On May 8th, could David Cameron just lock the doors of Downing Street and stay put?

24 days ago, I wrote that We’re heading for a Labour minority government backed by the SNP.

Since then, there have been thousands more people polled, millions more pounds spent on campaigning and millions more words written/said about the election. So, I now have a ++BREAKING NEWS++ update!

We’re still heading for a Labour minority government backed by the SNP.

The Guardian’s Poll Projection (other projections are available and, more or less, agree), which sucks in and uses all nationwide and constituency polling, shows that, based on current polls, the only feasible bloc of parties which would form a majority in the House of Commons is Labour + SNP. They may be joined perhaps by Plaid and Green members, making up around 330 MPs, reasonably comfortably exceeding the 323 needed to command the Commons, when you take into account the neutrality of the Speaker and the absence of Sinn Fein MPs.

The quite important thing, from the point of view of what happens after May 7th (as we shall see in a moment), is whether Labour have more MPs than the Conservative party. At the moment it is nib and tuck at around 270, dependent on which projection you use.

So all this has me curious as to what exactly happens after the last constituency result (which the Press Association currently says will be St Ives at 13:00 on May 8th, but of course there may be messy recounts and even contested results – like Winchester in 1997).

I’m a sad anorak, and the choreography of the phone calls and limousine itineries fascinates me.

The simplest scenario is that David Cameron, upon hearing that Andrew George has held St Ives, will phone Buck House and humbly ask if he may visit, get into a limousine and go and tell Our Liz that the game is up for him. Dear Liz thanks him charmingly and asks her man to call Ed Miliband. Ed arrives, wreathed in smiles, and is asked to form a government, which he does. By an astonishing feat of telepathy previously unknown to human kind, Ed manages to fashion a Queen’s Speech which the SNP support and we’re on the road for five years of Labour minority government backed by the SNP. Simples.

The opposite end of the simplicity scale is quite messy with endless possible permutations. It is possible that the Conservatives are the largest party, in terms of seats, on May 8th. They may even have received the most votes of any party. There could be one or two contested election results separating the two largest parties in terms of seats. And Labour would have just received a mind-blowing, shattering defeat when a whole country, Scotland, rejected them. David Cameron would have strong arguments for staying on as Prime Minister to piece together a Queen’s Speech that might command the support of the House of Commons. (The Queen’s Speech has to be delivered on May 27th, so there is fair amount of room for manoeuvre in the schedule.) Even if such a speech was opposed by the Commons, it is conceivable that he might survive a subsequent vote of confidence. That is highly unlikely, but technically possible. And even after being defeated in a vote of confidence, Cameron could or would arguably remain in 10 Downing Street while the (up to) 14 day period elapses for someone else (Ed Miliband?) to form a government which passes a Commons confidence vote (see the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011).

I would note that in 2010 there was a considerable necessity to sort out a government before the markets opened on the Monday morning after the election. I doubt whether there would be such urgency to do so this time. That takes some pressure off the timing of the government-making process.

Cameron would certainly have a strong argument to stay on as a caretaker Prime Minister while Ed Miliband tries to guess what Nicola Sturgeon wants in a Queen’s Speech. I say “guess” because it is a bit of a mystery as to what communication, if any, Labour and the SNP have had or are planning to have if the polls turn out to be right. They say they won’t make a deal. Does that mean they won’t talk on the phone or round a table or through inter-mediaries? Or does Ed have to use telepathy or a Ouija board to guess what Nicola wants? Or will they communicate via semaphore – a bit like that Monty Python “Wuthering Heights” sketch with Nicola Sturgeon stood at the top of Edinburgh Castle and Ed Miliband on the roof of Downing Street?

The main document, I presume, which will guide politicians after the election, is the Cabinet Manual, which says:

Where an election does not result in an overall majority for a single party, the incumbent government remains in office unless and until the Prime Minister tenders his or her resignation and the Government’s resignation to the Sovereign. An incumbent government is entitled to wait until the new Parliament has met to see if it can command the confidence of the House of Commons, but is expected to resign if it becomes clear that it is unlikely to be able to command that confidence and there is a clear alternative.

You can hardly call a Labour minority government, backed by the SNP, a “clear alternative” when they don’t appear to have had any discussions and they are sworn enemies.

The manual then goes on to outline procedures for forming a government in such circumstances.

It is interesting that (at least) two novel things happened after the 2010 election which may or may not become conventions as time goes on. One was Gordon Brown’s idea that a Prime Minister should not leave office and Downing Street at night. Come to think, I doubt whether that has ever happened before. The other was Nick Clegg’s declaration that:

whichever party gets the most votes and the most seats has the first right to seek to govern, either on its own or by reaching out to other parties

– Whether that one will gain any traction as years go by, will be interesting to see. It is not strictly reflected in the constitutional precedents I have read.

