Thursday, January 01, 2015

In the event of a hung parliament, please break glass...

It is interesting to watch as the Westminster village turns its thoughts to what would happen in the event of an inconclusive result on May 7th. There is talk of a second election, of possible coalitions involving the Liberal Democrats, UKIP, the Scottish Nationalists and the Democratic Unionists - sorry Greens and Plaid Cymru, but there just aren't going to be enough of you to be decisive, I fear.

I have, to some extent, written off the first election as leading to a hung Parliament. So, what might happen?
  • Conservative/UKIP coalition - unlikely to get enough seats to form an administration, and even if they just scraped together enough seats, could it ever be stable? We still really know what UKIP stand for on so much of the spectrum of government activity. All we do know is that they don't want to be unpopular. How much in the way of cuts is required, Nigel?
  • Conservative/Democratic Unionist coalition - see above, but add on a new leisure centre/hospital/nice thing for Belfast/Derry/Coleraine/insert name of Ulster town here if the Conservatives really want something badly.
  • Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition - they hate us, we've given up enough with the MPs we have now. With less MPs, what could we really hope to get that would make the pain worth it?
  • Labour/SNP coalition - what's in it for the SNP? Independence couldn't be on the cards unless it was part of a package of radical constitutional reform to protect Labour in England. Electoral reform at Westminster and for local government to prevent Conservative majorities in a rump United Kingdom would surely be a minimum, and I can't see Labour having the courage, or the imagination, to do that. They might do it in order to be in power though. I, for one, would look forward to seeing how Labour's recent membership recruits accept the painful cuts that such an administration would have to make.
  • Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition - are there going to be enough of us to make this work, and even if there were, do Labour understand the idea of sharing power? I'm not convinced, frankly. Indeed, I can see a scenario whereby we go into coalition with them, and they then seek to blame us for the cuts that follow.
  • Labour/SNP/Liberal Democrat coalition - after the unpleasantness that surrounded the referendum campaign last year, could three parties that were so vitriolic towards each other really work together reliably? On the other hand, having two junior partners might bring home the reality of coalition to the Labour leadership. And then, perhaps, you could get the constitutional reform referred to above.
  • Conservative/Labour coalition - don't laugh, after all, just how much difference is there between the two parties on some of the main issues? But seriously, if you thought that David Cameron made a big offer to the Liberal Democrats in 2010...
So, a sceptic might suggest that none of the coalition options are likely to be stable and acceptable to the parties concerned. And that means a second General Election, as the politicians say to the Great British Public, "Try again and give us a result that works this time.".

And, in the event that the voters produce another inconclusive result, what happens next?

That, folks, is the question that nobody really wants to have to address, leaving us with four months of campaigning where the minor parties will be talking about red lines for coalition and the two major parties will be trying really hard not to talk about coalitions until forced to.

It would be ironic, would it not, if 'first past the post' produced an outcome that was even more unstable than the worst outcomes of proportional representation...

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