Election: more reflections, 5pm Friday

5pm on Friday 7 May 2010 with only one more result to come in today:  Tories 305 (36.1%), Labour 258 (29.1%), LibDems 57 (23.0%).

I don’t think that the LibDems have any serious alternative to signing up to Cameron’s not particularly generous offer and getting the best deal they can in terms of policy concessions.  But they have a weak hand:   they couldn’t justify climbing into bed with Gordon after Labour has won under 30% of the vote, nearly as awful as 1983, and lost 91 seats.  The astonishing thing is that the Tories won only 36.1% of the vote when they started with so many huge advantages:  and they can’t explain that away by reference to the ‘unfair’ distribution of voter numbers among constituencies.

I had consistently and wrongly predicted an overall Tory majority, which seemed inevitable after 13 years of Labour, with a deeply unpopular Labour leader, the MPs’ expenses scandal, two unpopular wars, all flights grounded for days on end, and above all the deepest recession for a generation, all inevitably blamed on the Labour government, however unfairly in some cases.  I’m still at a loss to know why Cameron failed to get his overall majority when circumstances were so uniformly favourable for the Tories.  The LibDem share of the vote (a mere 23%, with only one more result due today) is less than 1 point better than they won in 2005, before Nick Clegg had been invented.

So I see no reason to change my revised forecast of this morning:  Cameron leading a minority Conservative government with the provisional acquiescence of the LibDems following loose agreement on a number of policy promises.  The mechanics of achieving this won’t be at all straightforward if Gordon Brown insists on exercising his right to meet parliament as prime minister seeking a confidence vote  on 25 May on a Queen’s Speech full of seductive goodies for the LibDems and for the other left-of-centre parties.  I suspect however that he will be prevented from dragging things out in this way by an appeal to his patriotism:  the country can’t afford to prolong the uncertainty and to delay urgent decisions on the economy for another 18 days.  Brown will also be under pressure from younger Labour ministers not to discredit the party in this way for fear of yet more punishment by the electorate in the next election, which could well take place within the year.


8 Responses

  1. In European countries, where this sort of thing happens almost always in all elections at all levels, an inter-party agreement is the norm. Often it is obvious before the election which parties will, will not, or might do deals with others, but the problem of legitimacy via number of votes or number of seats sometimes comes up. In fact it is worked out pragmatically by parties on each occasion. It is nothing to be afraid of.

    Brian writes: Thanks, Peter. It’s not a question of being afraid of this process which the election result has wished on us. It’s more the recognition that deals between parties in our political culture run against the grain of our fiercely adversarial system (whether one approves of it or not), that they tend to result in compromises and fudges which distort the programmes that the electorate thought it was voting for (or against) and which may make it much harder for government to take tough, clear-cut, controversial decisions, and that it’s more difficult to hold the constituent parties to account for failure to keep their promises when they have the option of excusing their backsliding by claiming that it has been forced on them by their coalition or alliance partner. In current circumstances it may also cause delay in a new government being able to start functioning with potentially disastrous consequences in the markets. I know such delays are commonplace in many continental European systems, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be dangerous — especially at this very moment.

    BTW, when you write “In European countries, …” I take it that you mean in other European countries. You haven’t succeeded in getting Britain expelled from its continent just yet. (You could have avoided the solecism by omitting that fatal comma!)

  2. Rob Storey says:

    Now that the BNP is  wiped out in Barking; that the electorate are unimpressed with Cleggmamia; that UKIP are defeated implies that we (the electorate) are more savvy than I imagined a month ago. I am optimistic.  A loose Lib Dem/Tory alliance (compromises, fudges and all) offers Labour activists time to finally ditch the ‘new’ out of  new-Labour.
    And severe as it is, our political system is robust enough to weather the present economic storm.

    Brian writes: Thanks, Rob. Your optimism is a breath of fresh air in the encircling gloom. My own dominant emotion just now is rage at the way the politically and economically illiterate buffoons and hysterics who buy and sell government bonds are allowed to dictate our country’s politics. So much for democracy! “The markets” are nervous, “the markets” won’t like higher taxes, “the markets” demand savage cuts in government spending on public services, “the markets” will punish us if we don’t elect a Conservative government. By what right do these incompetent avaricious nincompoops issue instructions to our elected governments? How are we going to reassert democratic control over our affairs? We can’t go on like this.

  3. Jim Dunn says:

    One big question is what impact with the LIbdems have on Britain’s Europe and euro policy? regards Jim

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Jim. I think the answer is: “very little, if any.” The Tories will pursue their Eurosceptic policies whatever their junior LibDem partners might say, and there won’t be anything the LibDems will be able to do about it. Neither of them favours Britain joining the Eurozone now or in the foreseeable future, so that’s not likely to be a problem.

  4. ANS says:

    Maybe you should reflect more on who created our dependance on having those huge government bonds in the first place…….the last thirteen years certainly did not make us more secure.
    In the end if you play with the big boys of the world economy then you need to understand the game (which may have very few rules) better, and in the modern world keeping a nation secure is not only about armaments.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this. For the first ten of Labour’s 13 years government borrowing was by no means extravagant nor excessive by G8 standards, and the national debt was perfectly manageable. The enormous amount of borrowing after 2008 was almost all made necessary by the unavoidable need to bail out the banks after the collapse of the international credit system, caused by the folly, avarice and irresponsibility of the bankers. It’s a bit rich for the same bankers now to be threatening to force up the cost of government borrowing by reducing our credit rating, in order to compel us to pay them back much sooner than the economy can bear, and meanwhile (if they carry out their brazen threats) to pay them exorbitant rates of interest!

