Monday, 26 April 2010

Lib Dems roller coaster towards Government

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The election 'game change' to break the Lib Dem glass ceiling occurred during 90 minutes of the first leader’s TV debate. Nick Clegg shattered the barrier holding back the Lib Dems in the time it takes to kick a ball around a pitch.
The BBC thoughtfully supply a transcript to allow checks on what exactly was said in case anyone thinks that the words of Solomon were spoken. However, the key was not just the actual words but the presentation and clear delivery by Clegg that brought him to the viewer’s attention and they liked what they saw.
In spite of the Tory smears and attempts to reverse the Lib Dem surge in the polls, Cameron failed to deliver any kind of knock out blow in the second TV debate against either Clegg or Brown, although I think he was much better than in TV Debate 1 and deserved to take the plaudits for a narrow win. It should be noted though that Brown too was much more fluent and at ease and this was shown in a closer result between all three on opinion polls (specifically on the TV debate ‘winner’).
We are now left (as expected) with a little slippage by the Lib Dems to a settled score of around 29% in the polls. This is an impressive 8% higher than the same polls were showing before the first TV debate.

Latest BBC Poll Tracker                  Election Seat Calculator
Conservative         35%                        274
Labour                  28%                        260
Lib Dem                29%                          87
Other                      8%                          29
Total                   100%                       650
Note – a 1% swing from Conservative to Labour (34% vs 29%) and the seats change back to give Labour the largest number of 282 vs 251 seats. The narrow margins of error, when you throw in the inevitable swings in marginal seats, mean that it is impossible to accurately predict.

Now if the smears continue or Clegg makes a gaffe before polling day, the Lib Dems will keep nudging lower to perhaps my predicted 26% but they are looking good for a higher vote and number of seats than anyone predicted prior to the campaign.
I think though that in Clegg’s clear attempt to head off the Conservatives successful counter attack that ‘Vote Clegg get Brown’, he (and his advisors) has made his life a little more difficult in the coming weeks. At the weekend Clegg sent out slightly fuzzy signals. In his interview in The Sunday Times he said that, “I tie my hands in the following sense: that the party that has more seats and votes, but doesn’t get an absolute majority – I support them”.  This is Clegg’s Rule on a Hung Parliament.
That seems fairly straightforward. Under Clegg’s Rule the party with the most votes and seats but short of a majority (326 seats) will get Lib Dem support in parliament. So the Lib Dems will have to support the Conservatives(if the actual result was above), right? No.
Given Cameron’s stated hostility to voting reform and that is a ‘deal breaker’ for any previous Lib Dem leader, I simply can’t believe that Clegg would throw out of the window any sort of serious commitment to a Bill on PR and agree to prop up the largest party come what may. Labour is promising reform but a very limited AV reform (chances are that it could be amended into a bill that would satisfy the Lib Dems and since a large minority of the Labour Party believes in PR , a deal could be stitched together). However, both Cameron’s assertion that he is against voting reform and a lack of appetite in the Conservative Party for such change, there can be little prospect of voting reform by the Conservatives other than a Bill in Parliament on a referendum and then the Tories would campaign against it!
However, clearly spin doctors had been talking to journalists on the Sunday evening BBC Radio Four programme Westminster Hour. There seemed to be real confusion as to what Clegg actually suddenly meant.
Today, in The Times, Clegg went further and stated he wants to overthrow Brown before dealing with a new Labour leader.“I think, if Labour do come third in terms of the number of votes cast, then people would find it inexplicable that Gordon Brown himself could carry on as Prime Minister, which is what the old convention would dictate.” So fair enough he has gone further by now saying he not only will not deal with a party in third place but also not Gordon Brown. Right? Wrong. In an interview with Sky News he was asked if he was prepared to work with alternative Labour figures such as Alan Johnson or David Miliband. He said: “I will seek with whomever else to deliver those big changes that I want, in the way the economy is run, the way the tax system works, the way our education system works and, of course, cleaning up politics from top to toe.”
Well how can he work with any Labour leader who has come third in the national vote and yet has the most seats (but short of a majority)?
You see Clegg has to be very careful about being tripped up in all the confusion post-6th May to find a new Prime Minister who commands a majority of support in the Commons.
1. First, Brown as the sitting Prime Minister will be invited to form a Government so he will naturally talk to Clegg and the Lib Dems. Under Clegg’s Rule though he should be immediately be turned away regardless of what he offers them. That would be madness to turn down say a deal on PR (breaking the two party duopoly forever and fulfilling the Lib Dem dream of Government after a hiatus for most of the Twentieth Century). Is Clegg really going to turn Brown away at that stage? I doubt it but let’s assume he does.
2. Then Cameron and Clegg sit down and what happens if they can’t agree a programme (inc. voting reform) for Government? Either unofficial channels have already agreed that some sort of deal can be made and in recent days David Laws emphatically denied that was the case (but heck if it is ‘unofficial’ he could deny it). Or no deal is put together and then what happens?
3. Well, either Clegg has forced Brown to resign (the Labour Party will hate it if it is seen that they have lost their leader because the Lib Dem leader forces him out), a temporary Labour leader then comes in and Clegg perhaps gets a second chance to make a deal. In that scenario, Clegg has perhaps twisted his logic to near braking point but would claim he hasn’t broken his word. He would argue that he could not do a deal with the man who voters placed in third ie Brown but a new leader (albeit temporary) would not be as tainted. Likewise, he has given Cameron a chance but a deal was never going to happen, although it makes Clegg look like he gave them an opportunity.
4. Finally, a new Labour leader is elected by the party and the new Lab-Lib Dem Coalition can be formed. It would take a few weeks and the country will be sick and tired of the newspapers repeating over and over every single nuance to the story.

