The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Four Degrees Of Lib Demmery: Confidence

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 21, 2010 @ 17:00

And they will...

If a Lib Dem majority or minority are totally out of the question, and a formal coalition still seems pretty weird, then what other options are there?

Assume for a moment that the Conservatives are very close to a majority, some 5 to 10 seats. In those circumstances, they would forget the Lib Dems and try to govern on their own, perhaps with the backing of the DUP, or the SNP. After all, the Tories have propped up the SNP minority administration in Scotland. How about a little quid pro quo?

But if they’re 30 seats short, they have no choice but to seek Lib Dem support. The mere fact of grovelling to the Lib Dems would kill them. Many in the party would rather see Gordon Brown in office than strike a deal with the devil.

But close election results make politicians do all kinds of strange things. Nick Clegg would, hopefully, be wary of entering into a formal coalition, for fear of doing his party permanent damage. But I can very easily see a situation in which the Lib Dems choose to allow a Tory government to proceed with a Queen’s Speech, providing they get electoral reform and a couple of other key policies in return.

This kind of arrangement is usually called “confidence and supply” – that is, the other party would support the minority government in votes of confidence and any Budget measures. All other issues would be taken on a case by case basis.

Would this be acceptable to the Conservatives? Probably not, at least not in the long term. If they see their share of support rising in the polls, the temptation would be too great to call another election and seek their own mandate.

With that in mind, the Lib Dems need to make a confidence and supply agreement conditional on more than just electoral reform. The Queen’s Speech must also contain a bill for establishing four year fixed term parliaments, and significant reform to the financing of political parties: including bans on large donations and spending limits. An element of public financing, tied to voter registration, would also be sensible. The demands might be so great that it makes the Tories think twice…

But remember that, as the sitting PM, Gordon Brown would get the first bite of the cherry. If he hadn’t done too badly – say 50 seats short, he too would be looking for Lib Dem support. As discussed earlier, Clegg would have to be mad to go into formal coalition with Gordon Brown. But maybe he would give him a chance to present a genuinely reforming Queen’s Speech. After all, Brown has been churning out all these constitutional reform ideas during the election; he might find himself hoist by his own petard.

The grand summary of all this analysis is that in any of these cases discussed today, the chances for major change to Britain are still very high. If the Lib Dems achieve 28% or 40% in the election, any of these scenarios can grant the opportunity to get serious political reform through Parliament.

In other words, voting Lib Dem, while not going to bring a Lib Dem government, will bring about at least some of their policies. Cameron and Brown are completely wrong on that score. If any of the recent polls were repeated on May 6, the result might be “messy” for Cameron, but I suspect the British people might quite enjoy the consequences.

It’s all down to whether the Lib Dems can hold this position, survive the inevitable media barrage, and last under the severe glare of more scrutiny.

But if anyone’s Lib Dem party can do it, it’s Nick Clegg’s.

Go Yellow on May 6.

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