  5. Chris says:

    … “they couldn’t justify climbing into bed with Gordon after Labour has won under 30% of the vote”

    It’s more than that: they could not form a majority by climbing into bed with Labour, whether they could justify it or not. All this Labour spin about a progressive left coalition is just that. They would need to bring on board at least two out of the three DUP, SNP and PC. Furthermore they would need to persuade the SNP and PC to drop their policy of not voting on England-only matters, together with those Liberal Democrat Scottish members who are queasy about it too (of which Menzies Campbell is one).

    Either the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats reach some “arrangement” – in my view it won’t be a coalition – or we have another election in four weeks’ time.

    Brian writes: I think a Labour-LibDem alliance, pact or even coalition would probably be sustainable even though, as you rightly point out, on its own it still wouldn’t have an overall majority in the house of commons. But most of its measures and legislation could expect to be supported by the left-of-centre nationalist parties and the one Green. Very few if any of them would affect only England so the policy of the SNP and others of not voting on England-only matters wouldn’t be a problem. It would hardly be in any of those parties’ interests to bring a Lab-LibDem administration down over its legislation, budgets, etc., when the alternative would probably be either fresh elections or a Cameron government whose policies would be (and will be!) anathema to them.

    The reason why I think it won’t happen is that the LibDems would lose all credibility in the country if they were seen to be rescuing Gordon Brown from the consequences of his heavy defeat in the election, and keeping him in office in defiance of the wishes of the electorate would doom them to a wipe-out at the next election. Still, that’s what a large number of grass-roots LibDem members and supporters would probably prefer to any alliance with the Tories, so it’s still not completely unthinkable. And if the Labour Party offered a different name, such as D or E Miliband, to head a Labour-LibDem administration instead of Gordon Brown (who could perfectly feasibly continue as leader of the Labour Party even after resigning as prime minister), we’d be in a very different ball-game.

    I agree that a Tory-LibDem arrangement (under which the LibDems would be free to oppose certain Conservative government measures or abstain on them, provided that they supported the government in votes of confidence and budgets) is probably likelier than a formal coalition. But the offer of Cabinet positions now reportedly being held out by Cameron will be very seductive….

  6. Charlie says:

    Brian, if countries did not borrow money , the markets would have no power.  The markets have little influence on China as they own $2.4T of assets.  If we restrict trade we restrict the power of markets. If there were no computers , markets would be less volatile as the speed of transaction would decrease.  However, as futures were developed by farmers of classical Greece , the running of a states finances has been important as long  we have had states.

    The debt collector has no influence on the person who dos not borrow.

    If those people whom we borrow money from consider we are a greater risk they will charge us higher interest on our debt which is not unreasonable.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this. Of course the position you describe is factually correct. But it involves numerous anomalies and injustices. One problem is that those who lend us money assess the risk of a British government default on those debts on a childishly fatuous and ignorant basis, the markets fluctuating wildly in response to every minor political uncertainty when the real prospect of a British default is actually close to zero, whichever party or parties are in office and whatever policies they adopt. (For striking evidence of the irrationality and baselessly panicky behaviour of the markets, look at this.) It’s also extremely exasperating that those who have us over a barrel because we owe them money are the very people who caused the banking crisis in the first place, forcing us to borrow huge sums of money in order to bail them out. Democracy goes out of the window when reactionary and regressive policies are forced on us by the people whose rescue nearly bankrupted us in the first place.

  7. Chris says:

    “Very few if any of them would affect only England so the policy of the SNP and others of not voting on England-only matters wouldn’t be a problem”


    As well as being inconsistent with your previously expressed views on an English Parliament (which I don’t generally agree with), you overlook that approximately 80% of the legislation at present passed at Westminster relates to England or England and Wales only. Finance debates are pro-forma only and foreign affairs rarely require any legislative input.

    I understand that you have strong political feelings, but I think you underestimate greatly the mess that this election result has left us with.

    Brian writes: There’s no inconsistency whatever with what I have written about the need for an English parliament (and, equally if not more important, for an English government or executive). I am not expressing a view one way or the other about the issue of Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish MPs opting not to vote on legislation or other issues that affect only England, although I am opposed to the Conservative policy of not allowing them to do so because it’s intended to blunt the appetite for full devolution to England, as well as not addressing the need for an executive as well as a legislature for England. Much the most important issues to come before parliament in the next two or three years will concern the economic and fiscal crisis and the question of how and when to begin measures to reduce the budget deficit and the national debt and to start paying it off. Questions such as how to balance tax increases against reduced government expenditure on (among other things) public services will dominate politics for a long time to come. All these will involve votes in the house of commons on matters affecting the whole of the UK, and these will be the matters that will determine the fate of whatever government emerges from the hung parliament negotiations now taking place.

    I don’t know what makes you think I underestimate, greatly or at all, “the mess that this election result has left us with”. I have described it as a mess myself, and I have been a long-time opponent of PR for elections to the house of commons precisely because I think the hung parliaments (and consequent coalitions, pacts and alliances) which it would invariably produce would be impossibly messy as well as damaging in the longer term to our whole political system. The mess created by this month’s election result seems to me especially dangerous, occurring as it does bang in the middle of another major global financial crisis and with a pressing need for the participation in international discussions of remedial measures by ministers of a stable, durable UK government with an unambiguous mandate — something that’s manifestly impossible while Cameron and Clegg are squabbling about proportional representation and we have no properly functioning government at all.

  8. ObiterJ says:

    As things stand, the Conservatives will always struggle to get an overall majority given the situation in SCOTLAND.

    Brian writes: Yes, indeed. I might have to consider emigrating to that attractive country, despite its ghastly climate.