I thought I’d have a crack at updating my February blog – May 8th 2015 – when the hard bargaining starts
Polls are remarkably consistent in pointing to a hung Parliament – now virtually a certainty rather than a possibility. Again, I offer my understanding of the arithmetic and dynamics of this, but happy to be corrected on errors or points of detail!
CURRENT STATE OF PARTIES
Liberal Democrat 56
Democratic Unionist 8
Scottish National 6
Sinn Fein 5
Plaid Cymru 3
Social Dem & Lab. 3
Total no. of seats 650
ARITHMETIC OF FORMING A GOVERNMENT
After a general election, the leader of one of the parties has to demonstrate that he or she can command a majority of the votes in the House of Commons on major issues i.e. impose the democratic will of the Government on dissenting voices in the House and govern this increasingly Disunited Kingdom - a practical necessity and constitutional requirement - the leader has to convince the Queen as Head of State.
If one political party has this capacity, its leader de facto becomes Prime Minister, subject to the Queen’s ratification, but if no single party has the requisite number of seats – even though one may have more seats than any other single party – then either
a deal has to be struck with another party or parties, or
the party with the majority of seats has to risk governing as a minority government, or
a hung Parliament effectively exists and another general election has to be called.
The party leader with most seats (but short of overall majority) gets first crack at forming a government
Last time, I used the first Newsnight Index – this time I’ll use the latest Skye/Thrasher poll projections of the hung Parliament possible seat outcome.
Labour largest party on 283 seats - way short of the magic 321-323 seats to give an overall majority - Tories 272, SNP 53, Others 23, LibDems 17, UKIP 2
Thee are 650 seats in the House, a simple majority requires the aspirant governing party or parties to be able to command 326 seats (half of 650 + 1)– but since Sinn Fein doesn’t take up its five seats, that becomes 323 (half of 645 +1). Sinn Fein could of course put a green cat among the Brit pigeons at any time by deciding to turn up! And they might just do that, worried by DUP influence (currently 8 seats, maybe 9 after May?)
There is the question of the Speaker (actually speakers, with deputies). The Speaker only votes on a dead heat, and then by tradition for the governing party, so theoretically that throws another one vote potentially in contention!)
On the Sky/Thrasher projection, Labour would be the party with most seats, but not enough to hit the magic 323. Ed Miliband can then choose to “do an Alex Salmond 2007” and elect to govern as a minority government – a high-wire act, with huge risks, which Alex was well-equipped to perform – requiring him to do ad hoc deals on every major vote with other parties or interest groups within and/or across parties. If Ed hasn’t the balls for this – or the Queen didn’t like it – he would then have three other options -
call for another general election, or
try to strike a confidence & supply deal with another party or parties – a kind of minority government with a pre-arranged support understanding, or
form a coalition government with one party or with more than one party - a Rainbow coalition
(Aficionados of the various Borgen series on BBC Four will understand all of this effortlessly, plus have an insight into the role of sex in government!)
Ed has now decisively ruled out a Labour coalition with Tories, UKIP or SNP (it was never a preferred SNP option) and appears to have ruled out any formal deal, e.g. confidence and supply, so he must either bottle it and call another general election or govern as a minority government.
But the stark realpolitik of minority government means that he must negotiate and do deals, otherwise he risks falling at the first fence, e.g. a budget vote.
Who will Ed’s likely partners in government be – if he chooses to have partners – and how would it play out on the above, or similar projections of a May 7th outcome?
To get to the magic 323, he needs 40 votes. For comfort – and to reassure Lizzie – he ideally needs more. The SNP can give him 53, LibDems 17, and Others 23 votes. UKIP can offer 2.
He says he won’t deal with UKIP or Tories: the LibDems are proven carpetbaggers and will deal with anyone, delivering 17 votes – but, of the 23 others, 6 don’t vote (Sinn Fein and Speaker) and of the remaining 17, he probably can only deal with Plaid and Greens (and George Galloway ?). Even if he had all the Others (including Ulster Unionists?) he only musters 34.
(Breaking news is that DUP will deliver their 8 (9?) votes to anyone who offers them £1 billion. Now, who’s crying “holding the UK to ransom” now, Anna Soubry! Ah, they’re unionists!)
If Ed was mad, UKIP squeaks him another two, giving 36 but still leaving him four short of the magic figure, which in itself is a tight and risky margin.
Any way it plays out, it seems inevitable that the SNP will be the key players, even if their actual seat fall short of the astonishing 53 seat projection.
Without going into the obvious numbers, on this projection, David Cameron has even less chance of usurping Labour as the largest party to form a government.
Of course there are other radical options, all centring round some kind of Government of National Unity, i.e. keep the WMD, keep austerity and keep the SNP out of the power loop at any price.
My view is that such an attempt - apart from running a grave risk of triggering a schism in either the Labour Party or the Tory Party or both - would catalyse the spirit of Scottish independence dramatically and trigger an unstoppable popular demand for a second independence referendum.
(There are even more radical scenarios than that, ones that I would not like to see provoked by such UK rashness.)POSTSCRIPT: Alex Salmond ideas on Fixed Term Parliament Act manoeuvre