Constitutional position in the event of a hung parliament

I have been blundering around trying to nail down the likely choreographic arrangements after the election result. You know, who leaves Number 10, who drives down or up the Mall at which particular time etc..

Carl Gardner on the Head of Legal blog has written an excellent post, entitled “Ed can enter No. 10 without Nicola’s keys”, which comprehensively explains the constitutional position, pulling in a shedload of quotes from authorities on the subject, and concluding:

If it becomes clear after May 7th that David Cameron no longer commands a majority and cannot continue in office, then in accordance with convention he’ll resign; and all precedent, all expert opinion and the Cabinet manual itself tell us the leader of the largest opposition party will be appointed Prime Minister. Miliband won’t first need to ask Sturgeon to go looking in her handbag.

How long his government could survive is a separate question.

In particular, Carl Gardner explains why we should not be misled by the apparent precedents of 2010.

You can read the full article here.

* 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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  • Shouldn’t Bill le Breton at least have been given some credit in this article, considering he is the one who has been pointing to these articles for the last few days and sharing valuable information and opinion with LDV readers?

  • Tony Greaves 28th Apr '15 - 2:41pm

    This is clearly not the whole story and may not be the story at all. Carl Gardner is a top lawyer and argues a good case but he may not be right. He may be arguing a case in the past when we are now in new territory.

    “If it becomes clear” that “David Cameron no longer commands a majority and cannot continue in office” are key words really.

    He does not “command a majority” now without the Liberal Democrats. So even if the proposal is for another Con-Lib coalition it may take several days to establish if he still “commands a majority”. Even if that is not possible or thought desirable, and the Conservatives decide to try a minority government, it will take some time to establish whether that is possible. (There are some parties such as the LDs and DUP who may be negotiating with both Conservatives and Labour at the same time).

    It may be unclear for quite some time who can be prime minister and survive a confidence vote in the Commons (which is subtly different from the old-fashioned majoritarian thinking of “command a majority”). There may only be a few votes in it and those few votes may be still be haggling; or the likely alternative (Lab with SNP support) may manage to “command a majority” if only a tiny one, if and when an agreement is reached – but it may take some days for such an agreement to be reached and whatever they say now, Labour will try to get that agreement.

    Everyone involved (civil servants etc) seem to be working on the basis that it will take perhaps up to ten days this time to sort out what is to happen. The Queen’s Speech has been put back a week. The idea that the Queen will appoint Miliband as PM before he has put together sufficient agreement to survive a vote of confidence is dreaming, whatever the Cabinet Manual may say.

    The resignation and the sending for Miliband, if that is what comes about, will happen when it is clear BOTH that Cameron cannot win a vote AND that Miliband can. In my view. Bill le Breton is, I think, wrong for once.

    Tony Greaves

  • There are possibilities that may not arise, so speculation could be superfluous, however Tony Greaves is surely right. In his articles he has looked at the hypothetical cases where not only does no one leader command a majority, but no two parties (apart from Labour + Conservatives) can muster a majority either. I doubt there is sufficient precedent for this.

    If there is real gridlock, there is a possibility that Lib Dems, SNP and Conservatives could all agree to abstain on a confidence vote to present Miliband with a truly poisoned chalice.

    A concern is that the Fixed Term Parliament Act could be an early casualty. I could see a possibility, with worries about Party discipline on both sides, that both Cameron and Miliband might see advantages in repealing the Act. However, sice the UK has no President, short of the Queen becoming involved, I do not know of any mechanism by which Cameron and Miliband can be made to get together to resolve an impasse.

  • This is a great article, thanks for the post. One question though – if the polls are to be believed and Labour won’t do a deal with the SNP, the Lib Dems wont do a deal with the SNP and the SNP won’t do a deal with the tories – how can ANY stable government be achieved – other than a ‘Grand Coalition’ between the Tories and Labour?

    Surely we’re heading for another set of elections when no combination can pass the Queens Speech?

  • Bill le Breton 28th Apr '15 - 3:54pm

    From a phone which is annoying.

    If Gardner is right , and I think we should assume he is, then Tony’s para is wrong. Only Cameron has to be sure he hasn’t lost his majority and the Commons doesn’t have to meet for that to be obvious if either Ts + LDs + DUP or Ts + DUP + Ukip cannot raise 323 MPs that to credible statements already made.

