The Coalition scenario is emerging

Andrew Neil looks ahead to the prospect of real political upheaval.

Even with Labour coming third in the popular vote — it could come third and still stay in power!
I doubt if our voting system would survive such an outcome… Labour would probably give them what ever PR system they wanted if it meant it could stay in power (at least for a while)..

I’ve just been given this dramatic scenario which I’m told is being secretly considered. Labour will offer any form of PR the Lib Dems want. (say our own dear STV) and the fixed term parliament already promised. But the Lib Dems are terrified that if they simply gifted Dowing St to a Labour party rejected at the polls, they the Lib Dems would be hammered next time out.. So the Lib Dems insist on a new Labour leader right away as the price of support. Labour oblige; Harriet Harman becomes acting PM for three weeks while Labour’s internal election process unfolds. The fixed term parliament guarantees stable government – no snap second election is allowed to scare the markets and threaten the deal. PR ushers in a long era of centre left coalition governments and bars the Conservatives from power indefinitely. Neat , but with lot’s of big assumptions. For instance, PR would have to go to referendum. Just imagine the campaign. What happens if it’s rejected?

  • Dewi

    Why would PR have to go to a referendum?

  • Brian Walker

    Because they’ve promised it and a change to the electoral system is a major constitutional change

  • Dewi

    A major constitutional change? I think not – Labour are not proposing a PR system by the way Brian – their promised referendum is on their daft plan. That “promise” wouldn’t necessarily hold to a differing proposal.

  • Comrade Stalin

    PR ushers in a long era of centre left coalition governments and bars the Conservatives from power indefinitely.

    What really bugs me about PR critics is the idea that, following the introduction of PR, we’d still have the three big parties being voted for in the same kind of proportions and that a government would be locked in for ever. Especially the old chestnut, buried here somewhere, that the Liberal Democrats would see themselves permanently in government.

    The simple electoral system that we have now, in common with the US, inherently encourages the development of a small number of large political blocs which are, in effect, coalitions of differing views which are united only in their opposition to the other large political bloc. The Tories and Labour each contain about three different internal parties with different mixes of populism, ideology, moral standing, social policy, tradition, all that stuff.

    With the introduction of PR I’d expect these large parties to fragment into smaller, but more focussed parties. When that happens it’s not impossible to imagine scenarios where a wing of the current Conservative Party would prop up a wing of the current Labour Party.

    PR will be a disruptive change, but in the long term it would be good for our politics.

  • Henry94

    In the short run PR might suit the left but it would also allow a party to emerge to the right of the Tories which would take a lot of the EU obsessives and traditional Tories. That would allow the Tories to compete in the centre but have a ready made ally/transfer source on the right.

    The left of centre policies of the Laberal government would be unpopular and disasterous and a move to the right would be very likely.

  • LottaNonsense

    Labour are not proposing PR – They are proposing the Alternative Vote (AV) system, which is not PR, although as far as the electorate is concerned it operates the same as our STV PR system.

    Interestingly, in Northern Ireland, the one party that would benefit from the AV system would be UCUNF – If AV was being used at this next election they would probably be walking into at least six seats.

  • slug

    Yes AV is a little wierd as a system. It isn’t very proportional because it depends on which parties are eliminated and not eliminated at the stage the 50% mark is reached.

    Its effects in NI I am still thinking about but I think…

    In places like Derry it would entrench SDLP because of Unionist transfers, because the uninoist parties are small enough to get knocked out first.

    As Lottanonsense says the reverse effect operates in the many unionist constituencies where there are relatively few nationalists.

    But in the constituencies where uninoists are about 30% or 40% then the SDLP gets knocked out first and SF win.

    Assuming people largely vote within the tribe.

    There might be some greater incentive (than either STV with multi-member) to appeal to the more moderate people in the centre at least because you need 50% transferring to you.

  • slug

    Basically, if we assume unionists transfer to each other before a nationalist party, then with AV the SDLP have to become bigger than the sum of the unionist parties to get elected, but don’t have to be the main nationalist party. So say the two unionists are at jointly 30% as in West Tyrone. Then if SDLP are on 31% and SF on 39% the SDLP get in (but not if SDLP are 29% and SDLP 41%). So it lowers the bar for the SDLP in those sort of situations because the two unionists get knocked out first.


    AV might also facilitate tactical voting of the following sort – a uninoist votes for their preferred unionist first and the SDLP second (bypassing uninoist parties in their transfers). Thus registering their tribe but also getting SF out. In this case then the bar for the SDLP is lowered further.

  • There is a lot of fulminating about how terrible a hung parliament would be, and the fulminating appears to be coming from the Tories.


    Because they have no hope whatsoever of getting their emergency Budget through if there is a hung parliament. And if it fails, there will automatically be a second election as each Finance bill is effectively a vote of confidence.

  • Cynic2

    Yes…. and the public will stand by and watch their right to kick out this Government stolen by the Lib Dems?

  • FitzjamesHorse

    I tend to agree but ANY coalition will bring forward some kinda emergency budget and have the numbers to stay in power for five years…even if some (say) Labour left wingers refuse to join.

