Friday, 23 April 2010

Thoughts on a Hung Parliament

In public, the Labour Party seems to be pretty sanguine about the polls suggesting a hung parliament. The much discussed vagaries of our FPTP system mean, I'm told, it would be quite possible for Labour to come third in the popular vote but still wake up on May 7th to discover they have the largest number of MPs in a hung parliament. It's even more likely that they would have the second largest number of seats. There would be an obvious attack narrative available to them: "the Conservatives haven't 'sealed the deal and are still not trusted'; the electorate has punished us for being in power too long,for sure, but the important thing now is a coalition for electoral reform before the inevitable second election we hope will produce a representative parliament to face the huge economic challenges facing the country." Result? The Tories locked out of power for another political generation.

Labour bloggers seem much less relaxed about this: Shuggy thinks the fight to avoid third place is a sign that they are done for, and Don is equally unequivocal:
It seems obvious to me that if Labour comes third in the popular vote, then that's it - they are out of government. ..... people would have made it quite unambiguously clear that they don't want Labour in government. I absolutely shudder to think what would happen if they tried to do a deal with the Lib Dems and stagger on while presiding over the massive cuts to public spending of the kind that Clegg and Cable have repeatedly said that they want.
& this, I think, is the rub for both Labour and Tories - a hung parliament could well set off a vicious bout of in-fighting inside their parties even as their leaders suddenly started talking about co-operation and 'working together for the national interest'. I mean, shiny Dave has had everything going for him - surely a failure to pluck the lowest hanging fruit in recent electoral memory has got to raise questions about his leadership? (Both in his party and, perhaps more acutely, in the Murdoch camp)*. As for dour Gordon - well that nice Mr.Miliband stands ever ready to present a new face to the public.

Cameron, on balance, could probably survive until a 2nd election - but he'd certainly be toast if he failed to win that. But Brown? I don't think so. The knives will be out for him before the last constituency declares on May 7th. It might be difficult for the LibDems to even contemplate doing a deal with Labour if he stays because he is absolutely the epitome of 'no change'. So a gap would open up between the interests of the Labour Party and the interests of its leader. & we all know New Labour has a sparkling track record in dealing with that sort of situation, don't we?

Radio 4 this morning reported Moodys, the rating agency, as being pretty positive about a hung parliament on the grounds it might lead to a grand coalition to force through the 'necessary' cuts. Paul Mason reports that the City isn't especially worried about a hung parliament per se - what they're concerned about is :
"... a "chaotic" hung parliament where there's maybe one Green, two Respect and one or two BNP members of the Commons, with strong showing from Plaid and the SNP. Right now the political class is thinking Cleggmania might go away, or recede, leaving the old two-party slugging match to get back into business. ..... What they have not even begun to plan for is if Cleggmania begins to give the electorate "permission" to just break away from the whole mainstream party circus."
But a chaotic hung parliament is possible even without a further crumbling of the Tory and Labour votes. All it needs is a civil war within one or both of those parties. If I were a Lib Dem strategist, I'd be sparing some time to think about how I might help that prospect along.

But I'm not a LibDem strategist. I'm just someone who wants to see the re-emergence of a multiple voiced social democracy. I actually want a chaotic hung parliament. & here's how you can help.

*H/T to B&T for this link


  1. Charlie. You're back. For a while there I didn't know what to think about English politics but you're return means that I have someone to guide me through this crazy election. Good to hear from you.

  2. Cameron, on balance, could probably survive until a 2nd election - but he'd certainly be toast if he failed to win that. But Brown? I don't think so. The knives will be out for him before the last constituency declares on May 7th.

    I'm actually not sure about this. The "lowest hanging fruit" point applies, and Brown is actually quite liked by non-partisan types (this is something we need to remember outside of our bloggy bubble, where Labourites of the evil variety wish the party was led by Phil Woollas and Labourites of the non-evil variety wish the party was led by Jeremy Corbyn and therefore both hate Brown...)

  3. John B, I beg to differ. I think Brown is destined for the bin so fast his feet won't touch the floor, and I simply cannot think of a more well deserved fate for anyone.

    I'm not a LibDem strategist, I'm not even a strategist, but I am "Strategist"... and here's my futurology:

    The LibDems and Labour will win enough seats to form a coalition but Labour will deliberately collapse any chance of coming to a deal. (When in local government has Labour ever done a deal with the LibDems to stay in power, upon losing overall control? As far as I have seen, they always refuse to come to a deal, force the LibDems to get into bed with the Tories, and then say "see, they're no different than the Tories", and hope this will give them a bounce come the next local election. So far, it has rarely worked, so far as I can tell.)

    The LibDems will not to be so stupid as to do that, and will instead aim to stand aside, aiming to let Cameron lead a minority Tory government on condition of an electoral reform referendum, not supporting it but not bringing it down either, and aiming to let Cameron take all the flak for the cuts (cuts which they would have made anyway).

    If this ruse works, the next biggie would then be an electoral reform referendum, which would be shit or bust for Cameron. If he, Murdoch et al frighten the voters out of it, then he's well set for a Blair or Thatcher length reign. If he loses it, then he'll probably quit at that point and join an invesment bank, because I don't think he signed up for Tory leader in order to be in opposition for ever or share power.

    However, Cameron isn't a fool and I can't see why he would be prepared to gamble on winning an electoral reform referendum. Therefore his best ploy would be to refuse to form a minority government and make it impossible for anyone else to form a minority government, and put everything into creating the impression of a parliament in chaos (but not his fault) and gamble on forcing a second election under FPTP that the public will hate (and he will claim not to have wanted), and aim to win that outright on a mandate to break the stalemate.

    Being pessimistic, I can see him selling that idea. The only antidote is for Labour & the LibDems to work together, which requires a stake to be driven through the heart (or balls) of neo-Old New Labour tribalists like Ed Balls. It would be nice to see Cruddas rise to the moment and lead a faction prepared to get into bed with Caroline Lucas and the LibDem left. That would be the sound of Charlie's multiple-voiced social democracy.

  4. PS And if we do get PR, then the Tories will split into two parties and Labour will split into the two or maybe three parties that logically they should already be.

  5. Hi Strategist

    I can't play chess very well - I rarely see beyond the next move. So I'm going to remain on the fence on the question of how plausible your futureology might be.

    But I do have a gut sense that all our leading politicians have been professionally formed in an atmosphere of binary, two party politics and are ill equipped to deal with the complexities of a fractured political situation. I think they will all make very, very serious mistakes in the new world that is now opening up. I'm not sure if either Labour or Tory parties will formally fracture, but I do think their internal strains will unseat both current leaders within 12-18 months, if the current polls are to be believed.


  7. "I can't play chess very well - I rarely see beyond the next move."

    The next move is "pray that the Labour vote holds up in the Lab-Tory marginals". People who want a hung parliament (not just LibDems) actually need to be tactically voting Labour in those key marginals Labour needs to hold to prevent Cameron getting an overall majority.