    The FTP Act is not relevant for this phase 1 of matters. In the circumstances Cam must resign and HMQ must appoint Miliband. Now the FTPA does come into effect angie the FTPA favours the Executive so Labour and would now be last party to push for its repeal. Ditto the SnP .

    Now the Lib Dems wd face the dilemma of voting down the Labour Queens Speech and precipitating a 2nd election if they were in the majority (a confidence motion immediately following the defeat of the QE).

    The red lines would vanish at the thought of a second election or a new Tory bid for confidence following the defeat of first confidence vote.

    The party has failed to see it this way.

  • I don’t quite see what the controversy is about. David Cameron is the sitting Prime Minister. In the aftermath of the election, it’s his job to take soundings and see if he is capable of putting together enough votes in Parliament to keep his government going. If it is clear that he cannot, it is his duty to go to the Queen, say that he has not got the confidence of the House of Commons, and resign. (If he refused to do so, there would be a crisis only resolvable by a vote of no confidence.) Once Cameron resigns, it is the Queen’s duty to summon the next leader who may be capable of putting together a supportive majority; presumably that would be Ed Miliband. It is not his job to prove that he can put that majority together before being summoned; but once he is summoned, he has either to prove it then, or, failing that, to resign himself. Then it might be time to look for a third figure capable of leading an even more improbable coalition or minority government (Alex Salmond as PM???) or for Parliament to vote for new elections.

    At any rate, there is an indefinite period of time to establish a government unless a no-confidence vote is forced (and passed), at which time the clock starts ticking.

    It is, of course, now legally possible for a triple deadlock to ensue: neither major party capable of forming a government with majority support (or at least majority non-opposition) and Parliament refusing to

  • There has to be a 14 day cooling off period after a vote of no confidence, when time is available to form a new government. I think we can be rest assured a government will be formed, all I hope is that we are NOT involved. Otherwise 7% in the polls will quickly become 2%. This maybe the time to put the party first.
    The constituency polls are getting worse, fifth behind the Greens except of course Bristol West!!! I am far from happy that polling in our seats has improved over the past 10 days, expect some Ashcroft polls from those places later this week.

  • Apologies.

    I meant to say, if Parliament should for some reason refuse to vote in such a way that would call new elections. In that case the sitting government (whichever it was) would be stuck with a minority, and presumably unable to pass its legislation, until a vote of no confidence had been passed. This is unlikely but not impossible: if a party existed that had no interest in doing anything but causing mischief, and yet were unwilling to face new elections, such a stalemate could be protracted almost indefinitely. In the end, the PM might need to ask his own party to vote no confidence!

  • Bill le Breton 28th Apr '15 - 4:11pm

    I should have thanked you Matt, struggling with tapping in to a phone. I am sure that Paul will not have read my previous comments because his piece above doesn’t do more than very helpful point to Gardner’s blog and the more people read that analysis and argue with him there rather than stating opinions that he has covered the better.

  • @Paul Walter

    Thank you and I agree Bill has been providing us with some very interesting comments and articles which have been very informative.
    I have appreciated the time he has taken to contribute in such detail on these matters at the same time as he has been busy door knocking and campaigning. {As I am sure most Libdem activists are no matter what side of the party they sit on}

    I find Tony Greaves comments insightful and fascinating also.

    I do have a question that maybe someone could help me with.

    It was my understanding that after the results of the 2010 election when it was clear there was no winner.
    The Liberal Democrats entered talks with both Conservatives & Labour.
    These talks went on for a couple of days and whilst it was unclear who would be able to form a Government that would command a majority in the house of commons, Gordon Brown remained in place as Prime Minister.

    Gordon Brown announced his intention to resign on May 10th as leader of the Labour Party and told the party to put the wheels in motion for a leadership election.
    At this time No Deal had still been struck between Liberal Democrats and either Labour or Conservative.

    On May 11th Gordon Brown came to the conclusion that he would not be able to command a majority in the House of Commons and Liberal Democrats at this point were {Still in negotiations} with the Conservatives. So Gordon Brown formally resigned to the Queen.
    It was at this point that the Queen invited David Cameron to become Prime Minister despite the fact that at this point he did not command a majority in the HOC.

    On May the 12th The Liberal Democrats emerged from a meeting of their Parliamentary party and Federal Executive to announce that the coalition deal had been “approved overwhelmingly” shortly after midnight on 12 May

    Therefore Cameron was appointed as Prime Minister before the coalition deal was complete and before he commanded a majority in the Hoc.

