Why – really – did Gordon Brown walk away from coalition?

It is now nearly three weeks since the general election and something still keeps nagging away at me.

Back on May the 10th and a few days after the election, the intensive Tory-LibDem talks which had been going full tilt, had run into difficulty. The Daily Telegraph was reflecting the deep anxiety that must have been sweeping through the Tory party that they had been ‘outflanked’ as the LibDems had now opened talks with Labour.

To add to Tory unease, Paddy Ashdown, was claiming that a minority Labour administration, with the support of the MPs in the Celtic countries would be stable, as the elected representatives from Ulster, Scotland and Wales, would never opt to put the Tories in power by withdrawing their support. The arithmetic was tight but doable and British commentators had now belatedly twigged that the winning target was 323, not 326 as SF wouldn’t be taking their 5 seats.

The next day and it had all changed again. And it was beginning to dawn on some people that the LibDems who had once claimed to be on the left of the Labour party really were going to get down and dirty with the Tories after all.

Voters who believed what the Labour party had told them in the run up to the election were pondering how it could be that those who desperately wanted to run the country and keep the Tories from wrecking the economic recovery were now, in the words of Alex Salmond, ‘ducking’ their opportunity for a further term?

Those mainlanders are a funny lot – can you imagine a similar scenario unfolding in Ireland with a party walking away from a chance of power no matter how slim or unreliable the numbers or how unfavourably it was viewed by the public or those who elected them? In the South a succession of FF governments held on by the skin of their teeth by relying on a variety of maverick TDs.

In the North, we listened ad nauseum to the UUP telling everyone how dreadful and undemocratic the arrangements in Stormo were and how dreadful it was that Police and Justice powers were being transferred and yet they till clung to their ministerial portfolios. Similarly the Alliance party had no sooner been offered the Justice post than they suddenly realised that, contrary to their official party policy which was still being proudly proclaimed on their website, that Stormont was, surprise, surprise, workable after all.

And of course the DUP who had claimed never in a political lifetime for Police and Justice duly signed up when Stormont, and therefore their role in government, was under threat from SF and the British Government.

Perhaps it was just that the British Labour party were not as desperate for power as the out of office Tories were, with Granny Cameron apparently being readied for a quick sale, or were not as keen on retaining power as the Warriors of Destiny (FF) or maybe they simply could not stomach co-operating with their arch enemies in Scotland, the SNP, or wanted a rest from government by having a spell in opposition or realised the country was bankrupt and did not want to be in power when the man from the IMF, he would surely say ‘NO’ when they tried to borrow more money?

Or maybe it was that New Labour never really got the hang of the whole idea of coalition, and couldn’t shake off the Old Labour familiarity with the biggest-party-first-past-the-post concept – unlike the New Tories who rolled out their slick negotiating strategy and had their lines well rehearsed when Nicky Clegg came a calling?

Alternatively, it may just have been that the Labour party was doing what they thought was right for the country and that even with the numbers adding up, things might look a bit of a mess to the ‘markets’ and perhaps they believed, unlike Lord Ashdown, that the temperamental Celtic types – or even what remains of their own left wing – couldn’t really be trusted – Labour was, perhaps, just being responsible?

But, from this side of the Irish Sea, where politicians would have to be oxtered-out of office screaming-and-a-hollering before letting go of the right to run the country it all looks a bit strange.  So before we all settle down to the new order, perhaps someone can explain just how it was that those who appeared so keen to retain power suddenly persuaded themselves to surrender it so meekly?

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  • He didn’t. I know you’ll keep repeating that he did, but . . .

    Clegg kept him hanging on, talking with Vince Cable & few others, and Brown knew that people like Tom Harris MP and other wannabe awkward squad were mobilising more effectively. (Tom Harris a likely suspect, and not at all left wing)

    As he had made clear Clegg only had so much time to get serious, rather than just use a Rainbow Coalition as a bargaining counter with Cameron to get AV, AV+ or PR and Brown is a man of his word.

    Brown was right to try and avert the current destructive nonsense, pity the Tory entrant to the Lib-Dems Clegg and the self regarding Cable prefered to stand alongside Cameron, Osborne, Laws, Gove to Brown, Darling, Huhne and D Miliband.

    Not hard to see why, even if he didn’t have views on cuts well to the grand guignol side of Osborne.

    Those who control, for a time, the national Liberals, are right wingers, with strong tendencies towards self promotion. Tory Boy? Suits you sir, suits You!

  • Rory Carr

    “Why did Gordon Brown really walk away from coalition?”

    Presumably because he found it very difficult to walk unreally.

    Or did you really intend to say, “Why, really, did Gordon Brown walk away from coalition?”

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    I agree that Brown was looking over his shoulder at Harris and co who were ‘mobilising more effectively’ but do you not think it strange that there was hardly any sense of disappointment within the Labour party when the deal fell through and many even looked decidely pleased with themselves? They certainly did not seem like a bunch of players who had just been beaten in the political equivalent of a penalty shoot-out.

    Whatever about the true designs of the LibDems and those who ‘control’ them, they have publically and repeatedly blamed the Labour party for the break down of the Labour-Libdems talks and Labour have been less than forthcoming
    in giving a coherent answer to that charge and even less forthcoming in explaining their strategy in those talks.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    Why, really, did Gordon Brown walk away from coalition?

  • Eastender

    The reality is that the Liberals (or to be more accurate their leadership) never wanted to do a deal with Labour, something they made very clear from the morning of May 7th onwards. All feelers that were put out by the Labour party were rebuffed and the understanding on the Saturday was that a deal between Cameron & Clegg was as good as done. That is why Gordon Brown went to Scotland, he didnt want to hang around but had no choice given the constitutional position. There was pressure from some folk in the Liberal party for the Labour option to be explored (eg Lords Ashdown & Steel) and when the Libs were not getting as much as they liked from Cameron they started on the “talks with Labour” strategy but it was clear once those talks started that they were for appearance not for real (the New Statesman article this week is likely to be as accurate an account as we will get until various memoires appear). The actual reason they gave for breaking off the talks (ignore all the spin about “bad” body language from the Labour side – simply not true) was that the Labour party was not willing to consider the sort of cuts programme being implemented currently but as there were no talks between Vince Cable & Alaistair Darling this was just another excuse.

