Wednesday, 12 May 2010

New dawn, new Conservative/Lib Dem Government

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British politics has just made a seismic shift in its politics with a surprise and sudden Coalition between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
David Cameron and Nick Clegg

Best of luck to David Cameron and Nick Clegg in delivering a strong, stable government but their relationship and the relationship between their parties will come under tremendous strain as the expected cuts in public services,wage freezes and increases in taxes start to bite this year and next. To be fair to the Prime Minister he made an impressive speech in Downing Street yesterday. Yet he will find that he cannot enjoy much of a honeymoon period.

I think though that as their popularity plummets they have no choice but to bind together and ride out the storm ahead. No doubt though the new Cabinet will have some ding dong discussions over the agreed Coalition Agreement.

Farewell to Gordon Brown who made a first class speech yesterday and left head held high with poise and dignity. His speech in Downing Street and later to Labour workers in Millbank was the best I have heard from him in many years. Those speeches came from the heart with passion and a sense of pride in his achievements and the achievements of the Labour Government. His flaws were there for all to see but no one can say he is not a decent man who deserves some peace and quiet now. He will still be contributing to the country, his party and to his charitable work for many years to come.

Labour will get on and choose its new leader and bide its time. Early indications (with Alan Johnson backing him) are that David Miliband will win that party election and become the Leader of the Opposition.

The Lib Dems did rollercoaster to Government but not in a Labour-Lib Dem Coalition which would have been the more natural partnership based on philosophy and policy. There is a story to tell on what exactly happened after the Labour Cabinet authorised a negotiating team to sit down with the Lib Dems yesterday but apparently seemed determined to scupper any talks. Did Ed Balls decide that he did not fancy trying to putting together an unpopular Rainbow Coalition and jepardising his own chances of becoming Prime Minister (since such a Coalition had more chance of breaking up early)? No doubt that story will come out soon.

Probably Labour strategists decided that it was much better to let a Conservative and Lib Dem Coalition carry the can for all the industrial unrest, strikes and public sector cuts over the next two years. That plan may well backfire given the amount of money available to George Osborne when he cashes in the nationalised bank shares and could find that after a troubled two years the Con-Lib Dem Government popularity starts to rise again in 2012.

Come the next election (if they make it the full term to 2015) there will have to be some sort of accommodation between the Conservatives and Lib Dems as they will be defending the same record in Government and fighting each other to standstill in key constituencies would be madness. There may not be a formal pact to fight the next election but rather tacit agreement where to focus resources to optimise each other's chances of electoral success.

There is an ominous precedent for a Conservative-Liberal Coalition Government during World War One when David Lloyd George split the Liberal Party in two by joining with the Tories. There then followed the Twentieth Century decline in the Liberal Party. I think Clegg will have to stick out the storm ahead and whilst publicly trying to show his independence knows that he has to make the Coalition work for at least two years.

Ultimately though if the Government is successful it will be David Cameron and the Conservatives that will benefit the most. Since they are so close to a majority already they would not need the Lib Dems post 2015 if there seats increase by another nineteen (assuming they win  the by-election). What then for the Liberal Democrats? They will have been castigated by Labour and the Left and potentially could yet again find themselves squeezed between the two major parties.

Will an AV system make much of a difference to the outcome of an election? Below would be the results for First past the post as per 2010, Alternative Vote and Single Transferable Vote. (It assumes the Conservatives will win the by-election to take them to 307 seats). Clearly AV will boost the Lib Dems by 22 seats and bring down the Conservatives by 16 seats with Labour a fraction up. It would strengthen the Lib Dems position in a hung parliament. However, on a full blown STV system neither of the two parties will again hold complete power and put the Lib Dems in Government on a permanent basis. However, the opportunity for PR may have been lost for another generation after the collapse of the negotiations with the Labour Party and the refusal of the Conservatives to entertain the idea. The only slight hope now is that the Lib Dems table an amendment to the Voting Reform Bill and hope Labour will back them (unlikely on a free vote with at least one third of Labour MPs opposing).

Party                2010 result       AV             STV
Conservative     307                    281            246
Labour              258                   262             207
Lib Dem             57                      79             162
Other                 28                      28               35
Total               650                    650             650

On the other hand, if Labour collapses into in-fighting, during and after the leadership election, can the Lib Dems build on their success and increase the number of seats at the next election under an AV system, to  block any single party from outright power?

If one or two hours yesterday was a long time in politics then heck anything could happen over the next four years.

1 comment:

  1. Don't count on D. Miliband becoming Leader of the Opposition. He does not connect well with Labour's grass rooots or the public, and is not a good listener!


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