    Surely it stands to reason then in this election. If or when it becomes clear Cameron will not be able to command a Majority in the House of Commons, he will have to formally resign and the queen will call for Milliband and invite him to be Prime Minister regardless of whether he has gained support from another party

  • David-1 28th Apr ’15 – 3:55pm
    “…. it is the Queen’s duty to summon the next leader who may be capable of putting together a supportive majority; presumably that would be Ed Miliband”

    Is it? Who says? What if the Queen thinks her duty is something else?

    We know what the Queen thinks about the SNP and independence for Scotland so we can assue that she would not “purr like a cat” at the prospect of any government supported by 54% of the voters of Scotand (assuming today’s opinion polls still apply next Thursday).

    So what if the Queen and those shady characters known to the media as her “advisors” decide that her duty is to do something else?
    Who is going to stop them?

    What if she decides that it is all too much at the age of 89 to get involved in this sort of thing and hands the whole thing over to the heir to the throne?
    It could be government by Homeopathy and an all out ban any any architect trained since 1908. Fox hunting would become a compulsory sport in schools and those spidery letters would become the law of the land.

    If we base our system of government on Victorian re-interpretations of feudal myths we maybe should expect the Homeopaths to take over the asylum.

  • And as Bill has said in his comments.

    I very much doubt that the Liberal Democrats would vote down a Labour Government.

    A) They would be hammered in a 2nd election and blamed for causing a 2nd election which the public would resent
    B) I am sure the party will be seriously lacking funding to fight an early 2nd election and risk being decimated even further as a party.

    It seems to me that the language that Nick Clegg has been using lately in regards to refusing to support a Labour Government that had ANY arrangement with the SNP and announcing so many red lines already, he is in fact making himself and the party impotent

  • Bill le Breton 28th Apr '15 - 4:34pm

    I suppose it probably comes to this. If Lab + SNP + Greens come to 323 + then Cam out immediately and Miliband works on his government building from inside No10.

    If this is not case Cam will negotiate with us regardless of most vote most seat issues. Miliband can a la Wilson in Feb 74 wait.

    Cameron knows this and therefore knows the weakness of Clegg’s position. Our red lines will be irrelevant. Either we back Cameron at that point or Miliband becomes PM, however temporarily.

    If we end negotiations with Cam or when Cam thinks we won’t deal with him, he is in same position as Brown and like Brown will immediately resign.

    Miliband becomes PM. Let us repeat it, he does not have to demonstrate he has confidence of commons to become PM, he has to demonstrate that he has confidence of commons to remain PM, which is a different matter for us as it means us being prepared to be blamed for causing second election in a matter of weeks. This puts us in very weak position to force any red line issues on Miliband.

    Hope any mistakes are typos and obvious.

  • Bill le Breton 28th Apr '15 - 4:41pm

    John, I realize you think HMQ’s advisers may please themselves on her behalf, but history is against you. Twice they told a King to summon Mac Donald when neither time he had a majority.

    To those who dream of a grand coalition, I hope you now realise it wd happen under. Miliband primacy. Ho ho.

  • @JohnTilley
    The monarchy’s only long-term interest is in preserving its wealth and privileges. The moment it starts interfering in politics there will be considerable interest in curtailing those privileges. If Windsor, Balmoral, and Sandringham were turned into museums and the Queen was faced with the prospect of living in London, I doubt any personal prejudices of hers (which may or may not be as you describe) would be on display.

    In fact I think the problem is quite the opposite: I think that, lacking the popular support an elected Head of State would command, the Queen is far too reluctant to knock political heads together (as Edward VII or George V did) to ensure that a government is formed, although this is her only real remaining political function that could not equally well be performed by a machine. A President or other elected HoS could afford to be less shy.

  • “Either we back Cameron at that point or Miliband becomes PM”

    Be afraid. Be very afraid! 😀

  • What will be interesting will be the reaction of the press. Cameron currently commands the support of the majority of newspapers (by circulation) and several of them are very antagonistic to Labour. If the press seeks to determine who is PM by headlines AFTER the election, and I wouldn’t put it past some of them, then we’ve entered into some very interesting territory regarding who chooses the PM in a democracy, the Queen, the people, parliament or the press?

    Interesting times.

  • Bill le Breton 28th Apr ’15 – 4:41pm
    “….John, I realize you think HMQ’s advisers may please themselves on her behalf, but history is against you. ”

    Whose history? 1975 is more recent and perhaps more relevant than 1924. Gough Whitlam was clearly entitled to carry on as Prime Minister having won two elections in a row and having a majority in the lower house of parliament. The conservative upper house and the Queen’s representative decided all that democratic stuff was inconvenient and installed a conservative PM in place of the democratically elected Whitlam.