    The issue of the “noises off” from various Labour figures is just another distraction, there were plenty of similar comments from tory figures but these were very much played down. If this had been a serious possibility of a deal then these could have been dealt with (one of the loudest of these noises – John Reid is no longer an MP).

    The maths didnt help, even with the non appearance of SF and assuming the SDLP and possibly Lady Hermon would take the Labour whip the numbers only added up to 318 – 320. There would not have been an issue getting the Queens speech through (the Tories would have had 306 at most, none of the other parties would have voted against) but it would have left the government very much open to ambush from small numbers of individuals.

    In the end the Liberals decided it was in their best interests to go in with the tories, nothing the Labour party could have done would have changed that. I believe they have made a grave mistake (though you could argue that Nick Clegg would be very happy to be in some sort of realigned Liberal Conservative party) but only time will tell.

  • Mick Fealty


    My understanding is that Clegg and Cameron sealed it over Pizza on Saturday night and Ashdown told him no, he had to go and talk to Labour first.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    Regarding the numbers, if we took Paddy Ashdown’s idea of a minority Labour-Lidem administration with Celtic support (ie 13 from Ulster, 3 Plaid and 6 SNP) that would have taken them to I think 337?

    I agree it looks like the Libdems did not want to cut the deal with Labour but that does not explain why Labour did not want to cut the deal with them and if ‘feelers’ were being ‘rebuffed’ surely he would have some meat on those interesting bones to chew over by now?

    Regarding cuts – hadn’t the Libdems been more in agreement with the Labour party on the need to delay the cuts? I dont think that cuts had all the hallmarks of a deal breaker.

  • It wouldn’t have worked Sammy. It wasn’t in the national interest and it wasn’t in Labour’s interest to limp along. It would have been sheer hell for them to do it.

    Every party needs to lose elections some times as the Tories found out after 1992. Now’s not a bad time to do it. A very significant part of Labour’s historic role has been to keep the Tories out of power. That has kinda happened up to a point.

    Labour need a pause for reconstruction. Best take it now.

  • Seymour Major


    You have touched on some aspects of what was happening but it was far more complex than that. If you want the whole thing to be summed up in one sentence, you could say that the National Interest and Party Political calculation have aligned to make a Con/Lib coalition not only feasible but highly desirable.

    Nick Clegg boxed himself in by declaring that he could not work with Gordon Brown as Prime Minister. When Gordon Brown announced his resignation as Labour Leader, it looked as though he had fallen on his sword to facilitate the creation of a Grand Coalition. You are right about the numbers. The Labour Party, plus the Lib Dems, plus the Nationalists would have been enough to form a majority.

    That said, it would have been extremely unstable. They would have had an unelected Prime Minister from the Labour Party. A small rebellion here or there would have brought the Government down.

    That scenario would not have been tolerated in the money markets.

    Another election would probably have occurred later this year and it could have faced losing by a landslide. The Lib Dems, tainted by association, would have gone down with that ship.

    Yes, the Lib Dems were also taking risks going into power with the Conservatives but in the end, this was their best option from the point of view of political calculation. They would have looked bad if they had decided to refuse coalition. That would also have led to another election in a short space of time. The Lib dems could not have afforded it and again and having refused coalition which was offered by the Conservatives, would have been punished at the polls.

    The Conservatives needed to get into power to sort out political reform. Remember that PR and AV are not the only issues. There is also the problem of constituencies varying so much in size. A change to make the seats more similar in size would benefit the Lib dems as well as the conservatives. Another policy, little reported by the Media was Labour’s proposal to bring the voting age down to 16. That would almost certainly have benefited Labour.

    Personal ambition comes into it as well. The Conservatives and David Cameron were hungry for power. Nick Clegg, once he saw that he could present his party as acting in the National Interst was also keen for a share of power.

    There is a suspicion in many quarters that the “negotiation” with Labour on that final day was merely a faint to enable the Lib Dems to get coalition passed by their various bodies. That would not surprise me.

    It was a shock tomany to see that there was real chemistry between Cameron and Clegg. Chemistry between leaders was important too. Gordon Brown found it difficult enough to lead his own party. He could never have led a coalition.

    Coalitions are rare in the UK because of the first past the post system. Coalitions also rarely produce strong government. The exception is when they come together for a common purpose which is of great magnitude. Coalitions have happened in the UK when the Nation is at a point of grave crisis, such as war or economic depression, as happened in the 1930s.

    In a sense, what we have witnessed has parallels to the 1930s. The Lib Dems and the Conservatives have come together to tackle national debt. They have worked out an agreement for Government where tackling the national debt is their core objective. They have empowered themselves to take hugely unpopular decisions. That is what the nation needed.

  • Mick is right, the deal was done by the Saturday, if not well before, why you chaps refuse to understand that class played a massive role in this and instead scratch around for some sort of principles amazes me, Clegg felt comfortable with Cameron and his leading cabinet members as they all have the same upper middle class background and schooling, Oxbridge, tory party wonk, etc. Clegg felt he was dealing with fellow gentlemen. Unless you understand this you have no hope of understanding what went on.

    No surprise really, anyone who grew up in the class ridden UK finds they are more comfortable with their own class, it is written into the script to stop cross class fertilisation ;). In my view Clegg never had any intention of going with Labour, that was put out to make us poor saps believe he was an honourable chap, instead of the little shit he actually is.

    Look at the massive differences between the Tory manifesto and Liberals, Clegg failed to gain hardly anything from Cameron, not even support for PR in the referendum, yet he looks like the cat which got the cream, just like Labour with Blair, the Libs imported a Cuckoo into their nest. When the Lib Dem base finally locate their balls I expect the party to split, with a core parliamentary group around Clegg going with the Tories and by doing so keeping them in power.