It is also worth re-reading, if you haven’t recently, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. I’d also point you to these useful resources:

By the way, I should add, as pointed out by Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian, that all the above will be conducted against the background of extremely noisy campaigns from both sides to attempt to derail the other in their quest for power. Rather like George W Bush’s very effective media campaign to seize power amongst hanging Floridian chads in 2000, we can expect a very loud campaign from both sides and the media, accompanying the constitutional niceties. Michael Gove and the Telegraph will be in mega-screech mode.

I would add that I painfully recognise that I am an amateur in this field so I genuinely welcome correction and enlightenment from the Liberal Democrat Voice Comments brains trust.

Whatever happens, it seems that the two most powerful people in the country, after May 7th, will be two women, specifically these two:

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • What if one party gets more votes but another more seats?

  • Interesting and highly topical picture chosen to illustrate this article.

    I am old enough to remember when some feminists used to say that if only we got women into positions of power and influence the world would be transformed.

  • Paul,
    As you mention The Cabinet Manual, it is perhap worth quoting in full the PM’s Foreword,
     which says –

    “…. On entering government I set out, with the Deputy Prime Minister, our shared desire for a political system that is looked at with admiration around the world and is more transparent and accountable.

    The Cabinet Manual sets out the internal rules and procedures under which the Government operates. For the first time the conventions determining how the Government operates are transparently set out in one place. Codifying and publishing these sheds welcome light on how the Government interacts with the other parts of our democratic system.

    We are currently in the first coalition Government for over 60 years. The manual sets out the laws, conventions and rules that do not change from one administration to the next but also how the current coalition Government operates and recent changes to legislation such as the establishment of fixed-term Parliaments.

    The content of the Cabinet Manual is not party political – it is a record of fact, and I welcome the role that the previous government, select committees and constitutional experts have played in developing it in draft to final publication.

    Cabinet has endorsed the Cabinet Manual as an authoritative guide for ministers and officials, and I expect everyone working in government to be mindful of the guidance it contains.

    This country has a rich constitution developed through history and practice, and the Cabinet Manual is invaluable in recording this and in ensuring that the workings of government are far more open and accountable. ”

    Note that he  concludes by saying that this Manual is ” invaluable … in ensuring that the workings of government are far more open and accountable. ”

    My reaction is summed up in the one word “CHILCOT”.

  • peter tyzack 20th Apr '15 - 9:58am

    ‘I genuinely welcome correction’, well for a start, whenever did the word ‘simple’ have a plural, except in the mind of some freak advertising guy?
    .. and I am not sure that depending on some journalist’s opinion on the way forward, even if they are the BBC or Independent, is necessarily a good idea..
    But I will bet that there is some High Office of State, which none of us have heard of before, who will emerge with a coded message and advise, and then the ‘usual channels’ will sort something out.. it will certainly be interesting.

  • …………………….. They say they won’t make a deal. Does that mean they won’t talk on the phone or round a table or through inter-mediaries? Or does Ed have to use telepathy or a Ouija board to guess what Nicola wants? Or will they communicate via semaphore – a bit like that Monty Python “Wuthering Heights” sketch with Nicola Sturgeon stood at the top of Edinburgh Castle and Ed Miliband on the roof of Downing Street?………………..

    Or, as happened in 2010, the PM (in waiting) offers his future ally a ministerial car…Coalition sorted!

  • @TC “What if one party gets more votes but another more seats?”
    Tricky one isn’t it? Our system is based upon the party having the most seats usually forming the government. Normally, the consensus is that the party with the most seats also has the most seats, though this is not always necessarily the case. There are exceptions e.g 1974 when Ted Heath won the most votes but Labour had more seats and it was Harold Wilson who formed a minority administration. It could well be the case that the Cons could win more votes than Labour, but due to the unequal boundaries Labour will have more seats. It could then be argued that the people of Britain have voted to keep David Cameron and his party in power, as the boundaries and potentially higher number of Labour MPs do not reflect what the electorate think. I think it shows that the game is up for the First past the post; it does not accurately represent the views of the voters.

  • TCO, in practice it is seats that matter, though securing a majority in a confidence vote is not the same as securing legitimacy.

    Clearly if Labour have a seat or two fewer than the Conservatives, Miliband will be pushing to claim legitimacy first by co-opting SDLP seats and then he would look to Lib Dems. He will also rely on SNP for confidence votes and that they would promise to abstain on votes that principally concern England.

    I do not think it would work very well. Current projections are that we may have half our seats. Unless it were agreed that Lib Dems in government were not constrained by collective responsibility, this would be no basis for a coalition. I do not think that a situation where most Lib Dem MPs have government positions but are effectively muzzled could work out well.

    The Conservatives would press for an early new election, though they would probably bide their time waiting for stronger electoral support. Under a Miliband led government, I have no doubt this would arise within a few months, if not weeks, in which case Labour and Lib Dems would be united in fear of being wiped out by the Conservatives.