    It just so happens that this was the same Queen as we have now. The actions of the king when Baldwin and Ramsay MacDonald were around might be considered less relevant than the actions of this Queen and her advisors fifty years later.

    Some political leaders in 2010 quoted the economic situation in Greece quite frequently to justify their actions. They did not mention Greek constitutional crises past. The role of the Royal Family in Greece in the late 1960s is best not looked at too closely for those who want to preserve the myth of monarchy.

    And of course it is not relevant to our monarchy because it is not as if anyone from our Royal Famly would have anything to do with the Greeks … … oh hang on a minute! where did you say the Duke of Edinburgh came from?

  • David-1 28th Apr ’15 – 4:43pm

    I agree with everything you have written in this comment.

    I merely make the point that all of these precedents are as valuable as a barrel of warm spit if the Queen or her advisors decide on a different course of action.

  • paul barker 28th Apr '15 - 5:27pm

    Can I just point out some recent polling, of the last 8 polls 6 have us on 9% so there is no sign of our vote falling. Of those 8 polls 6 show a Con lead, Labour confidence has no rational basis.

  • John Roffey 28th Apr '15 - 5:30pm

    TCO 28th Apr ’15 – 4:55pm
    “Either we back Cameron at that point or Miliband becomes PM”

    “Be afraid. Be very afraid! ”

    I would argue ‘accept’ – rather than be afraid. It seems to me that a host of opportunities for the Party arises if this is the outcome – and it is by far the most likely – once there is a new leader in place.

  • @John Roffey “once there is a new leader in place”

    That sounds remarkably like regicide.

  • John Roffey 28th Apr '15 - 5:44pm

    @John Roffey “once there is a new leader in place”

    “That sounds remarkably like regicide.”

    I understood that, under the rules, there would have to be a leadership election – if NC is not part of the government after 8 May or if he failed to retain his seat. He is very unlikely to be part of the government if SNP become the ‘king makers’.

  • @paul barker
    “Can I just point out some recent polling, of the last 8 polls 6 have us on 9% so there is no sign of our vote falling. Of those 8 polls 6 show a Con lead, Labour confidence has no rational basis.”

    Remind us again Paul, what you have been telling us for the last 4 years, what was your predictions for the Liberal Democrats at this point in the election?
    You also claimed that Labours vote share would have totally collapsed at this point which Libdems would then pick up.
    With only 9 to go, when exactly do you think this turn around is going to occur lol?

  • Don’t mess with paul barker — it’s never a question of whether he will be right, but of whether, after the fact, he will have been right. And of course he always is in retrospect. No matter what the outcome is, he’ll tell you he prophesied it all along.

  • Firstly, it should be pretty obvious pretty quickly if Cameron is likely to be able to form a government. If Tories + Lib Dems or Tories + DUP don’t give them the magic number, then it’s highly unlikely Cameron could form any other combination (SNP won’t speak to them, SDLP, Plaid and Green unlikely to, doesn’t look like UKIP will have more than 2 or 3 MPs.) So in that case, Cameron would have to admit he can’t form a government and Brenda would have to turn to Miliband.

    Secondly, even if the numbers do add up, there is a huge risk in Clegg (or whoever) forming another coalition with the Tories. Quite simply, many members who have uncomfortably accepted the coalition deal for the last five years are likely to be less disposed to accepting another five year deal with the Tories, even of a “confidence and supply” type.

    I suspect that Miliband will look to the SNP methods in government between 2007 and 2011 – when, actually, they had no majority at all even with an agreement with the Greens – and try at first to govern on that basis. This way, he would be able to deal with the SNP, Lib Dems and the Tories on areas where they could agree (for example, increased powers for Scotland, the Mansion Tax and Trident respectively.) Salmond did this with some success in this period (he wouldn’t have been able to abolish tuition fees in Scotland without Lib Dem support) and Miliband would do well to look at this as a potential model to follow.

  • Stephen Hesketh 28th Apr '15 - 6:51pm

    TCO 28th Apr ’15 – 5:33pm
    [[@John Roffey “once there is a new leader in place”]] “That sounds remarkably like regicide.”


  • Bill le Breton 28th Apr '15 - 7:06pm

    we are warned above of Miliband, “be very afraid”.