This then relies on Brown being ousted or resigning in step 1. or 2. above. Still with me? Problems start to arise at every twist and turn but what happens if Gordon Brown refuses to resign and carries the support of his party? Clegg could be forcing a second general election down everyone's throat and the electorate would give him and his MPs a good kicking for yet another four weeks of electioneering. Clegg has to make a deal (with Brown if he has support from the Labour Party) rather than go back to the electorate with everyone blaming them for a paralysed Government.

 The question is; has Clegg just created a risky strategy in the hopes of seeing off the ‘Vote Clegg get Brown’ attack and placed himself at the mercy of the ‘what if’ scenarios about to play out post 6th May? He better get this right otherwise his party will not forgive him if they are left in the cold for most of the Twenty First Century.
All of this excited chatter about Clegg’s Rule though evaporates under some opinion polls that suggest the Conservatives edging back up again and only slightly short of a majority.
Whatever, the final outcome there are about twenty Lib Dem ‘MPs’ who will owe their re-election to Clegg’s 90 minute wonder and perhaps another 30 new Lib Dem MPs who will be swept into parliament against the odds. Before the election campaign it looked like they would be reduced to 45 MPs, now they are heading for 90 MPs. It will be the most Liberal Democrat/Liberal MPs since 6th December 1923 when 158 Liberal MPs were briefly elected until just 29th October 1924
So the Lib Dems/Libs will be back in power since 1979 after a 31 year absence, but something far more important could be about to happen. If Clegg pulls off PR (or at least a fairer voting system), it may mean that the Lib Dems are finally back permanently as a serious force in British politics after a rollercoaster ride for 86 years.
So did a 90 minute television debate change the course of British politics forever?  We will find out in 10 days time.

3 comments:

  1. Nick heres my 2 penny worth about Trident and deterent..........we Lease 3 stealth B2 bombers from the USA
    also You need a knockout punch a policy that will rattle Dave and leave him like hes had 12 rounds with Rocky..my suggestions ...clamping down on big City Tax evasion why should ordinary folk pay and these fat cats dont , also a Public Bank , and Local communities streets to get consulted regular and action taken on teh policing of their area in other words each household can directly influence the policing of their area via feedback

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  2. We've been here before, with all the hype of 1974 around Jeremy Thorpe (and look what happened to him!) and "the two Davids" (Steel and Owen) in the early-1980s - who, incidentally, hated each other with a vengeance! Come election night, the centrist party vote always disappoints. Why, after an eclipse of 90 years, should it be any different this time, especially with an unprecedentedly ageing and wily electorate? My money is still on a small Tory majority.

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  3. I believe that forming a coilition with the Tories will ultimately be Clegg's political suicide note. Already many LibDems are cutting up there Party membership cards and joining/rejoining Labour.

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