    The appalling vista so to speak is the seductive notion of a National Coalition which would effectively make all opposition futile.
    A bit like Stormont.

  • “The left of centre policies of the Laberal government would be unpopular and disasterous”


    What evidence do you have that would prove this so. It seems to me this is just what a majority of the electorate have wanted since 1997.

    It seems unlikely that a centre left policy could be any more disastrous than the Neo liberal programs New Labour has implemented and the Tories intend to harden up.

    It is the best outcome I could hope for,fixed parliaments, PR and the abolition of the lords, might go some way to return public confidence to the new political institutions, more of the same, whether NL or Tory, will please few and solve nothing.

    PR would also allow those to the Right of the Tory mainstream, and the left of Lib-Lab to be represented in parliament. I might not like the BNP, but I dislike even more this disenfranchisement of a sizeable section of the electorate, who have come to believe, there is not much point voting, when your votes don’t count.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Yes…. and the public will stand by and watch their right to kick out this Government stolen by the Lib Dems?

    I appreciate that this might come as news to you, but the prospect of five years of the Tories forcing austerity on everyone while lining the pockets of tax-dodgers and their other rich mates mightn’t appeal to people much more than five years of Brown. When it comes down to it, people might go for the devil they know – especially if they feel persuaded that the Lib Dems will “put manners” on Labour.

  • Comrade Stalin


    Agreed completely. I don’t think it’s right to say that an election system has virtues if it keeps undesirables out of power. Let’s face it, all European countries have these mad far-right movements. Usually, whenever they are elected to power, they prove themselves incompetent in domestic matters and quickly find themselves voted out again.

    I have faith in the self-correcting nature of a working democracy.

  • Sorry: pushed for time. If someone’s already made the points, even more apologies.

    Would the LibDems accept AV (the current Labour best offer)? With 70-75+ seats they could haggle.

    At the start of February, Chris Huhne was rejecting AV, saying only STV in multi-member constituencies would do.

    No way would such a system exclude Tories in perpetuity. Consider Germany. If anything, a PR system would work in favour of Cameroonie “reforms” of the nasty party.

    Admittedly, it also leaves the Tories exposed on the right flank by UKIPpers and the like.

    I, however, reckon that the soggy middle is where GB opinion resides. While I’ll cut off my writing hand before it betrays me and votes other than leftie, it would be nice to go on my last trip to the Crem knowing that we’d locked in the gains achieved in health, education and welfare by the generation before me. And stymied the Carswells and their like.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Is there any gaurantee that any particular system will be universal.
    After all the “UK” manged with two completely different voting systems for the Euros….alll to facilitate Norn Iron.
    No reason why they should not do the same with a Westminster system.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Malcolm, I think there’s a clear distinction between the populist right (flag, family and so on) and the economic right (small government, low taxes, privatize everything). Then you have the smaller-C Tories who have a bit of both but aren’t nutty about it. Both are presently housed within the edifice known as the Conservative Party. This results in a distortion, a government that doesn’t reflect the views of the population.

    The prediction that PR will favour one faction or the other rests on the theory that the political structures in this country will remain unchanged after the reform. I don’t accept that; it will fundamentally change the way that political debate is conducted in this country by ending the inherent abberations caused by tactical voting.

  • Harry Flashman

    Where does this absurd notion that PR will result in permanent centre-left government come from? It sounds like a rather feverish wet dream to me.

    Examine Europe, they mostly have PR systems and they are currently electing right wing and indeed far right parties to office like Billy-Oh.

    I agree you could probably see a Lib-Lab pact after this election but after that collapsed in utter failure around 2012 they would both be consigned to the trash can of history as Britain’s natural and indeed historic small-c conservative political instinct (the past thirteen years of New Labour have been an aberration from which the electorate is now belatedly waking up) returns to the fore.

    Bring it on I say.

  • dwatch

    [i]Interestingly, in Northern Ireland, the one party that would benefit from the AV system would be UCUNF – If AV was being used at this next election they would probably be walking into at least six seats.[/i]

    Why then did the Tories vote against it?
    Av would solve the SB and FST issue and would benifit unionists here but not necessarily UCUNF.

  • dwatch

    Correction, SF could benefit with cross votes from SDLP in FST.
    AV would eiminate the need for technical voting.

  • dwatch

    How there is no need for tactical voting with Single Transferable Vote

    STV would be a fairer system in NI

    Guide to Ireland’s PR-STV Electoral System,1895,en.pdf

  • The current wee tizz that currently engages many of our talking heads prompted me to rummage my attic shelves in hope of finding what went wrong for the Libs last time.

    I looked for, and found two key texts:

    George Dangerfield’s The Strange Death of Liberal England, which concerns itself with the events up to September 1914 (the Home Rule Bill, the suffrage movement, and the unprecedented industrial unrest);


    G.R.Searle’s The Liberal Party, Triumph and Disintegration 1886-1929, which, although a more slender volume, covers a wider span.

    The final chapter of the latter, Conclusion seems particularly appropriate. Since the book appears not to be currently available, except second-hand, the conclusion of that Conclusion is available here.