    Quite. Who could argue with that.

    But it doesn’t get us out of the mess that the unwritten constitution plus the FTP Act puts us in.

    If Cameron judges that we are very afraid of Miliband and assesses that we are more afraid of Miliband putting together a Queens Speech from within No 10 than backing him, why should he take any notice of our red lines?

    He would say, ‘back me or see Miliband in No10 in two hours time. That is how quick it would be, the moment Clegg says no deal to Cameron. so, unless they really want to deal with each other and repeat the coalition as old mates, there is no necessity for Cameron to bother about talking to us or fussing much about our red lines.

    So we are in a position where both the leader of the Tory Party and the Leader of the Labour Party have the upper hand in dealing with us.

    As ATF has said, we can’t afford to renege on another ‘pledge’, and red line announcements are, in effect pledges, therefore it is rash and short term and dangerous to commit to them … or any more of them.

    Things are very different this time to what they were in 2010.

    Are we alive to this? I think not. It may seem possible to say no to a deal because it doesn’t include all our red line issues, and walk off to the opposition benches, but we will still be blamed for either allowing Cameron to remain PM (without getting a deal on the redlines) or for allowing Miliband to be PM, (again without getting a deal on the red lines).

    Tell me we haven’t already walked into the bear trap.

  • Bill le Breton 28th Apr '15 - 7:15pm

    Keith is right. and almost every party in UK politics has learnt from the lessons that we learnt in local government (1980 – present) and shared with our colleagues in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh assembly except the Liberal Democrat Party in the House of Commons 2010-15.

    Jim Wallace and Ian Smith were masters of those skills – but their pupils included the SNP and Labour in Scotland.

    Clegg Laws and Alexander thought they knew better.

  • David Allen 28th Apr '15 - 7:22pm

    Tony Greaves said: “The resignation and the sending for Miliband, if that is what comes about, will happen when it is clear BOTH that Cameron cannot win a vote AND that Miliband can.” I think this is wrong, and that Bill le Breton and Carl Gardner are right. But I also think it is an understandable comment and deserves a little more analysis.

    Let’s suppose that Nicola holds the balance (and, for simplicity, that nobody else is strong enough to play any role); and that Nicola decides to play silly beggars, and declares a refusal to support either Tory or Labour. That, I suspect, is the kind of position Tony has in mind.

    But in this situation, what would Dave say to the Cabinet Secretary? He would say “Look, all the while that woman says that she has not made her mind up, I canot rule out the possibility that she will eventually plump for me. Yes, I know what she says about the Tories – but look, she’s also getting more and more wound up at Ed’s refusal to talk to her. Sooner or later, she’ll threaten him with a Tory alliance if he won’t talk. She’ll have to do that if she is to make any headway with Ed. And if Ed sticks to his guns, Nicola will also have to stick to hers. That’s when she will come looking for me, and I’ll make her a juicy offer. No, I can honestly say that you can’t yet count me out.” And the Cabinet Secretary, whilst he might call Dave an incorrigible optimist, will have to concede that no, he can’t yet be counted out. Ergo, he does not have to resign, yet.

    So that, I think, is why Tony thinks there will be a period of uncertainty – and on that question, he may be right.

    It is,after all, potentially somewhat parallel to 2010 in which the swing party agreed to consider supporting either side, and so the existing PM was entitled to cling on until he had lost hope of a deal with the swing party. In 2015, the swing party might refuse to declare for either side. Just because Nicola has said No to Dave doesn’t mean she can’t equally say No to Ed, if Ed says no to any form of agreement. And that, in a sense, is just as much an open situation as was the case in 2010.

    The Cab Sec, however, can surely not allow indefinite stalemate. He can wait a few days for Nicola to find out if Ed can be bounced into talks. But he must surely soon put her the ultimatum required by the Cabinet Manual – will you now back Dave, or not? And if she won’t back Dave (and back that up by voting for a QS), then Dave has to resign. As Bill le Breton and Carl Gardner have said.

    Bill said: “If Lab + SNP + Greens come to 323 + then Cam out immediately and Miliband works on his government building from inside No10.” I think “out immediately” is wrong. But unless Nicola has a wobbler up her sleeve, and/or Dave is preparing his “big, open and generous offer” to the SNP, then “out fairly soon” would be right.

    Now my final twist – Might Dave and Nicola conceivably do a deal?