    What would it take for SNP to vote with Conservatives for a new election? Although not threatened by Conservatives, I cannot see that they would have any incentive. Could Labour and Conservative combine to force a new election? Yes they could, but for them it would be a zero sum game: it is implausible that both would believe that they would gain by calling a new election.

  • All the “experts” say that the polls havent moved & they may be right but thats not what the last weeks polls suggest. In fact the average polling has moved in less than a week from a small Labour lead to a small tory one. That may be just more random variation or the beginnings of a shift. Keep watching the polls.

  • @Martin how does the FTPA come into play? As I understand it, a minority government can carry on indefinitely even if it cannot get its budget passed because a no confidence motion requires 75%(?) of the HoC. Hence, even if it brought its own no confidence motion, if the opposition parties were not up for a new election they could block it,

  • @Andrew Ducker because we’ve committed not to deal with the SNP.

  • You rather spoiled this by going into Tory propaganda mode in your last line. The SNP can’t support the Tories and have nothing to gain from an early election. They are locked into supporting Labour for the forseeable future. For a Lib Dem to try and promote this Tory line that Sturgeon will be all-powerful is particularly silly given the last five years.

  • Given that it appears a Lab led government would be more stable than a Tory led one, wouldn’t it be in the best interests of the country (and the lib dems) for the lib dems to join labour? That way the influence of the SNP could be diminished, as well as giving more legitimacy in terms if English representation for the government. It’s also worth nothing that the Lib Dems were traditionally aligned with the SNP position on tuition fees, prescription fees and even proposed changes in council tax.

    The consequences of a Tory led government, intent on removing the powers of scottish MPs is the continued support for scottish nationalism, a rise in english nationalism and the possible dissolution of the UK.

  • @GaryMc I agree with you about FPTP. It would be interesting to produce a histogram showing % votes and % seats for each party since the second world war. I suspect many people have no idea that parties (like Labour in 1997) can get nearly 2/3 seats on barely 40% of the vote.

  • Peter Watson 20th Apr '15 - 10:46am

    With the Conservatives having campaigned so aggressively against electoral reform and Scottish independence, they pretty much deserve whatever “unfair” result first-past-the-post and the SNP throw at them.

  • Andrew Ducker,
    I was wondering about the same thing.
    I can’t Sympathise with the conservatives. They fought tooth and nail against electoral reform and have simply found out they ain’t popular enough to form a government under FPTP. Plus they look like being replaced by UKIP as the second party in a lot of Northern seats. Why does anyone think a party that can’t get seats in Wales, Scotland, urban areas and much of the North should form a majority government for Britain? They don’t actually represent Britain that’s their problem. They represent a portion of Southern England, which is why they are playing the xenophobia card and trying to scare voters with the SNP Bogey Man.

  • @Peter Watson as do Labour. It would be ironic if they were wiped out in Scotland in Westminster seats by the operation of the FPTP lottery.

  • paul barker 20th Apr ’15 – 10:23am……………..All the “experts” say that the polls havent moved & they may be right but thats not what the last weeks polls suggest. In fact the average polling has moved in less than a week from a small Labour lead to a small tory one. That may be just more random variation or the beginnings of a shift. Keep watching the polls……

    Well, I’m sure you know far more than the ‘experts’. After all, your forecasts have been absolutely spot-on over the last few years…

  • Andrew Ducker

    I think your suggestion of a Lab/LibDem coalition with an understanding with the SNP is the way to go. However, I think both Labour and the SNP would require Nick Clegg to step down, he’s just to unpopular and seen as a Tory in most of the UK.

  • Sadly, but as usual Paul Barker is completely wrong. He says “Keep watching the polls.” I say “Get out there and persuade people to vote Lib Dem.” I’m off out right now.

  • Tony Greaves 20th Apr '15 - 11:36am

    Not much light in all these comments! People should calm down and consider what will happen in practical terms. I also refer you to the three pieces I have previously written on LDV (which I hope Paul has read!) which are now all together on my website http://www.liberallord.com Also my piece in the current Liberator.

    (1) There will be discussions between all possible parties by all possible means. Some very public (people walking into buildings through the same doors though not necessarily together!), some very private. The Clegg thesis will be shown to be nonsense.

    (2) There will not be a State Opening (Queen’s Speech) until the Queen is advised (by her advisers!) that a government can be formed which has a reasonable chance of surviving the first vote in the Commons. She will not turn up in her coach and trappings with two speeches on the basis of “please choose which you prefer”.

    (3) Whatever anyone says before May 7th about who they will talk to or do deals with can be discounted – except, I suspect, the SNP refusal to deal with the Tories.

    (4) Cameron remains PM until the Queen requests the attendance of someone else.

    Now we come to some interesting bits. There is no reason why the Commons cannot meet before the “Opening of Parliament”. The Speaker will have been elected and could convene a meeting of the Commons. This would allow (a) Cameron to seek a vote of confidence which would then result in the Queen inviting him to tea, or (b) any other option being put to an indicative vote which would mean she invited someone else to go see her.

