Wednesday, 7 December 2011

General Elections are Important

On the Friday after the 2007 Scottish Parliament Elections, wee Eck delivered a memorable speech in which he declared that "While it might not be clear who has won this election, it is clear who has lost."

That speech was written in anticipation that the SNP had denied the Labour/Lib Coalition an absolute majority but also in the belief that Labour had, nonetheless, secured one more seat than the SNP in the Parliament.

At the last minute however it was determined that the result in the Highland list was not as had been anticipated and that it was the SNP who had a one seat plurality.

That one seat was nonetheless critical in giving the SNP a moral mandate to form a minority Government and essential to the survival of that minority administration over the next four years. For all the bravado of the First Minister at Prestonfield House, it is difficult to see how that could have been carried off with but a single seat less.

One of the things you learn as you get more experience of politics is that Parliamentary arithmetic is very important. Demonstrations, public outrage, universal newspaper condemnation, opinion polling, by-elections or whatever count for nothing so long as the Government enjoys a majority in Parliament. That is, in the proper sense, democracy.

Now in this context it is important to remember the result of the 2010 UK Election.

The British figures are these. Tories 306 Seats; Labour 258; Lib Dems 57; SNP 6; Green 1; Plaid 3; Speaker 1.

And the Northern Irish: DUP 8; Sinn Fein 5; SDLP 3; Alliance 1; Independent Unionist 1.

So, 650 Seats, with the neutral Speaker, 649.

So, in theory, that means that to have a Commons Majority you need 325 votes. And the Coalition has 363.


Well, first of all you do not need 325 votes for a Commons majority, because the Shinners don't vote.

So there are only 644 MPs who actually vote. 323 for a majority.

And, secondly, this is a coalition with three elements. There are the Libs; the Tories and the Loonies.

And as has been clear over the last 24 hours, you can't ignore the Loonies.

It is apparent to the world that sorting out the crisis in the Euro is essential to the future well-being of this Country.And that sorting the Euro crisis will require a new Treaty. And that thanks to the loonies, the Coalition does not have a Commons majority for that Treaty.

So what does that mean for the Labour Party?

I am in no doubt that if "The Tories" had an absolute majority in the Commons, but a Loony fringe denying them that majority on this one issue, it would mean that, in the National interest, Labour should lend our votes to the the Government to enable them to get the legislation through the Commons. That's what some, at least, of our most distinguished parliamentarians did in 1971.

But the Tories do not have an absolute Commons majority.

And thus, crucially, in a way which most commentators have chosen to ignore, they do not have the right to a dissolution of Parliament.

Lets just walk through what happens when Cameron returns next week. Either there will be no deal because of his fear of his own back benchers, in which case it is difficult to see the Libs staying in the Government. Or there will be a deal but patently no Government majority for its ratification.

So what happens then?

Cameron goes to the Queen and tenders his resignation (Maybe not next week, but eventually). HMQ however would, in accordance with constitutional principle, refuse him a dissolution until it was clear that no-one else could command a Commons majority.

And suddenly, all the focus will be on the Libs. The one certainty of an early Election is that they would be annihilated. But even then it is difficult to see them being prepared to stand aside and watch Britain, effectively, leave the European Union. We've had a lot of anger towards them, and fun at their expense, since May 2010 but they do have some principles and surely Europe is near the top of these. That leads to one obvious conclusion.

So, what if Labour says it will deliver the Treaty Cameron has rejected? Or, at a price, construct a majority for the Treaty he can't get through?

Let's look back at the numbers, for suddenly they are very important. The Left Parties: Lab 258 + 3 (SDLP) + 3 (Plaid) +1 (Green) together with the 57 Libs and the one Alliance vote gets you to that 323.

And then there is the SNP.

There is no need to get involved in an argument where their heart might lie; they would surely vote with their heads. It took them twenty years to recover from the error of 1979 and they can see what happened to the Libs in May 2011.

So, if they sit on their hands, suddenly there are only 638 votes in play. And 323 is a more substantial majority.

But, finally, it might not be as simple as that. You can't ignore the personalities.

Nick Clegg would clearly have no place in any Labour Coalition Government, nor would Danny Alexander. And, to be honest, Chris Huhne should not have a place in any Government, or even in public life. But Ming, Charlie Kennedy, Tim Farron and others would surely be in happier company than at present. As would Vince with a briefly mumbled apology.

Labour also however might have to face up to the fact that such a coalition, in such circumstance, would need a politician of the first rank at its head. And ask itself honestly whether Ed really fits that bill.

So that is why I might be tempted with a flutter on David Miliband being Prime Minister by the First of February.

It's a funny old world.

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