    I can just hear Dave saying “The Scottish National Party have won a massive moral victory for an independent Scotland. This changes everything. Nicola and I have agreed a far-sighted project for an orderly transition to Scottish independence over a five-year term. Nicola will serve as my Deputy PM charged with putting the necessary transition in place. Conservatism will rule rUK for a generation once the fractious Scots have b*ggered off, oops this microphone isn’t still on is it?”

  • The nightmare for us would be if Tories + Lib Dems came to >322. The need for involvement of others such as DUP would allow us to hold back. Fortunately Nick Clegg is issuing red lines which will make a formal arrangement less likely (what he has to say on the EU will be important). Despite what many who are hostile to Nick Clegg say, I am increasingly convinced that he is preparing plausible excuses for standing aside from a new coalition.

    Bill insists that Gardner is right. It still seems implausible to me that Miliband could be bounced into government before he has had time to negotiate. I suspect that reasons would be found to provide time for detailed discussions. Nonetheless I cannot see that Lib Dems would hesitate to abstain on a confidence vote. I am sure that a minority Labour administration would be less problematic for us than a Tory one, particularly avoiding dreadfully damaging shenanigans over the EU. The question under these circumstances would be which party would benefit most from Labour’s unpopularity? Naturally, NC would stand down – if only Jo Swinson can retain her seat, it would be a good opportunity.

    Just to pour some cold water on these hypothetical scenarios – we had all of this last time, but in the end the numbers ruled. In all likelihood the end result will far less open ended.

  • Tony Greaves 28th Apr '15 - 8:22pm

    No, the real nightmare is if Con+Lib comes to around 325 or 326. This will lead to calls for a new Con-Lib Coalition in circumstances that will be politically impossible. Very tight whipping in which perhaps 30 LDs will have to support every nasty little Tory policy and a lot of big ones. And 100 LD peers will be beached. I hope the party will have enough sense to reject this option whatever the leadership wants.

    “In the circumstances Cameron must resign and HMQ must appoint Miliband.” Well I think this is wrong. It completely ignores the politics of what will be going on and treats the whole thing as a legalistic exercise. And it ignores the timescale which may well be a week or more.

    Also I don’t accept that a minority government has to have a comprehensive deal with the LDs. We will not be weak if we are free. We will be potentially free and strong in a much more democratic Parliament. It is still not clear what line the SNP will take on taking part in “non-Scottish” legislation – they may do the work of the “English votes for English laws” little Englanders for them. Depending on the numbers it may be the LDs who hold the balance of power in the Commons on lots of votes.

    The other important point that the failures of the 2010 Coalition Agreements have shown is that a for-a-Parliament agreement is neither possible nor desirable. In a democratic Parliament in which the Government has to argue its case, we will have as much power as we choose to have.


  • Stephen Hesketh 28th Apr ’15 – 6:51pm
    TCO 28th Apr ’15 – 5:33pm
    [[@John Roffey “once there is a new leader in place”]] “That sounds remarkably like regicide.”


    The obvious conclusion is that you Liberal lot are nowt but a parcel of rascally Roundheads and Whiggamores!

  • John Roffey 28th Apr '15 - 9:29pm

    David-1 28th Apr ’15 – 8:44pm

    “The obvious conclusion is that you Liberal lot are nowt but a parcel of rascally Roundheads and Whiggamores!”

    Somewhat over the top – don’t you think?

    Despite all of the huffing and puffing – if NC is not part of a coalition government and the Party gets closer to 20 seats [as most polls are predicting] along with no chance of doing so – he can hardly be viewed as a successful leader. I am informed that in these circumstances he will be obliged to step down and a leadership election takes place.

    Just Party rules – what do you think will happen to Cameron if he is not PM after May 8 [after the dust has settled]?

  • Stephen Hesketh 28th Apr '15 - 9:42pm

    David-1 28th Apr ’15 – 8:44pm
    “The obvious conclusion is that you Liberal lot are nowt but a parcel of rascally Roundheads and Whiggamores!”

    John Roffey 28th Apr ’15 – 9:29pm
    “Somewhat over the top – don’t you think?”

    Hmmm … I took it as a compliment 🙂

  • @John Roffey if Nick decides to step down I look forward to a proper leadership campaign where all the candidates will put forward their vision for the future direction party, and will trust the judgement of the membership. I do not expect to see a coronation.

    Regarding Cameron, the knives are already being sharpened and to be honest he looks like he’s only been going through the motions. He’s done the job for 5 years and balancing the needs of his coalition partners with his backbenchers must have been tough.