    Another interesting question would be whether the provisions of the FTPA could be used (before a Queens Speech) to seek a vote of no confidence in Cameron and a subsequent vote of confidence in someone else – or indeed an early dissolution. It does seem that the Queen no longer has the right to dissolve the new Parliament on the Royal prerogative without the FTPA being invoked.


    There will be a functioning House of Commons if the Speaker says so

  • Tony Greaves 20th Apr '15 - 11:39am

    Sorry, last half sentence in previous post got in by mistake!

  • @Glenn Conservative behaviour is perfectly rational under FPTP, which punishes parties with broad but shallow support and rewards those with concentrated but deep support. It makes perfect sense for the Conservatives to focus on South Eastern and rural concerns if that’s what gets them a majority.

    The same principles used to benefit Labour and will benefit the SNP.

    That doesn’t mean that FPTP is a rational system; it isn’t.

  • Tony Greaves 20th Apr '15 - 11:50am

    In view of developments in Scotland there is an interesting question about the bias in the electoral system. On the basis of the last election there is a bias towards Labour. I,e, if both Labour and the Tories get the same number of seats, the likelihood has been that the Tories would have polled more votes, perhaps 3-4% more. So if they get the same number of votes Labour will have won.

    The conventional wisdom parroted by ignorant journalists is that this is due to constituency boundaries favouring Labour. This is true in Wales (which has on average smaller constituencies) to the tune of a few seats. It is NOT true in the rest of Great Britain, where the main reason for the bias in differential turnout (on average lower in Labour seats than in Con seats). A secondary reason is that in Con seats the average Labour vote is lower than the average Con vote in Labour seats (this is a result of the large number of LD seats and Con-Lib contests where Labour has been squeezed hard).

    The extent of this pro-Labour bias may now have changed for two reasons on the basis of present polls (the differential turnout will be the same). (1) Scotland, where Labour will pile up large numbers of useless votes if there is an SNP landslide (and Con votes will be badly squeezed). (2) Con gains from LD (and Labour recovery of votes in Con-Lib contests).

    It is even possible that Labour will be narrowly the second largest party but get more votes than the Tories!

    Tony Greaves

  • Bill le Breton 20th Apr '15 - 11:57am

    Of course David, above is right and a good constituency office manager: Get back out there!

    But do have a think about all this later tonight.

    In three weeks time those MPs returned as Liberal Democrats + the Peers + the FE + the Conference reps will in turn, it seems almost certain now, have to make decisions about inter-party relationships in the next Parliament and those decisions will be hugely significant. We need to be thinking about these questions now and pressing members of the above bodies from the moment polls close (if not before).

    What is at stake is where power resides in the next Parliament. There will be three broad lobbies for this.

    First the civil servants. Gus O’Donnell is already leading the charge here. He is suggesting far less work is given to Parliament. It’s a technocratic solution. Incremental change that the civil service can manage., using the difficulty that there might be in finding majorities for big decisions and legislation in the Commons to hand power to the technocrats for all but major budgetry decisions .

    We should fight this every step of the way.

    Second, Party Leaders. They will want written agreements – be these overt like the last Coalition Agreement 2010 -2012 or covert as was in the operation of the Coalition 2012 – 2015 and the operation of policy making outside of the 2010/12 agreement even during the 2010/2012 period eg Health Reform. Those last 3 years should be a warning to us. It’s bad for democracy, bad for the country (Bedroom Tax etc) and very bad for the Lib Dems.

    We should resist joining any Coalition or arrangement of this sort in the next Parliament.

    Finally, there is the chance of power being transferred from Whitehall and from Party leaderships (Whips etc) to the House of Commons and its elected representatives of the people. (I have written of this today – before Paul’s useful starter for 10 above was published, and I hope it can still see the light of day here.)

    Basically, in this world, made possible by the Fixed Term Parliament Act, a PM becomes a manager of the will of the House of Commons, needing to consult before ink is put to paper to see if a majority on an issue by issue basis is possible. It seems necessarily closer to the people (via their reps) who might be tempted to listen to their electorate rather than to their whips. More in tune with modern life.

    The PM would need to become an actual leader of the House of Commons): Part voice of these shifting majorities, part leader trying to persuade the House and country week by week of the wisdom of his or her solutions calling on citizens who support them to influence their MPs.

    In my opinion, the Party that ‘gets’ this new dispensation made possible by the FTPA first and leads the call for such governance will gain respect, following and more influence than might previously have been imagined.

    Far better than saying as someone apparently did today, “The Biggest Party Should Rule”.

    This, therefore, could be an historic Parliament, as important as that of 1832 or even of the English Revolution.

  • Tony I think you may be getting a little confused in your point (4).

    From my understanding effectively the current government ie. the Coalition headed by David Cameron and all its MP’s effectively remain in government (the incumbent government) and in theory could sit in Westminster and conduct business. This arrangement continues until such time as a clear alternative has been identified.

