:04:55 AM: Richard Taylor has lost. So much for the independents vote then.
5:09:21 AM: Not surprised about losing Hereford South to be honest.
5:10:03 AM: RT @MrsBYork: this is why we need #electoralreform – libdems have 22% of vote but only 23 out of 330 seats #ge2010 #electionpowerzone2010
5:20:26 AM: RT @nickjbarlow: Colchester – Lib Dem hold, Bob Russell majority 6982 >> so much for the rumours
5:21:03 AM: RT @guidofawkes: Morley + Outwood recount! >> pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease
5:24:11 AM: Anybody with a belief in rationality and science will be chilled by @drevanharris’ defeat. Big gain for the woowoo right.
5:25:07 AM: @drevanharris Really sorry. We needed you!
5:36:52 AM: RT @mudlarklives: #philippastroud loses in Sutton & Cheam – take that, God-bothering bigots. #ge2010
5:42:02 AM: Chippenham hold (gain)? Yes? Please?
5:45:57 AM: Well done @duncanhames – friend and ally for 15 years.
5:52:45 AM: Delighted to hear about Simon Wright winning Norwich South. Is this night about to get more interesting?
5:53:21 AM: (Interesting wrong word. It’s been interesting all morning. Horribly so.)
5:54:21 AM: Really like Simon Wright. He always looks like an earnest Sunday school teacher. In a good way, not a Philippa Stroud way.
5:55:19 AM: Zac Goldsmith’s mate (brother?) standing next to him looks a right twat.
6:21:08 AM: RT @dalekcat: RT @GPforhire: RT @SmallCasserole: Labour – 1.2 times the votes of LibDems, 4.7 times the seats – Democracy my arse.
6:28:52 AM: RT @lordbonkers: Conservatives gain Winchester >> NOOOO!
6:30:17 AM: Will there be ANY BME MPs left this afternoon?
6:40:58 AM: @bridgetfox Really sorry.
6:41:15 AM: @mpntod Really sorry.
8:49:30 AM: //ELB
9:49:30 AM: //ELB
10:31:15 AM: Ah, the CiF trolls are enjoying their moment. One of the clear winners of this election: http://bit.ly/aSEDVR
11:21:28 AM: Important poll: How are you feeling about the election result? http://twtpoll.com/g3ypmz #twtpoll #ge2010
11:22:16 AM: Please can you vote in my poll: http://twtpoll.com/g3ypmz – desperately trying to gauge the mood at the moment. #ge2010
11:23:49 AM: You might also want to have your say here: http://labs.38degrees.org.uk/content/election-what-next #ge2010
11:28:12 AM: Thanks for your feedback. Working on something and this is really valuable: http://twtpoll.com/r/g3ypmz Please RT!
12:15:42 PM: Teather is teh campaign geenius.
12:16:53 PM: The question is: can anyone beat Sarah Teather? Does anyone else notice a resemblance between her and Hit Girl from Kick-Ass?
12:22:07 PM: Seriously. This should have been Teather’s election posters. http://twitpic.com/1lqa0k
7:02:43 PM: RT: @libdemvoice: http://ldv.org.uk/19345 >> If this IS the result tomorrow, there’ll be riots in the streets.
7:07:48 PM: On the other hand, that result would mean I get to eat TWO chocolate bars #mydiabeticpledge
7:09:41 PM: RT: @votematch: Official: we’ve had 1,002,000 users and counting. Will we hit 2 million before close of poll? 🙂 http://votematch.org.uk
7:10:57 PM: Oh goody. Looks like the liveblog plugin works then.
Via Twitter, Tom Griffin alerts me to an article by Philip Stevens claiming that by ruling out supporting Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg has thrown away his negotiating position for forming a reforming coalition government with the Labour Party. There are only two problems with this article: Stevens clearly has no idea how the UK constitution (such as it is) works, and clearly has not listened to anything Nick Clegg has actually said on the subject.
Before I continue this article, a caveat. It is speculates what might happen if we find ourselves in a hung parliament situation on 7 May. I’m not predicting this will happen; I have no idea what will happen. What I am seeking to clarify are what the Lib Dems’ options actually are in such a situation.