  • John Roffey 29th Apr '15 - 4:23am

    TCO 28th Apr ’15 – 10:48pm

    I find your [above] post confusing. Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t the primary determining factor as to whether there is a leadership contest the Party rules – not whether the existing leader wants to step down or not?

    I do not profess to know what is the case, but those who appeared to know have previously posted that, following a GE, unless the Party is part of the government – a leadership election is automatically triggered.

    This would seem to be a necessary rule – otherwise, should the Party had mistakenly elected an unscrupulous leader – they would be able to operate the Party as their own personal fiefdom if they so chose.

    I do agree that those wishing to replace NC should lay out their vision for the Party – presently, after five unsettled years, this would best be a wide ranging discussion amongst all members of the Party as to ‘where do we go from here?’.

    There will be time – and with so many threats to the nation looming – it would seem foolish to rush to any conclusions.

  • Bill le Breton 29th Apr '15 - 7:51am

    Tony, I have never said that phase 1, Cameron finding whether he has lost his majority, need be quick. It could indeed take a great deal of time. But when /if Cam concludes he has lost the confidence of the commons he must then resign immediately and Miliband is immediately appointed.

    I can see very good reasons why in this stage Miliband, like Wilson in Feb 74, keeps out of any negotiations and says that he is drafting his Queens Speech in preparation for Cameron’s resignation.

  • Bill le Breton 29th Apr '15 - 8:33am

    Martin you find it implausible that Miliband would be bounced into Government.

    Would he not be able to portray himself as the crusader for stability? The pressure would be on the other Parties not to ‘continue the uncertainty’. What has he to lose? On the other hand he gains the power of patronage and he also gains the inbuilt propensity for the FTP Act to work in favour of and sustain the Executive.

    My point in drawing attention to these dynamics is that they should be influencing our initiatives now. And the recent resort to a red lines strategy is extremely unwise when we may be forced to support a Miliband QS by a positive vote or a technical abstention because we judged it political suicide to do otherwise. (causing chaos, being blamed for second election etc.). We would therefore also be forced to do this without having protected our red lines.

    And, because we have form on the red line-like issue of tuition fees, once again repeating such a back down would do us huge damage.

  • Bill le Breton 29th Apr ’15 – 7:51am
    “…. Miliband, like Wilson in Feb 74, keeps out of any negotiations and says that he is drafting his Queens Speech in preparation for Cameron’s resignation.”

    It seems more than likely that this is the advice that Miliband will have been given both from within the Labour Party and from officials.

  • Bill: If Miliband were keen to form a new government as soon as possible, without negotiation with other groups, then there would be little delay. If Labour were the second largest Party he would be exceptionally foolish. As I suggested before, I would expect Lib Dems to abstain. Red lines would be neither here nor there, however they could be useful in providing cover in some votes. We are yet to see all the ‘red lines’ but I doubt any would be a major difficulty for Labour.

  • peter tyzack 29th Apr '15 - 11:45am

    seems to me that it is time for Nick Clegg to ‘go scouting’, confound his opponents and form a coalition of the radical centre..

  • Bill le Breton 29th Apr '15 - 12:10pm

    Martin we may be at cross purposes. I am saying that Miliband wd not need to enter any negotiations in phase1. When/if Cameron accepts he has lost his majority then he resigns and Miliband is appointed PM. We are now in phase 2 and the FTPA now becomes relevant. He wd form his Government and seek to build a majority as PM.

    SNP and he wd deal but they don’t seek to be part of coalition. Miliband on verge of a minority government placing QS before Parliament.

    How do we vote in that situation? If we hold the balance we either commit to voting down his QS and against a subsequent confidence motion OR for/abstain so that QS carries.

    I can’t see us voting against because it would be us who were blamed for crisis and chance of second election.
    He might do deals subsequently on legislation and budgets, but until our political and financial strength recovers we dare not vote against anything that mat trigger a FTPA font motion.

    Knowing that we were under this cosh, why would Miliband bother to talk to us?

    So our Tory opponents now bash us for propping up Miliband and someone says we did so without the inclusion of any of our red lines.

    Not a pleasant prospect.

  • Tony Greaves 29th Apr '15 - 12:23pm

    Hm. There is no way that in “phase 1″, ” Miliband” will not be talking to everyone else. I put “Miliband” in inverted commas because it won’t be him personally most of the time. And a lot of the discussions may be not very public – John Tilley has enlightened us all about the maze of tunnels, inter-connecting doors etc under and around Whitehall.