    The mass of libs in the country will disown them.This is probable the most unprincipled stitch up ever.

    [Watch it Mick. And play the ball!! You are way too long in the tooth to think you can get away with that. – Mods]

  • 1. Because they had the numbers and Labour did not (would anyone sane want to be reliant for day-to-day survival on the SNP, DUP et al.?) The LimpDem parliamentary party has been drifting closer to Cameroonie Toryism in recent sessions (see http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/mpsee.php).

    2. Because, however it is sliced, this dishes the Lib Dems (a.k.a. the pale-pink Tories) for a generation.

    3. Because it’ll hurt the Tories, too, pretty soon. You can already see the pain and grief of those left on the backbenches, unrewarded and and unexpensed. Sit back and wait for the kamizaki attacks: Nadine “Kill Bercow” Dorries shows prime potential. John Major’s “bastards” are there, reinvigorated with new blood, and Europe (and the €) are major irritants already.

    4. Because it’s going to be fun waiting for the glue to come apart.

    5. Because the Labour Party is moving to the left, and wouldn’t stomach more of the same. Meanwhile, 12,000+ new party cards and the unions back on side: what’s not to like?

    6. Because it was time (and that’s enough for the moment: I have commitments).

  • Is “empowered” the most cringe-inducing word in the language?

  • joeCanuck

    Could the real reason really be that he really walked because he really suspected that whoever formed the next government would have to take such hard measures, really, that they would really be a one term government really.

  • Greenflag

    seymour major ,

    Good post and it rings very true . A coalition of Labour , Lib Dems and the multi faceted so Celtic fringe would have been too unwieldy and prone to an earlier collapse .

    Just one point that bringing the voting age down to 16 was/is sheer lunacy . Raising it to 23 and making voting compulsory is the way to go if people are serious about defending what we call ‘democracy’. It’s established physiological fact that the ‘brain’ i.e frontal cortex does not fully mature until people reach their early 20’s .

    The UK may eventually have to get used to coalitions just as the rest of the EU . Given the greater stratification of society and the variety of economic and cultural and other interest groups the idea that all of these can be catered for in side one or two big political parties is an idea whose time has gone .

  • Greenflag

    While he may have suspected that JC no politician – not even Gordon Brown ever gives up on holding power simply to be better positioned to win it back at a later date . If the Conservative Lib Dem coalition actually succeeds then that later date could be 15 years hence by which time GB and whoever the next Labour leader is will only see power from the opposition benches .

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Seymour Major,
    “A small rebellion here or there would have brought the Government down. ”
    They would have had a majority of 14 (337)and everyone in the Labour Party would have known that any ‘rebellion’ would more than likely see them losing their seats if it led to a vote of no confidence. There was also the possiblity that the Tories would split over Davey failing to get a majority – the right-wing knives would have out for him.

    “It would have been sheer hell for them to do it.” / “Labour need a pause for reconstruction. Best take it now.”
    Well it wouldnt have been easy I grant you that but you cant realy imagine Berty or Charlie relinquishing the reins of power because it was too hard or they were too tired and leaving the warriors of corruption (FF) out of it, as Greenflag intimates below that is not what politicians do.

    Of course it is much easier to be in opposition when there is ongoing crises and yes it will be fun to watch the unravelling and perhaps you are right when you say that “Because the Labour Party is moving to the left, and wouldn’t stomach more of the same”. But turning left leads you up the garden path to the old house belonging to Michael Foot – and that is not a good place to find yourself.

    Classes dont mix ? What about the previous PM and his deputy Tony and John?
    and the coalition looks a bit like the political version of the Eton wall game – where the strange mixture of football and rugby has been replaced by the even stranger cocktail of Liberals and Tories in a game that no one really understands but appears to be great fun for the team captains Davey and Nicky with their embarassingly warm body language and jolly japes. Blackadder goes to Westminster perhaps?

    “whoever formed the next government would have to take such hard measures, really, that they would really be a one term government”
    ..in other words they didnt have the stomach or the balls (Ed not included) for it.

  • Yeah. Yeah. Michael Foot. Donkey jacket. Loony Benn. What ever.

    The truth is the Foot held the Party together: the SDLP, for all its earnest principles, pointy-headed intellectual pretensions and squabbling leaders, didn’t.

    It took a small war about a lot of sheep for Margaret Thatcher to get control of her party — remember; “The lady’s not for turning” was addressed to her own conference, just before the Junta rescued her from defenestration. Then the Labour movement had to survive the most poisonous, concerted anti-left assault. That there is a Labour Party, with all its faults, is in some part down to Michael Foot.

    You don’t have to “like” or even approve of Labour. The alternative is an indistinguishable morass of centre-right, triumphalist, populist, exploitative, cynical-opportunist egomaniacs: something, in point of comparison, rather like the present coalition spread wider, and forever. That way lies Margaret Thatcher’s world-made-fit-for-libertarian capitalism, for multi-nationals, for dog-eat-dog market economics. For 1984:

    “But always—do not forget this Winston—always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.”

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    ” The alternative is an indistinguishable morass of centre-right, triumphalist, populist, exploitative, cynical-opportunist egomaniacs: something, in point of comparison, rather like the present coalition spread wider, and forever”

    The Labour Party, not the Tory party gave us the Iraq war,( although admittedly the Tories would have been at least as keen) so they have zero political moral high ground in my book. Mrs T’s war was over sheep – well sheep are better than the empty excuse of non existent WMD.

    Regarding Michael Foot, he serves a useful purpose in reminding the Labour Party that whatever about the purity of ideological thought the Plain People of Britain reside firmly in the middle ground and if you set up camp too far away from there on the left (or the right )then you have feck all chance of getting elected.