    Obviously, with one party getting an overall majority result, a clear alternative has clearly been identified that will (one assumes) also command the confidence of the House of Commons – although if it’s leader fails to get elected things could get messy…

    With the expectation of a minority government, there could be a prolonged period of time whilst the provisions of the Fixed-Terms Parliaments Act are enacted and various groups attempt to build a consensus that can command the confidence of the HoC. Where this all gets confusing is that potentially David Cameron will be both PM of the incumbent government and the leader of one of the major parties attempting to build a commanding consensus.
    I agree with you that there is a case for the new government in-waiting to meet (in Westminster) and get its own house in order before the “Opening of Parliament”.

    My expectation is therefore either David Cameron will do a John Major and swiftly exit to “watch cricket” and spend some time with his family (Labour outright majority result), or like Gordon Brown he will sit it out whilst negotiations proceed.

    As an interesting aside, I wonder what an MP’s employment contract terms and renumeration rates are for this period…

  • There is a wartime tunnel is there not from Downing Street to I think the Defence Mnistry. Lock the doors and use that. Cameron and Milliband could form a grand coalition to keep the SNP and Plaid out. Put a bet on that this morning, you can get between 33-1 and 40-1. Not bad.

  • TCO
    I understand the rationale behind The Conservatives support for FPTP and their electoral strategy. I was simply suggesting that it means they don’t actually represent Britain and that in some ways they are in effect as much a nationalist party as the SNP and indeed there was quite a lot of talk on Conservative Home pretty much to this effect. If you look at the press it’s full of scary tales of how the alien Scots will force Ed Miliband on the English, but is it really more dangerous than South East English party imposing itself on the rest of Britain.

  • Tony Greaves 20th Apr '15 - 12:52pm

    I am not at all confused. Of course the Government stays in place but most members of the government will not function as such and the PM himself will be acting as party leader unless there is a catastrophic event that demands his attention otherwise. (Actually I think we are agreeing)


  • @Glenn you have a point except that there are only 5 million Scots and 18m who live within the M25, so on that basis the South East is probably getting on for half the UK in population terms.

  • While the academics fascinatedly wallow in constitutional complexity, Cameron uses it as a scare story to make sure he wins outright.

    The Tory press is full of sensationalist headlines about the SNP’s “ransom note”. If Cameron’s ploy works, this will scare enough voters away from Labour to give the Tories, with or without their lapdogs, an overall majority.

    What is fascinating about this scare is its total mendaciousness. Cameron is alleging that the SNP will have a stranglehold and will force Miliband to do dreadful things like calling a second referendum, scrapping Trident, or tearing up economic prudence and aping Greece. But – The SNP will only have such a stranglehold if the TORIES actively support them in doing so.

    If the SNP demand another referendum, Miliband can go to the Tories and say “Please help me vote this down. Or just abstain, that’ll be good enough.” If the Tories act reasonably, the second referendum will not happen. If any of Cameron’s scare stories come to fruition, it will be solely because the Tories have enabled them to do so.

  • TCO,
    Just under 11 million people voted Tory in 2010, just under 9 million labour. The population of Britain is about 65 million. This time it looks much closer. So 18 million does not reflect the Conservative vote and is less than a third of the population anyway. I suspect that there are a few English seats where the SNP pushing Labour to the “Left” might actually be popular as the difference between the traditional Parties is seen as wafer thin. As a Liberal, I’m not convinced we need a trident replacement or HS2 either.

  • theakes 20th Apr ’15 – 12:32pm
    “There is a wartime tunnel is there not from Downing Street to I think the Defence Ministry”

    There are in fact a honeycomb of tunnels, underground meeting rooms and the like under Westminster stretching far beyond the obvious buildings around Downing Street.

    One of the joys of being a civil servant was sometimes being whisked through these bizarre routes to get into Parliament to brief a minister in a debate when there was something going one above ground which would make walking at ground level difficult.

    Visits by foreign dignatories, demonstrations of thousands of people, terrorist scares, that sort of thing often make access difficult so the tunnels are used.

    I mention all this to illustrate what constitutional back tunnels and obscure arrangements might be opened up if Sir Jeremy and others decide that it might be “helpful”.

    All the appearances in front of TV cameras and striding down Whitehall in May 2010 by Danny Alexander and David Laws and the others supposedly to have terribly important meetings will William Hague and the Tories were a pantomime, window dressing, to distract attention from what was really happening.

    As has been published since in a number of books and articles, the Tories in 2010 had recognised that they were not going to win an overall majority two weeks before Polling Day. They therefore spent two weeks putting the finishing touches to the arrangements they had earlier discussed with Nick Clegg and his close allies.

    Nods and winks were transformed into documents and Sir Gus (now Lord Gus) and the Queen’s Private Secretary were regularly on hand to “guide” and “be helpful” and make available all the fa ilities and the means to ends.

