Tag Archives: gordon-brown

Should Clegg cuddle up with Gordon Brown?

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.

“Good God, they might just do it!”

That was my reaction to the Sunday Times/YouGov poll today suggesting that Labour had managed to close the Tory lead down to just 2 points. While I expected the polls to close as election day drew nearer, and wouldn’t even be surprised by a margin such as that come 6 May, I never expect it to happen so quickly. You’ve got to hand it to Labour; they are starting to get the wind in their sales again.

But then, however much of a shambles the Tories may be at the moment, I’ve got to admit that they have a point when they ask, as they have been today, could you really face another five years of Gordon Brown? The idea fills me with dread. The silver lining on the Tory cloud was at least that there was a chance to remodel Labour along more liberal, less tribal and genuinely progressive lines. There are plenty of people in Labour I would happily see the Lib Dems working with in government; the current hegemony in charge at the top are a notable exception. That hegemony faces oblivion if Labour lose the election; if, hope against hope, they win, it will be another five years of one of most apocalyptically bad administrations we’ve ever seen.

I like to think that if Labour won they would unsentimentally ditch Brown as quickly as possible; he certainly has remarkably few genuine allies in the party. But that would not be without its problems either. Brown would have a personal mandate and it would be regicide on a scale that would make Thatcher’s assassins blush. The result would likely be a Brownite replacement who would quite possibly make Brown seem to be a wise sage in comparison (Balls, anyone?). The best we could hope for is a handful of reforms – including to the House of Lords – that Labour simply cannot continue putting off any longer (although Jack Straw will have a good go) and the prospect that a reduced majority will make it harder for the Brownite hegemony to continue to get its own way. The AV referendum will be a lost cause (the facts that it won’t survive if the Tories win and is highly unlikely to deliver a ‘yes’ vote explain why I struggle to get motivated by it either way).

For me, the most telling part of Peter Watt’s Inside Out was the section in which he describes how George Osborne wrong-footed Labour by announcing his plans to raise the inheritance tax threshold in 2007. No-one at the top of Labour had a clue how to respond to this (including, it has to be said, Watt). The same team were responsible for the 10p income tax rout a couple of months later. For these people, “fairness” is nothing more than an empty slogan designed to engender votes. It’s a branding exercise with no substance which they would ditch in a second if it had served its purpose. The only thing that makes Labour better in my eyes than the Tories is that there are a clutch of consciences sitting on their frontbench which occasionally remind the party of the principles it claims to expound (the baying mob on the Tory benches who are similarly keen to remind Cameron of Conservative principles could never be legitimately described as “consciences”).

I just don’t want either of the fuckers. To the 45% of the population living in a constituency where the Lib Dems are in first or second place: please. We might not be perfect but surely it’s the better option by a wide margin?

Comment is Free: Gordon Brown and the Alternative Vote

Wondering what I think of Labour’s plans for a referendum on electoral reform? Well wonder no longer!

The alternative vote is a small but significant step forward in the ongoing campaign for a fair electoral system fit for the 21st century. On a good day. Maybe.

If Brown’s system of choice bores campaigners, what hope is there of inspiring the public?

Everything in the middle can be found here.