In terms of the latter, Clegg has been quite clear: the party with the biggest mandate should have the first chance to form a government. Contrary to any cheese-induced dreams Stevens may have had recently, he has explicitly not stated that the Lib Dems would automatically support the party with the biggest mandate, nor has he defined “biggest mandate”. The latter is crucial because even now we have no idea if the party with the most seats in the Commons will have the largest share of the vote. Defining “mandate” will inevitably be a judgement call based on numerous factors.
Secondly, he appears to be under the impression that if Brown is ousted, then the Queen will automatically approach Cameron to form a government and that if Cameron is defeated then a General Election will automatically be called. Both these assertions are completely incorrect. Before writing his article, Stevens should have spent a few minutes studying the briefing note the Cabinet Office prepared back in February which explains exactly what will happen (pdf). It states that:
When a Government or Prime Minister resigns it is for the Monarch to invite the person whom it appears is most likely to be able to command the confidence of the House of Commons to serve as Prime Minister and to form a government. However it is the responsibility of those involved in the political process – and in particular the parties represented in Parliament – to seek to determine and communicate clearly who that person should be. These are the principles that underpin the appointment of a Prime Minister and formation of a government in all circumstances.
Where a range of different administrations could potentially be formed, the expectation is that discussions will take place between political parties on who should form the next Government.
What this means is that if Cameron cannot form a majority without the Lib Dems’ help, and is not prepared to make some pretty major concessions to the Lib Dems (if you aren’t aware already, those demands are the four key Lib Dem manifesto commitments for a fairer tax system, education, a fair and green economy and a fairer politics), then as long as Labour are prepared to make such concessions there is no reason at all for the Queen to even ask Cameron to form a government*. Furthermore, the Queen is obliged to listen to the Liberal Democrats (and others, for that matter) before making a decision, not merely talk to the main two parties. And even if Cameron does get as far as a Queens’ Speech, which falls, fresh elections will not be automatic:
A Prime Minister may request that the Monarch dissolves Parliament and hold a further election. The Monarch is not bound to accept such a request, especially when such a request is made soon after a previous dissolution. In those circumstances, the Monarch would normally wish the parties to ascertain that there was no potential government that could command the confidence of the House of Commons before granting a dissolution.
Tom raises the spectre of 1974 when the Queen ordered fresh elections despite the reassurances of Harold Wilson that he could form a government. But one of the few things we do know is that 2010 will not lead to a repeat of the ’74 parliament whereby a coalition government combining the Liberals and either the Conservatives or Labour was not really viable. The Liberals had 14 MPs and no negotiating position – they didn’t have enough people to even have a significant Cabinet presence. In 2010 by contract, the Lib Dems could have anything between 60 and 120 MPs and thus hold a very decisive balance of power. If the Queen were to call fresh elections despite Labour and the Lib Dems requesting to form a coalition government with a clear majority, the only thing she would achieve would be to make her own future an election issue.
The question boils down then, not to what Clegg would do but how the Labour Party will respond. How quickly will they be able to recover from the affront that Clegg won’t prop up Brown (a leader who, it has been clear from the last couple of years, most of them regret coronating in the first place) and start looking at alternatives? Or would they rather have a Tory administration just to spite the Lib Dems? That certainly appears to be Gordon Brown’s own current position (I was amused to read John Harris describe Brown adopting a scorched earth policy – that’s exactly how I had described it five minutes before reading his article). My prediction is that once the dust has settled, cooler Labour heads will prevail and they will start talking.
If they think they can still brass neck it and blackmail the Lib Dems into backing them, they need to remember three things. Firstly, any attempt to prop up Gordon Brown would be seen by the public as an utter betrayal of Clegg’s rallying call for real change – he would be finished. Secondly, assuming the Tories win the most seats (and Labour would have to move mountains to change this at this stage), the Lib Dems don’t need to actually vote for a Cameron administration but merely abstain (and such a Cameron government would still be hamstrung by having to negotiate everything with Parliament). And third, we’ve been waiting a lot longer for this moment than Labour has, and have a lot less to lose.