    Such will be going on now in 2015 in various shapes and forms. We may have to wait a while for someone to publish a book or two before we learn some of the details of the back room dealings. The lines of communication between SNP and Labour (in England) will not surface but don’t imagine that they are not already taking place. Similarly Oliver Letwin and David Laws no doubt have a shared A-Z map of Coalition 2 all planned out, cooked up in a dark corner of a government facility.

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Apr '15 - 2:13pm

    Gary Mc

    @TC “What if one party gets more votes but another more seats?”
    Tricky one isn’t it? Our system is based upon the party having the most seats usually forming the government

    Sure, and we are in the helpful position of the people of this country having voted by two to one to support the current electoral system after those who campaigned to keep it used the argument that its distortion is the best thing about it. So long as we have a Parliament elected by that system, which the people of this country gave their overwhelming support to, I think we have to go by what it gives us i.e. number of seats. If Parliament is not elected in a proportional way, it doesn’t make sense to have coalition negotiations on that basis because a coalition which has majority support vote-wise may not have it seat-wise (e.g. Labour-LibDem in 2010). The simple answer to anyone who thinks that’s unfair is to demand proportional representation. Note that since both Labour and the Conservatives are firmly opposed to proportional representation, a vote for either of those two parties in 2015 is a vote against proportional representation, and thus no-one who voted that way has a moral right to object to seats rather than votes being the basis of coalition negotiations.

    The convention that the largest party in number of seats has the right to attempt to build a coalition first is a reasonable one, and it is the sort of thing applied in countries where coalitions are the norm. However, it does not mean that’s the only coalition which can possibly be formed, so I think it’s fair enough to say that if no agreement can be reached that way and there’s a clear alternative offer from the second largest party, a switch can be made.

    Having said that, I have my LibDem membership card ready to tear to shreds if a Conservative-LibDem coalition is formed after the next general election, even if that is what the argument I’ve put above leads to.

  • matt (Bristol) 20th Apr '15 - 2:17pm

    May 9th Bingo: you score a point for each time this is said by a political leader:
    – ‘big, open and comprehensive offer’ (DC tries to relieve 2010)
    – ‘breakaway SNP’
    – ‘hold X to ransom’ (usually the country)
    – ‘clear mandate’
    – ‘the people of [insert territory here]’
    – ‘I shall not be stepping down as leader’ (bonus points if they decalre the opposite shortly afterwards)
    – ‘It was always my intention to …’
    – ‘The Westminster elite’ (used by SNP/Plaid/UKIP to complain about / congratulate themselves on getting one over on the other parties)
    – ‘we cannot accept’
    – ‘we will not compromise’
    – ‘finish the job’
    – ‘a new era’
    – ‘I want to appeal to’
    – ‘head(s) held high’
    – ‘I want to thank’
    – ‘I will be standing down as’
    – ‘period of instability’
    – ‘Her Majesty has requested me to’

    Meet me on the other side with your scorecard ready…

    Tony Greaves may know this – if there is firm evidence that David Cameron’s career is at an end (ie results are more disappointing for the Tories than expected and a person or persons within his party make immediately clear their intention to challenge him), and he wishes to stand down immediately, does the Queen have power to appoint an interim PM before coalition negotiations are completed?

    I immagine Cameron will try to hang on as long as possible as long as the Tories have seats over 270, even if they are the second-placed party, and he will be prepared to risk the Union by denigrating and smearing the SNP in the worst possible inflammatory language to do so. I really hope Clegg (if still around) does not join in, as annoying and sometimes underhand as the SNP are.

    I still hope for a Lab-LibDem coalition, but know I am being naieve.

  • matt (Bristol) 20th Apr '15 - 2:18pm

    Actually I think it’d be better as a drinking game.

  • TCO: to clarify about the fixed term parliament act.

    An early election can be called if there is a 2/3 majority in the Commons for an early election OR if there is a simple majority followed by a 14 day period in which no other government succeeds in passing a vote of confidence.

    This means that if Labour + SNP outnumbered the Conservatives, Cameron could easily be voted down. If SNP refused to back a minority Labour government then it could be that Labour could not pass a vote of confidence, in which case a new election would be called. In the past (1974 for example) the opposing (Conservative) party has abstained on a confidence vote, thereby allowing the alternative (Labour) to form a government. The fixed term parliament act does mean that the opposing party would have to consider the increased difficulty in forcing an early election.

    There will be more emphasis on a need for politicians to be politically adept. Conventional wisdom is that SNP are the most practiced and therefore best placed in the arts of minority governance. One would hope that Lib Dems might have picked up many of these political skills too.

  • Philip Thomas 20th Apr '15 - 3:49pm

    The more Labour Mps get elected* and the more seats we stop the Conservatives from taking from us, the less likely it is Cameron will have most seats. Also the more likely it is Labour can do a deal (of whatever kind) with us and not the SNP if it wants to. Of course, the first part could go slightly wrong and generate a Labour majority- but numerous commentators have said even that would be better than Labour+SNP!

    *Of course, we don’t want them taking *our* seats!