    ..and we have just witnessed all the anti-Tory-jibber-jabber you could care to shake stick at and when the useless feckers had a chance to go into government and save us from the dreadful Tories they simply couldn’t be arsed – they could invade Iraq but they couldnt muster their forces for a political fist fight.

  • UUP Future

    hi Sammy,

    I think if the numbers had added up in a way which gave Lab+Lib a small but stable majority, without needing other parties, they would prob have gone for it.

    But the numbers just weren’t there – while Lab+Lib+DUP+SNP+PC+Hermon+SDLP+AP+Green would have had 337 (a theoretical majority of 14) that was way too inherently unstable a majority to go with.

    It would be constantly vulnerable to either a backbench revolt (and many Labour backbenchers thought it was nuts, you just had to look at the parade of John Reid, Diane Abbott, Blunkett etc etc coming out against it on the Monday night) or to defection by the one of the smaller parties (DUP with 8 seats defecting would have been near fatal), similar SNP+PC with 9 seats. Plus every by-election would have been a govt-threatening disaster.

    The Dail is a fair bit more stable – you can actually govern in a stable way on what W/minster types would see as a ‘razor-thin’ majority – ie on 83 or 84 seats. (There’ll always be an independent or three who can be bought off with a new road or something.)

    There was also a big legitimacy question over Lab-Lib-Others which the right-wing media would have had a field day with. So the coalition would prob have collapsed within 6 months, followed by an election where the Tories would win a big majority – in other words, disaster for the non-Tories.

    Most non-Tories have known since the “election that wasn’t” 2 years ago that they were v unlikely to win this election – the big thing was to prevent a Tory majority, and in that they were successful.

    Plus, as Malcolm Redfellow says, the alternative is pretty attractive. Labour had a ‘Dunkirk’ election – a defeat yes, but one where they certainly live to fight another day. No opposition has had as many as 258 seats in the House before without going on to win the next election.

    So time to consolidate, fresh face (i.e. Ed Milliband), dump some of the albatross legacy (Iraq, ID cards…) and win over all the very pissed-off left-leaning LibDem grassroots (Labour are already up to 33% in the polls and this is in the honeymoon period for the coalition).

    The glue will come unstuck between Libs and Tories sooner or later, the cuts are going to be very unpopular (yesterday’s 6bn was just the tip of the iceberg) – and there are local elections across England next May where the LibDems will be under huge pressure. (local govt is v important to grassroots LDs)

    So in opposition Labour have everything to play for, and I doubt they’ll make silly mistakes like swinging wildly to the left (going ‘up the path to Michael Foot’s house’ as you put it) – they’re not that daft, and the prospect of regaining power in the next few years will focus minds wonderfully.

  • Sammy

    Remind me what Cameron and co used to shout at Prescott when he got up to speak, na, no class prejudice amongst this bunch of louts 😉 they were only joking Ahha! Still at least those insults have comeback to haunt Clegg, Camerons new best friend.

    By the way, the Falklands war was fought over a little more than wooly jumpers.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    UUP Future

    “There was also a big legitimacy question over Lab-Lib-Others which the right-wing media would have had a field day with. So the coalition would prob have collapsed within 6 months, followed by an election where the Tories would win a big majority – in other words, disaster for the non-Tories.”

    Yes, now would have been hugely enjoyable to see the battle between the Telegraph and Mail for most outraged newspaper.

    But I simply dont agree with the idea that the threat to a minority Lib-Lab government would have come from the Celtic parties but more likely that a non-appetite for government came from within the Labour party itself and the ‘instability’ arguement was one of convenience and self fullfilling because of the hatred/dislike by the Scottish Labour MPs for the SNP and as Alex Salmond reminded a Labour chappie that it was actually Labour’s fault there was a Tory government when he got up to complain in the Scottish Parliament about Tory cuts.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    I mentioned Prescott to illustrate that even a working class boy that doesnt ‘speak proper’ was at least part of the Labour establishment and the Tories seemed to have gone for a Prescott lite figure (though not necessarily in poundage) in Eric Pickles.

    “By the way, the Falklands war was fought over a little more than wooly jumpers.”

    ..and I mentioned sheep to contrast it with the Labour rationale for going to war.

  • UUP Future

    I think in fairness that the threats to any potential Lab-Lib govt would have come from so many possible directions that it would never have been stable.

    Yes, the SNP and PC would have paid a price at home for bringing down a Lab govt and bringing in a Tory govt – at the same time the price for keeping the SNP and PC (and the NI parties) on board would have outraged English voters, and fuelled English nationalism (strong perception, whether accurate or not, of Celts being ‘bought off’ while England shoulders the pain)

    Also the 337 would mean all the NI parties in UK govt at the same time – what if some of them had a falling-out closer to home? (i.e. if Ritchie decided to move the SDLP into opposition in Stormont, she could hardly stay in govt with the DUP at the UK level)

    Other threats could have come from backbench rebellions (lots of Lab backbenchers don’t support AV/PR, whereas that’s a sine qua non for Lib support), defection of some of the minor parties, a bad by-election result spooking MPs, a grassroots internal rebellion within the (internally v democratic) Libs, terrible opinion poll figures (caused by cuts or by legitimacy issues) spooking backbenchers in vulnerable seats – the list is practically endless.

    It wouldn’t have lasted 6 months and would have ended in tears with an election and big Tory majority, meaning that for non-Tories the country would be totally messed up for years on end – instead of now where there’s every prospect of this coalition collapsing and a refreshed slightly more left-wing Labour returning to power (either on its own or leading a stable progressive majority) in the next few years.

  • Those of a certain age still shiver at the recollection of Georgia Brown’s theme song for the Roads to Freedom mini-series:

    La route est dure, la vie est morne.
    Mon âme est sûre: la peur est morte.
    Que dois-je faire avec ma vie
    Quand toute la terre s’est endurcie?

    Now this is getting v-e-r-y Sartre-existentialist.