So spare us the threats and the “our way or the highway” posturing. That way lies oblivion. And Mr Stevens, perhaps you ought to do a bit more research in future?
* This is a fact that Cameron himself may like to appraise himself of, if the report in the Telegraph of Cameron ruling out talks with the Lib Dems are true. If that’s the case Dave, you can kiss the keys to Number 10 goodbye.
Much has been made in the media this weekend of the Tories’ secret plan to increase VAT immediately after the election, if they win outright on Thursday. But it is becoming increasingly clear that they have another secret plan they aren’t telling anybody about: a plan to prevent future hung parliaments.
Right or wrong (and all the facts show they are dangerously wrong), one thing that the Tories have made perfectly clear in this election is that they are fundamentally opposed to having to share power with anyone. This of course makes a complete nonsense of the title of their manifesto (“an invitation to join the government of Britain” – have you noticed they are now emphasing not our place in government, but our status as mere contractors with government?), but that’s by the by.
Howver, there are two problems they have. The first one is the dirty little secret that WE ALREADY HAVE a hung parliament, and have had one for years. The House of Lords has been hung since the early noughties. Tory policy is now to “seek consensus” on creating a “substantially elected House of Lords” (presumably under their policy the appointed element will be to ensure the House has a single party majority but they are keeping conspicuously quiet about that) but since they are the only ones who disagree with the consensus that it should be elected using a proportional system, that won’t be achieved any time soon. It is well understood that if the Tories win an outright majority on Thursday, then Lords reform is dead as an issue for the next five years.
That leaves “Dave” with the power to appoint life peers on a whim, and the commitment to prevent hung parliaments. The current House of Lords has 704 members, 188 of whom are Tories. To form a majority and prevent a hung parliament, Cameron’s oft-repeated aim, he will need to appoint at least 300 Tories to the red leather benches.
Where will these 300 people come from? One can assume that a large tranche will be failed Commons candidates, meaning that even if you manage to vote down your local Tory candidate, they will be sitting in the legislature in a matter of weeks. We can also safely assume that they will come from the ranks of the businessmen and millionaires who have been bankrolling their campaign, including this delightful bunch of evangelical Christians.
This hasn’t come from nowhere. Back in October, the Times was openly speculating on the Tories appointing dozens of peers if they won the election before, presumably, such talk got stamped on by Andy Coulson and his close links with News International. But it is clear from the last few weeks that the Tories secret plan goes much, much further than even this.
But believe it or not, it actually gets worse. The biggest problem with the Tories’ war against hung parliaments is that with each election the chances of one forming increases as the country embraces multi-party politics. In 1951, 96.6% of voters supported one of the two main parties. In 2005, that figure was as low as 67.6%. The thing about FPTP is that if the vote share is evenly spread amongst 3 or 4 parties it ceases to return mostly single party majorities and starts becoming scarily random. Fundamentally, we remain stuck in hung parliament territory.
The Tories will be looking at Canada at the moment, which has had three hung parliaments in six years, and realising that even if that doesn’t happen here in 2010, we are heading in that direction. To prevent this, Cameron cannot rely on argument alone, he will have to change the system itself.
That means adopting a similar system to the ones they operate in those great bastions of economic and political stability Greece and Italy whereby the party which wins the largest share of the vote is given a bonus number of seats to ensure that it almost always wins an outright majority. Those bonus MPs would have no constituency and would be only answerable to the party itself. This is what is known as “strong government”.
Think this is fantasy? The Tory rhetoric over the past couple of weeks makes it clear that they will do everything in their power to prevent hung parliaments and having to share power with anyone. Therefore it is inevitable that they will have to adopt both these measures. While I am sure they will claim they have “no plans” to do either of these things, that is what they said about raising VAT.
Fundamentally, can you believe a word any of them say? We need to prevent all this by denying them a victory on Thursday. The polls this Sunday are quite consistent: while Lib Dem support is wavering slightly, we are still in a position to win the biggest share of the vote if the young people who have flocked to us over the last few days turn out rather than staying at home. They aren’t switching to either Labour or the Tories. So let’s get out there and enthuse them.