Sunday, 19 April 2015

More Numbers

In my last blog I tried to explain the crucial question of numbers of seats in a post election situation.

One person who does not underestimate that precise issue is Nicola Sturgeon.

Her question to Ed in Thursday's debate was whether Labour would join with the SNP in "locking David Cameron out" even if Labour was not the largest Party in the Commons.

The second part of that formulation is key. I said before that if Labour is the largest Party in the Commons then whoever else wants to support us becomes a matter them. Given the unconditional statement of the Nationalists that they would never (again) vote with the Tories to bring down a Labour Government and assuming they stand by their word, if Labour is the largest Party, then their support or abstention would amount to the same thing. We could effectively ignore them. As indeed we could largely ignore the Lib-Dems on important votes. Having lost (it appears likely) more than half their MPs as a result of coalition, I doubt if they'd be anxious to face the Country any time soon on the basis of having "no confidenced" an incoming Labour administration.

So while, if Labour is the largest Party despite an SNP landslide in Scotland, that will undoubtedly raise strategic problems for the Labour Party, it is unlikely to make any great difference to Ed or indeed David Cameron's decision making on 8th May.

Cameron will resign, Ed will accept the Queen's offer to form an administration, and we'll get on with running the Country. No doubt from time to time we will lose the occasional Commons vote when the Tories and Libs make common cause and the Nats abstain but we'll still be the ones exercising Executive power.

But, if there is an SNP landslide, how likely is it that Labour will be the largest Party and, if we are not, what are we likely to do then?

Let me answer each of these questions in turn.

In 2010 the Tories won 306 seats and Labour 258. All other things being equal therefor Labour needs to win 25 seats from the Tories to become the largest Party. But 41 of Labour's seats were in Scotland. Suppose we lose all but a handful of these, say 35. Suddenly that 25 figure becomes 42. And then let us assume, I think not unreasonably, that the Tories gain disproportionately in England from the travails of the Libs. That figure creeps up towards 50. Not impossible but a pretty big task.

Let's however assume we do well. Better than any poll currently suggests even. Forty five gains from the Tories and (say)  five from the Libs, coupled with Thirty five losses in Scotland  brings us out at perhaps 273.

However forty five  losses to us but twenty gains from the Libs still leaves the Tories on 281.

Now, even if the Tories can somehow corral the Liberal rump and the DUP into alliance they are not back in happy coalition land. With fifty seats or thereabouts The SNP would  genuinely hold the balance of power.

The arithmetic is easy. Our 273, their 50, the SDLP, Plaid and a couple of odds and sods and there is easily the basis for an administration.

The problem is not the arithmetic.

The SNP does not believe in the continuation of the United Kingdom. Many of their elected representatives don't just wish to quit this country they positively hate it. Is it realistic to expect the good people of England and Wales to have the Government of their Country dependent on the good will of those who quite openly maintain that it shouldn't exist?

It is nothing personal (alright it is not just personal). "Scotland" would not have been snubbed. Those who wanted to breakup the United Kingdom against not only overwhelming objection of England and Wales but, as recently demonstrated pretty clearly, the objection in Scotland itself, would have been snubbed. Think about it even briefly indeed, given that weight of opinion on the continuance of the Union, it would be political suicide for Labour to get into any other situation. Never mind reaction south of the border, in Scotland, having been squeezed from the nationalist side in 2015, we would almost certainly find ourselves squeezed on the unionist side in 2016. Ruth Davidson might even end up as leader of the Holyrood opposition.

And then there is the question of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.

Once a Government is formed it can't just resign. It remains in office until a vote of no confidence is passed against it or until statutorily dissolved FIVE YEARS LATER.

The opposition, in whatever combination or even simply as a result of the minor Parties sitting things out, can vote against that Government as often as they like, preventing effective law-making or even the exercise of executive power. The principal opposition Party, however, unless able to see how they might form an administration of their own, would be likely to trigger a confidence vote only if they saw likely victory at any subsequent election. Even then, assuming the Governing Party was not willing to, absurdly, abstain on such a motion against itself, the minor Parties could actually keep that Party in office essentially against its will and, more importantly, against the perceived desire of a large part of the electorate. But, let's not forget, that is the precise effect of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. To prevent a government, once formed, resigning and triggering an election.

Nonetheless you can't help but conclude that a hostage government of that nature would eventually face a horrific electoral reckoning.

So I return to what I said in my last blog. If, as appears, I entirely concede quite possibly, that, as a result of results in Scotland, neither of the big Parties, even with the Libs, can form a stable administration, then the Tories will remain in caretaker office over the Summer and, when it suits us, Labour will, with, apparently, the support of the Nationalists whether they like it or not, use the self same Fixed Term Parliaments Act to trigger another election.

Dogs can't be wagged by ther tails. It's as simple as that.

1 comment:

  1. If no arrangement can be made between Lab and SNP, then the incumbent Tory led government sit in place.
    There is a compulsion upon Labour to reach an arrangement with SNP, or else the Tories stay in place whilst we all make our way back to the polls.
    But there is a compulsion, similarly, upon the SNP to be reasonable in their demands.
    Asking too much of a Lab Gov without a formal coalition and, as the 50 MPs vs the 273+ MPs, ends the possible LabSNP deal.
    As you point out, the tail never wags the dog.
    The SNP face the electoral price of snubbing power and sitting idly by during 5 yrs of CONLIB full on austerity.

    SNP and Labour manifestos appear rather similar other than the issue of Trident.
    Confidence and supply arrangements should proceed upon common manifesto grounds, with the issues of FFA/FFR and Trident kicked into the next parliament.
    The furthest Lab could go to would be a commons vote on each (on a referendum on each - one only in Scotland, one UK wide?).