    However hard Labour’s road back to power may be (and I guess it’ll be grimmer for us ordinary citizens than for the cosseted party élites), it’ll happen. I remember the previous obituaries: the Telegraph‘s for 1959 was a lu-lu: “Labour … finished for a generation”, as I recall. Some similar boilerplate was re-run in 1970, 1979, 1983, 1992 … any sightings in 2010?

    All of which is why Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit @ 6:23 pm, on Salmond’s gybe, passes me by as the idle wind (of which Salmond has an elegant sufficiency). Next year it’s the Assemblies (and, we now gather, local Referendums). Those look like votes on coalition cuts.

    So, who is likely to be the big gainer, there?

    Not all the action is in Westminster (though the heavy mob clearing Parliament Square didn’t seem particularly touchy-feely, media-friendly —at least notv in the local London showings).

    Anyone notice what happened this time around to the SNP’s overweening pride? Dare Salmond go for his independence referendum? Remind me who made the gains in the English local elections? In London?

    As I keep hearing from local Tory voices, somewhere between wistful and affronted, whenever a Daveism doesn’t quite hit the mark (as with the 1922 Committee cpock-up): “And so it begins …”

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Malcolm Redfellow,

    Yes Labour will return but only if they dont go off and spend their time thrashing around in the ideological undergrowth. But much and all as we may like to highlight the differences between the parties New Labour and New Tories are really much of a muchness with each attracting votes based to a large degree on the class/caste system but there not being much difference in policy when they assume power. The consensus of the centre will hold unless Capitalism comes off the rails even more siginificantly than it seemed to have done with the ‘credit crunch’ crisis.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    I dont agree about the 6 months at all, fear of an election is a great unifier as we can see down south and remember poor Davey would have been having is arse kicked from pillar to post by the Torygraph and the Mail and particulalry the Right of his party for not delivering after they had pretended to be all moderate-and-cuddly for all that time helping to get him over the finisihing line.

    There was far more chance of Davey having to do a Wee Reggie and dive on his sword than the Celtic tribes committing hari-kari.

  • UUP Future

    Aye but we’d have been talking about an 8-part coalition – and fear of an election wouldn’t have been a factor for a fair number of those parts. Labour would have taken the biggest hit in an election 6-months time – the LDs might even have benefitted by pulling the plug.

    As for Dave, aye sure he might have gotten toppled, but the Tories would still have won an election 6 months from now with a big majority, even under an even more right-wing leader than Cameron.

    I also do think you place a little too much fate in the unity of the Celtic tribes. Besides, if the current dated relic of an Oath could be changed to make it a civic commitment to one’s constituents, don’t you think it’s time that your own Celtic tribe of 5 MPs rocked up to have their say? (and perhaps make a difference in future tight parliamentary arithmetic?)

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    UUP Future,

    “don’t you think it’s time that your own Celtic tribe of 5 MPs rocked up to have their say”

    It would have been extrmely embarassing for SF and a timely boost for the SDLP if their 5 non votes had put the Tories in power but they will probably gamble that the chances of such a close shave is unlikely and they so will sit with some relief on their hands. It probably is a good idea to change the oath but I think that Davey may not like to be seen to be doing any reform stuff unless it is popular with the Plain People of Britian and particularly with the Plain People of England and dissing the Royal quareone which such a change might be interpeted as, will probably therefore be given a miss.

  • UUP Future

    Agree that a change to the current outdated Oath is unlikely, which is a real pity. While I would doubtless disagree with the 5 Sinn Fein MPs on many issues, I think Parliament, their constituents and the country as a whole would benefit from their experience, their voice and their input.

    It’s really only right that voters in every part of the UK should have their voice heard in Parliament and that includes Sinn Fein voters in NI.

    The current outdated, narrow, medieval and anti-republican Oath reads

    “I ………. swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.”

    Currently MPs are allowed to skip the “by Almighty God” bit, and if they don’t want to “swear” they can instead say “solemnly, sincerely and truly declare…”

    But they still have to say they “will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth” – and that I think is completely wrong in this day and age.

    It’s lamentable and anachronistic that in a modern UK where at least a quarter of the population are either republican or don’t wish to swear allegiance to any monarch that such a medieval swearing of allegiance is a requirement for taking up a seat in the Commons.

    MPs should sit in the Commons as of right, because they have been elected by the votes of their constituents in a free and fair election. They shouldn’t need to swear allegiance to anybody, let alone an unelected head of state – they’re there to represent their constituency.

    (There’s a Parliamentary paper on this here: http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons/lib/research/rp2000/rp00-017.pdf )

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    UUP Future,

    Interesting paper. Dont think SF will change their policy unless some event renders the curent policy as a vote loser even if oath removed/updated though I agree that the oath issue is more driven by ideology and sentiment than by reason.

    Their policy (which I largely agree with) is to encourage the British to give more power to the Assembly rather than going off to Westminster and it will be interesting to see what happens with the Corpo tax powers being passed to Stormo – as there seems to be complete agreement across all the parties (in Stormo) that this should happen. Could be a first and was surpised tax varying powers were not part of original GFA settlement.

  • UUP Future

    It’ll be interesting to see the effect of any NI special economic zone with reduced Corpo Tax.

    I doubt it’ll be the magic bullet it was for the RoI in the 90s – and I’d be very concerned if the Stormont budget had to be cut back significantly (because of the Azores convention) to pay for the supposedly anticipated benefits of a Corpo Tax break.

    More fundamentally, I think global corporations get away with enough as it is and the Republic’s experience with very low Corpo tax rates has been that it just attracts a whole bunch of “fly by night” corporations who will leave as soon as circumstances change.