  • @Philip Thomas of course we want to stop the Conservatives taking our seats. But if our own activists reinforce the message that there’s no difference between a Tory government and a coalition government then its not surprising that Labour tactical voters switch away from us and we lose the seat to the Conservatives.

  • David Allen 20th Apr '15 - 4:49pm

    Tony Greaves said:

    “There is a bias towards Labour. I,e, if both Labour and the Tories get the same number of seats, the likelihood has been that the Tories would have polled more votes, perhaps 3-4% more. ….

    The conventional wisdom … that this is due to constituency boundaries favouring Labour … is true in Wales (which has on average smaller constituencies) to the tune of a few seats. It is NOT true in the rest of Great Britain, where the main reason for the bias in differential turnout (on average lower in Labour seats than in Con seats).”

    Interesting points. I would argue that this shows that there is NOT really a significant “bias towards Labour”, in the sense of unfairness.

    What happens is this. In Lymeswold Magna, the Tories have a totally safe seat. But the voters all have cars and nannies, so popping out to the polls is the work of a few minutes. So lots of them get out and vote, even though they know it won’t alter the result.

    In Mankpool Central, Labour have a totally safe seat. The voters mostly rely on walking or the bus and often have babies to juggle. Going out to vote is a struggle, especially if it is raining, and everybody knows that their votes won’t change the result. So, fewer of them actually vote.

    The total number of votes cast, therefore, is biased towards the rich Tories and against Labour. It is wrong to suppose that there is a genuine electoral bias towards Labour, and it is quite wrong to suppose that under the present (geographically based) system, it would be fairer if seats were directly proportional to votes cast. Instead, it would be fair if the average population in Labour-held seats was equal to the average in Tory-held seats – which is a quite different thing.

  • On the other had, Lymeswold Magna is a large rural constituency where the polling stations are some distance away for the average voter. So the average voter has to make a conscious effort to get out and drive to the polling station. Often it won’t matter because they’ve sent off their postal vote already.

    In Mankpool Central where the densely packed houses are a few hundred yards from the polling stations the voters can’t be bothered to go out. Often it won’t matter because their postal vote has been sent for them already.

  • It is fun to play what if. The first thing is to set out the result. Newsnight’s odd prediction is Con 280, Lib Dem 27, Lab 275, SNP 43, Green 1, UKIP 1, others 23.
    David Cameron would have to consider the changes Con –26 Lib Dem –30 (govt –56), Lab +17, SNP +37. Even if the Conservatives won more votes than Labour the verdict of the British people would have been to reject the coalition government.

    I would hope that Nick Clegg wouldn’t get bogged down with the number of seats or the number of votes, but would also look at the verdict on the government and so approach Labour to see if they wished to form a coalition. Hopefully Labour will reject a coalition. There will be telephone conversations between the Labour and Conservative leadership and on Monday or Tuesday David Cameron would resign and Ed Miliband will be asked to form a government.

    With the above result it is clear that unless David Cameron could get the support of other parties he can’t win a vote of confidence if Labour and the SNP vote against – 280 : 318. I can’t see David Cameron finding enough potential support to get to 318 let alone the 323 needed.

  • David Evans 20th Apr '15 - 5:02pm

    I must admit the Baby Jugglers of Mankpool Central are a speciality act to go and see. In contrast the Poll Poppers of Lymeswold Central are so 1980s.

  • David Allen 20th Apr '15 - 5:20pm

    TCO, if you were right, then there would be a bigger turnout in Mankpool than in Lymeswold. But there isn’t. It’s the other way around. Therefore, the factors I have put forward happen to be more influential than the ones you have put forward.

    I do note that you also imply that the rich Lymeswolders are morally superior people, while the poor just can’t be bothered and are therefore undeserving. I take it you are a Cleggite Lib Dem.

  • David Allen 20th Apr '15 - 5:34pm

    David Evans, if you must do a spoof of a spoof, get it right. Lymeswold Central is a contradiction in terms. Lymeswold has no centre, just a duckpond, and of course a duckhouse…

  • Philip Thomas 20th Apr '15 - 5:44pm

    TCO, fair point. Emphasis on policy differences between us and the Tories is vital. The Tory strategy is quite simple: destroy us: make this election look like a choice between David Cameron and Nicola Sturgeon in which a Lib Dem vote is just cowardly opting out of a decision (I had an amusing conversation with a Tory activist who was trying this ‘squeeze’ message on me and couldn’t believe that anyone would actually prefer Sturgeon to the DUP (although, as said, if enough people vote Lab/Lib Dem we can avoid both). We have to speak out about: the Human Rights Act; our attitude to the most vulnerable in society; what Tory cuts would actually mean; the danger to the economy from them; the threat to the EU. If we annoy some Tories into voting for UKIP all the better for this election. We have to say how shocked we are at the right-wing, vindictive nature of the Tory manifesto. In my case, there would be total sincerity in this message (aka, I was a naïve fool).