    (I don’t mean to say that the corporations the RoI attracted are ‘fly by night’ businesses – they are some of the top corporate names in the world – more that they are only here to avail of the low taxes and will depart as rapidly as they came)

    If a lower corporation tax rate / special NI economic zone can really improve the lives of Northern Ireland’s lower-paid working families then I’d be all for it. I’m just a wee bit dubious that it’ll turn out that way…

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    UUP Future,

    If there was ‘harmonisation’ of Corpo rates it would undoubtedly lead to some companies who would have located in the South opting for the North instead and it would no doubt lead to quite a bit of squealing from Southern parties which is always amusing as their claimed Republicanism often seems to go walkabout as soon as money comes in to the equation.

  • Framer

    Lab (258) +Lib (57) +PC (3) +SDLP (3) +AP +Hermon would have produced a majority (323) with no SF.

    Involving the SNP for obvious Scottish reasons and the DUP for gay reasons would have been impossible and no contact was made with them or the Green.

    Brown, Ali C, Mandelson and Balls clung on desperately to that option until it gradually dawned on them that they had been defeated and such a coalition would have been grotesquely unpopular.

    What is most interesting is why Cameron did not try to go it alone. It may be that Brown’s lingering in his Downing Street bunker made that nigh impossible without threatening the Queen.

  • There was me thinking the Falklands war was about a people’s right to self-determination. But then that would mean the Brits were the good guys on that occasion… awkward stuff.

  • Munsterview

    Good article : good analysis.

    Last year I had a good chat with some Labor people while on the largest island between Ireland and the Continent. ( must be careful with nomenclature, never know who is ready to nitpick) not high ranking but branch activists and experienced.

    They were also totally pissed off with the Labor leadership from the Iraq War period and see Brown as being little different to Blair, both and those around them were regarded as ‘has beens’ and this was well before the pre-election discontent.

    Their view was simple, it was too close to an election to change horses, if Brown won well, then his leadership would be tolerated for some time after the election but the knives would remain unsheathed.

    If Brown had a draw or lost, then the view on the ground apparently was that there should be a clear out of the old leadership, a new leader from the younger generation, new policies, and a New Labor Party with new policies be prepared and ready to take power.

    It was not accidental that so many billions were spend in the lead up to the election, the more spend, the greater the Tory cuts. It seems that the feedback from the labor branches had their say and were quietly insistent on ‘no deals’ just go! This to me seems as valid a scenario as any that I have seen, read or heard since and I have followed the election closely in the English Independent before, during and after the event.

  • Once ensconced Labour Leaders, like Macmillan who said he would as soon consult his “man” as his backbenchers, do not pay a lot of attention to the leftie membership thank heavens!

    So the above story is pretty irrelevant.

    Its their perceptions of the caprice of voters and the support – however niggardly – of their colleagues, together with Events and the reality of what will actually work which inform a Labour Leader’s decisions imho.

    Brown, traduced like the victim of a Murdoch story, rather better than most in his pursuit of the common good, went when MPeasants were revolting, and the National Liberals were about to use their negotiations with him to screw Cameron just a little bit more – for they AV is a pitiful trophy, if it is obtained at all.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    “must be careful with nomenclature”. Yes I can understand that having seen where your use of the word ‘fall’ led to.


    “do not pay a lot of attention to the leftie membership thank heavens!”

    Leaving aside the high profile interventions by the likes of John Reid the negative feeling towards coalition did somehow seem to make their way through to the leadership without any formal process.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    “such a coalition would have been grotesquely unpopular.”

    I agree – that is why Paddy Ashdown was suggesting that a Lib-Lab minority administartion would have been
    stable with the Celtics unlikley to pull the plug and the Tories might well have launched their own civil war over losing the election. Certainly not easy and not popular to begin with particulalry in the shires, but if the economy turned round in 4/5 years and they suruved (admittedly another big if ) they would have been in quite a good place – and still in government.

  • To sum up so far: clearly the other posters speak with a whole different circle to my contacts.

    The general impression I get among Labour people is, once the results became clear, there never was a snowflake’s chance to stitch up a “rainbow coalition”. Indeed, rumour has it that Gordon Brown had to be talked out of making a run for the Fifeshire fief. Some of that pleading, that Brown hang it out over the weekend, may have come from very strange sources, indeed.

    The Mandelson (soft man)/Balls (hard man) act that followed was, it is also now widely alleged, window-dressing, encouraged for obvious negotiating reasons by the LibDems, and more than tolerated by the Tories, still trying to regroup and establish a new position.

    Meanwhile, Danny Alexander’s negotiating brief was specifically directed at a pact with the Tories: there seems to have been no parallel document for the Labour talks. Clegg was already on record for the Tory option. Huhne was queasy about it for local constituency reasons; but instinctively leans centre-right. The people’s Vince (and a couple of others) may have been more leery.

    Equally, the Tories were initially and effectively hit over the head by Alexander’s breadth and depth. He had them floundering to get up to speed — another reason why the stay over the weekend was so protracted.

    The Sun, filled space howling to eject Brown from Downing Street. The Murdoch tendency were led to expect a minority Cameroon administration with “confidence and supply”. This may be the result of being sold a dummy pass by their Tory sources, both sides at a loss to know what other direction to take.

    All this, as I say, is hearsay: I believe it to be the best we presently have to go on. Even as we chunter along here, the memoir-writing industry is cranking into operation. Whether chapter-and-verse comes out of that remains to be seen.

    On a different tack, the PLP of 2010 is qualitatively different from that of the ’80s. The Poly-lecturers and ex-teachers are an endangered species. Equally, only 3% of all the new intake have a TU background. This is a much more media-friendly, coherent, cogent, incisive and competent collective of an opposition than we have seen in a long while.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    regarding the ‘rainbow’ as Ashdown pointed out this would not have been the best Lib-Lab option rather a minority adminsitration could have bumbed along, albeit uncomfortably with the Celtics supplying the votes as required – as long as they got the required dosh.

    “there seems to have been no parallel document for the Labour talks”

    This is also a bit puzzling given that everybody knew there was a hung parliament coming for at least a few weeks (and it was a possibility for months) and Labour still seemed to have been caught unprepared and with no idea of how to proceed. It will be damaging to the Libdems if it becomes clear/public that they always only had eyes for the Tories.