  • Tony Greaves 20th Apr '15 - 8:41pm

    You are all talking about pre-May 8th again whereas this thread is supposed to be about post May 8th. What happens if? Not what will happen?

    Just to be clear about the FTPA: the number of MPs who have to vote for an early dissolution is 434 or more. Not just 2/3 of those who turn up to vote, or even 2/3 of those who exist.

    A vote to remove the government (no confidence) is a simple majority of those who vote, but it has to be on a specific motion of no confidence, not any old vote that the government declares to be so.

    What is not so clear as far as I can tell is how the FTPA applies before a new government is in place.


  • Philip Thomas 20th Apr '15 - 9:01pm

    I think we should resign from the government as soon as the election ends, whatever the Tories do.

  • @David Allen the grandparents and great-grandparents of Mankpool central underwent 6 years of great personal hardship, fear, bereavement and death so they had the right to vote. So yes, I view sitting on your backside because you can’t be bothered to go out and vote from a moral perspective.

  • Various Conservative governments kept lines of communication open with Sinn Fein during ‘the troubles’, so I don’t imagine Labour will have any difficulty talking privately to the SNP if they want to.

  • “It is interesting that (at least) two novel things happened after the 2010 election which may or may not become conventions as time goes on… [One] was Nick Clegg’s declaration that: ‘whichever party gets the most votes and the most seats has the first right to seek to govern, either on its own or by reaching out to other parties’.”

    Clegg’s declaration can hardly become a convention because, like just about everything else Clegg ever says, it was ambiguous to the point of being meaningless.

    If one party got the most votes but another the most seats, who would have priority? Clegg never answered that one. Having the “right to seek to govern” means nothing whatsoever. I have the right to seek a night out with Beyonce, but that doesn’t mean she’s in any way obliged to let me have one.

  • “What is not so clear as far as I can tell is how the FTPA applies before a new government is in place.” Tony

    I agree, additionally, it is not clear whether the provisions of the Meeting of Parliament Act 1797 (or other previous Act(s)) have any bearing.

    Also given today’s news about the SNP’s demands and the fickleness of their on-going support, if they are to support a Labour government, is whether a Labour-SNP coalition could be deemed to satisfy the criteria of “commanding the confidence of the HoC”.

    To add to the reading list I came across this very interesting report which discusses the provisions of the FTPA in some detail:
    Constitution Committee – Eighth Report: Fixed-term Parliaments Bill

  • Philip Thomas 20th Apr '15 - 11:44pm

    SNP fickleness is a reason to hope Labour are able to at least have the option of our support instead…

  • Philip – You’re missing the point of this article and discussion – the question I posed is whether a coalition involving a self proclaimed ‘fickle’ partner, could satisfy the criteria given in the Cabinet Manual. Basically, what is being said, if there is no outright majority, which seems likely, then we are entering uncharted waters.

    To my mind which I think is also your view, is whether we can return sufficient LibDem’s to offer meaningful navigation assistance, because to some extent we are here now because of what the LibDems achieved in 2010…

  • We don’t appear to have candidates in either Mankpool Central or Lymeswold Magna.

    The Queen will be getting advice on these situations and will be advised to ask X to form a government if it looks highly likely that X will command a majority. If Labour plus SNP and Plaid Cymru equals a majority and the nationalist parties have expressed an intention to support a Labour government, while Miliband has said something like “of course we’re happy if they support us, but there’s no coalition and no pact,” I suspect Miliband would be asked. Alternatively, if Labour was refusing to talk to the SNP, either the Queen’s Secretary or the Plaid could act as go-betweens: “Miliband is proposing to put this in the Queen’s Speech. Could you vote for that?” It would be easier with a directly or indirectly elected President, who would have no inhibitions about knocking heads together.

    It may also be relevant whether the Liberal Democrats would support measures the SNP wouldn’t, or might at least abstain on the Queen’s Speech to avoid prolonged uncertainty.

  • I can confidently predixt that there will be at least one Cameron in Downing Street after the election.

    Even if the Tories are voted out, Dave is bound to leave at least one of his kids behind by mistake when they drive away.

  • @Richard an interesting article, thanks. However, although Ed M may have campaigned for Yes in the AV referendum, Labour as a whole were complicit on making that a referendum on Clegg (eg by refusing to appear on the same platform) and were quite happy to play the game of supporting Yes whilst quietly hoping for No.

    Furthermore Labour are massively culpable for us not having had any change to the voting system given they pledged to introduce AV when Blair got in in 1997 and then welched on the deal.

  • @Richard neither can you be sure that votes in the Labour column under FPTP were votes “for” Labour rather than votes “against” someone else – as FPTP encourages this sort of behaviour. So claiming some sort of mandate for EdM just because he got more votes when the whole system is perverse and encourages negative voting doesn’t make sense.

    Besides – Cameron continues as sitting PM until he finds or decides he can’t go on any longer.

  • Totally agree with Richard Morris.

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