    Regarding ‘New’ Labour types intake – no going back to the interminable ideological debates by the sound of it – so as long as they keep themselves close to the centre ground they should be in reasonable shape next time around.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    I was using the sheep, which had already been raised elsewhere, to compare to the non reason of the non existent WMD for invading IRAQ not to suggest that sheep were the only reason MRS T sent her boats or that the Brits were not the good guys. That is an entIrely separate debate.

  • Munsterview

    All things considered, given where the labor party was at and where it needs to be, with hindsight it will be seen as the best possible result for the party.

    They should be able to hold most of their existing seats in any up coming election post the next six months. The swinging cuts will like here in the South, effect the working and middle class. By this his time next year Labor should be looking very attractive indeed!

    As to Cameron, Charley Haughey’s comment on Dick Spring when he was elected the youngest ever leader of the labor party comes to mind; ” The only way that boy can now go is down”!

    Say what one will about Haughey he did have political savvy and his pithy comment equally applies to both C & C likely lads!

  • Munsterview

    Note the Latin phrase slipped in to my last ‘ Nelson article’ post. They are probably now trying to figure out the Italian connection, God help them!

    The ultimate irony in all of this is up to last year I actually spoke up for this lot when in discussions with Northern comrades as I could not believe that they were the one dimension political cartoon figures that they were portrayed as.

    Boy did I get that one wrong!

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    From my quick reading of that post I think they may have misunderstood what you were saying – but there can be little doubt that there are some trigger words that set one side or the other off on one – often without regard to the context.

  • Munsterview

    Tell me about it!

    I always had another life apart from politics, several in fact running parallel and as far as possible I kept them separate.

    Once while I was involved in an all Ireland Irish dog breed organization at a quite A.G.M meeting I proposed that as the dogs were an Irish Breed they should be trained to ‘bark in irish’.

    All hell broke loose and it took the Chairwoman twenty minutes to restore order in all the cross talk and counterclaims. One unionist said that he was proud of the fact his dogs were non sectarian…… and he was a solicitor !.

    The penny finally dropped with the Chair, a nice Southern Anglo that kept the peace between the North and South.

    She jumped to her feet ” How on earth can dogs be trained to bark in Irish or any other language for that matter” she demanded……..” X is just winding you all up and you have all fallen for it yet again. Will you ever learn ?”

    Well here we are thirty five years later and her question is still relevant !

  • Munsterview @ 2:05 PM:

    So why, in strip cartoons, do respectable Anglophone dogs say “woof, woof!” or “bow-wow”, while the cheese-sniffing surrender poodles say “arf, arf!” or even “naf-naf” ?

  • Munsterview @ 1:51 pm gets it in a nutshell. Tomorrow’s hangover election in Thirsk & Malton might give an early indicator of where things are going.

    This is a 1/66 racing certainty for a Tory “hold” (it’s the first time over this particular course).

    For 2005, the “expected” result would have had Labour in second place. In fact, doing the math, the LibDems surged.The present Labour candidate is an outsider, no-hoper, up from London. The fight should, then, be between a very aggressive local LibDem and a Tory lady with a dubious reputation (Cameron A-lister displacing the “natural” Tory incumbent; a sniff of expenses scandal, an abrasive reputation).

    If the 2+% swing (LibDem to Labour), detected by the recent Guardian/ICM poll, is validated tomorrow … then the fun begins.

    Meanwhile, Vince Cable stands down as LibDem leader, to focus on his ministerial duties. The Pert Young Piece in my household heard that, rushed downstairs, and echoed Metternich’s comment on the death of Talleyrand: “What did he mean by that?”

  • The Chairman of the Yorkshire County Bridge association lived in Malton.

    I shall not be miscounting trumps, for we have none.

  • Not at all strange, they were relieved.

    Sarah and Gordon obviously have enjoyed their holiday, and the normal things like a 5 year old car breaking down and waiting 3 hours on the hard shoulder of a motorway.

    After 13 years and 5 before that of being treated like subhumans by the billionaire media even low level labour supporters must have felt relieved.

    The National Liberals have blamed labour for the break down in the talks the Lib-Dems entered into to obtain a better bargaining position with Clegg & laws’ mucker Chameleon?

    Gracious me!

    Labour has moved on, Harriet having the time of her life I bet!

    Brown’s strategy was to keep the Tories from screwing Britain if possible by any means possible. Obvious Clegg wasn’t serious enough, or he’s have said which bits of Labour’s manifesto he would sign up to, after all Brown made his overture some days before he quit, having already announced his resignation in advance to suit the scunner.

  • Clegg couldn’t negotiate the skin off a rice pudding, or he would have got AV+ from someone.

    Or he is a total true blue and has given his party for his career.

  • Michael Foot was a fine man who achieved much: he did not hold Labour together quite. The SDP walked out in 1981 and we suffered an almost crippling defeat.

    However a comparison of 1983 GE with 2010 show labour with better %age of the vote, and the Tories and National Liberals down.

    Malcolm and others might note that tory plymputh City Council have refused to name a road after the late Michael Foot, who served his home city so well so long.

    People might join me by asking Plymouth Argyle, his beloved football team to make some memorial by emailing: argyle@pafc.co.uk

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    he was a hell of a boy and deserves to be commemorated appropriately by the ‘green army’ (as per the telly ad with Paul Whitehouse) but unfortunately given the times that were in it not the best choice as leader of the Labour party.

  • Stool Pigeon

    Being from Engurland I think I should maybe offer a reality check on the threat of a rainbow coalition. I think Brown in a thoughtful moment realised that a rainbow coalition would wake the largely union ignorant English into a frenzy of debate about where their cash actually goes. During the time this was mentioned as a possibility, Radio 5 received a lot of calls on this subject. Many English suddenly realising that they actually pay for the Celtic fringe and no way would they be held to ransom. The failure of the rainbow alliance may be seen some day as a short term saviour of the union but also highlights how fragile it is if the English are remined of what the union actually is and the hefty cost they have to make to keep it going – with very little (in their mind) to show for it.

  • The Foot family did more for Plymouth, for the South-West, for the whole nation, than just Michael Mackintosh Foot alone ever achieved. If the Council cannot acknowledge that, there’s only one entity diminished.

    Meanwhile, I have his books on my shelves. One or two or them will endure (The Pen and the Sword, for certain). Not many Leaders of a political party will have than longevity.

    To cite a comparison: my alter ego‘s long-dead cousin was an England test cricketer. He sufficiently impressed the Australians to name a road, near one of their cricket grounds, after him. Somehow, that’s less impressive than his record in Wisden and his signed bat on display at Lords.

  • If this is Seymour Major junior from breakfastcerealville, can he please email me ?

  • Munsterview


    “……. Many English suddenly realizing that they actually pay for the Celtic fringe and no way would they be held to ransom. The failure of the rainbow alliance may be seen some day as a short term saviour of the union but also highlights how fragile it is if the English are remind of what the union actually is and the hefty cost they have to make to keep it going – with very little (in their mind) to show for it…… ”

    * * * * * *

    I attend history conferences and other events on a fairly regular basis on that big island ( bit convoluted I know but having a problem with nomenclature in certain quarters at present ) that lies between Ireland and the Continent of Europe.

    I have discussed the very subjects that you have raised; indeed I am sought out on a regular basis also for discussions on these matters that have gone on until the early hours of the morning and the delicious irony of it, I usually spend part of the discussion period explaining the likes of Turgon and all such ‘Comrades’ of like mind and their ‘Good Old Smithy’ ex-Rhodesia White Settler attitude to the rest of us natives, and how that they are not as bad as they seem! ( At least that used be my view, now I would not be as quick to dismiss some views of Northern Republicans on this subject as I previously was)

    To all these English historians and authors Ireland was a a Colonized Country no different to Cyprus, Aden , Kenya, Uganda or indeed the African Country formerly called Rhodesia after it’s white plunderers. They also see The Six Counties as unfinished business, a hangover from Empire Days ……. ‘ just give the damm things back and be done with it’, is in the main, their view.

    I totally sympathies with the middle English point of view; indeed this afternoon I will be getting my usual copy of Country Life to keep in top of it as I will current English history publication dealing with King John. I went to see the new Robin Hood film last night ( thought it quite good over all actually and not near as bad as some critics slated it ) I have a British Library research card in my wallet and messages in my mail inbox from the same source. Another is from an English friend inviting me to be his guest in Northern England for a week and he will be mine later in the year here for a weeks sailing !

    However to some Pro-Union people on this island, while I can be misrepresented as ‘hating all things English’ then I and those of like views can be dismissed with no need to address alternate views or engage in meaningful exchange!

    I also have some other unique perspectives on this, my extended families ‘business’ with the English did not just start with Cromwell ( hizzy fit coming up from Comrades ? ) it went back much further than that; it has produced IRB Fenian Leaders that, in the words of Major McBride in 1916, when he refused a blindfold before his execution, ‘ looked down the barrels of their guns before’.

    It also produced others of this Fenian tradition that looked British Government of the day in the eye as elected MPs, from the Irish Party Benches, it produced a Field General of one Irish Rebellion and indeed another General, this time for the British Army in the 20th, who had an IRB grandfather.

    It is perfectly acceptable for the likes of turgon to go cruising with Nelson and look to English Culture Heros that he identifies with, yet when I dare to refer to historical incidents to his comrades it is drivel and ‘ good jazus I knew that this would end up with Cromwell ‘

    Thankfully I also know that there are other voices on the Unionist side that are interested in past historical events, in our shared history on this island and in the out-workings of an emerging culture that will be able to accommodate all traditions.

    The English unease and discontent that you indentified with the current political framework of Governance is very evident in every discussion with people of this background. At present it is nebulous and has not really coalesced culturally or politically, save for the working and lower class in some sympathy for the BNP. Middle England is from what I know of it, decent and civil. They did not want the last Middle East War or the one in Afghanistan, these were foisted on them by a Labor Government as they are keen to point out.

    Neither are these exchanges just being ‘polite to the Paddy’ as a ‘Comrade’ on the Republican side (we have them too) said, as somebody that favor the Berlin rather than the Boston side of the Social Policy debate, I get plenty of argument, passionate exchange of views and little measure of agreement on these issues.

    Once the nebulous discontent that you referred to’ do coalesce and find an acceptable sane voice to articulate it’s concerns, you are correct, ‘The Celtic Fringes’ and what England’s relationship with them should be are top of the agenda. Ungovernable is something that they can understand but Ungrateful is another matter all together.

    Whatever sympathy there is for Scotland and ties that exist to that country, they feel virtually none at all, in my experience, to the Six North Eastern counties of this Island over which they still retain governance over, having conceded all claim to the remaining Twenty-Six. The Six Counties to them is no different to Gibraltar ……. except it is no bloody use for anything !

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Last night I listened in amusement to Menzies Campbell in a BBC interview suggest that the unreliabilty of the DUP was the reason they could not form a liberal-labour government he also suggested that ‘Unionists’ in particular only ever saw matters from Ulster’s point of view rather than from Britiain’s point view therby suggesting that the SDLP were in more likley to act more responsibly in relation to the Union. Not sure who will be insulted the most?

  • BritishToTheCore

    I think Brown (and much of the rest of Labour) had simply run out of steam after thirteen years of government, that’s all.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    David Laws argues in the new committee on Political and
    Constitutional reform that the Labour Party did not have the ‘conviction’ required to form a government to overcome the disadvantage of the arithmetic of a Lab-Lib coalition.

    Laws was followed by Lord Adonis (not on clib below) who rubbishes this claim and suggests the LibDems really only wanted a deal with the Tories.

    Still clear as mud.

    (From 15 minutes in)