    But there will be immense media and civil service pressure, in different ways, for everyone to talk to everyone else, other than the list of no-go parties (which will suddenly shrink!) So it will be happening. By the time “phase 2” starts (with a decision by Cameron that he cannot carry on) the Queen’s advisers will have a very good idea of what the alternative will be and that it will work. And so will all the parties concerned. So perhaps we are not far apart here after all.

    Whether or not the Liberal Democrats will act sensibly during the first phase is perhaps the thing we should now turn our attention to.


  • With the latest Scottish polls suggesting that the SNP could win EVERY single seat on 52% of the vote and the Liberal Democrats refusing to rule out a coalition that involves the SNP.
    Do Liberal Democrats not worry about the lack of democracy for the other 48% of Scottish Voters who did not SNP?

    I fear what this could mean for democracy for the Scots if one party wins all the seats, what if this repeated itself in the 2016 Holyrood elections?

    I don’t think Nick Clegg should be ruling out coalitions with the SNP in these circumstances

  • Bill le Breton 29th Apr '15 - 1:56pm

    Tony, never more than a rope length apart 😉

  • I agree Matt. Nicola Sturgeon was talking about constitutional reform for the whole of the UK which I found quite exciting as a possibility for our party to get involved with but on an informal level. There may be a minority government with the opportunity for other parties to get together to promote the policies they can agree on in exchange for support on issues that the minority government wishes to progress.

  • Bill and Tony: If we become the fourth Party, I would have thought that abstaining on the Queen’s Speech or a confidence motion would be the sensible initial step. It fits with our commitment to fixed term parliaments and the narrative that we would respect how votes have been cast. I am really quite intrigued as to what Tony calls “act sensibly”. I am struggling to think of a realistic scenario where going for a formal coalition would be to “act sensibly”. Certainly nothing compatible with current polls.

    What I do not see is that puts us ‘under the cosh’. We would not be under any obligation to vote for anything; if Labour wanted to introduce extended detention without trial, for example, we would vote against. Admittedly if Labour decided it had to introduce some unpopular painful measures such as a big increase in prescription charges or abolishing free TV licences for the elderly we could have conflicting responses, yet even so it would be up to Labour to put forward a strong case. Moreover, on many issues we would not necessarily have to vote en bloc; Lib Dems could have many more free votes.

    To “act sensibly” could be to work closely with SNP, to identify areas of agreement and to resist the obvious ploy of playing off ourselves and SNP against each other. In practice, rather than huge government defeats, Labour would suffer continual passing of amendments and rejection of procedural motions. I expect the Lords would feel empowered in the knowledge that Lords’ amendments could prove very difficult to reject.

  • This is an example of how remaining in government up to the polling day has constrained the Lib Dems from acting in a way consistent with their own best interests. Is the ministerial car really worth all that?

  • Bill le Breton 30th Apr '15 - 12:39pm

    Martin, I hope I have been arguing that (if the figures are such*) Miliband would just wait for Cameron to resign and then formulate a minority GOvernment as PM from within Downing Street.

    Like you, I think this would be good for us. Outside Government but able later to influence key decisions. BUT such a situation would make us rue the day we published any red-line pledges (see why below).

    It would appear that George Easton and the New Statesman are catching up with this:

    However, again depending on the figures, if LDs hold a balance here they would be forced to decide whether to aid the fall of the QS and Miliband’s minoruty Government or give it oxygen by voting for it (or abstaining if the numbers allow it).

    I think they would feel compelled to prop it up for fear of electoral consequences, which is why I argue that red lines are dangerous because we may have little choice in supporting a Miliband monority government’s QS without there being a single nod to any of our red lines.

    Far better to use our platform to brand the Tories well and truly the nasty party, which will help us win seats in the remaining days of this election.

    * numbers are vital. The above assumes that Lab + SNP are close to 323 and need LDs to vote for or abstain for a Miliband QS to get through.

    I have always thought the Tories would rally in the last few days threatening even more of our LD facing seats – which is why I so heartily support today’s initiative exposing Tory Child Benefit aims.

  • Bill, I still do not see your ‘red lines’ point. Without a formal agreement I am fairly sure we would abstain on the Queen’s Speech (I also think we would if the Tories tried a minority government). This would certainly not oblige us to support anything and everything that Labour (or Conservatives) propose. The ‘devil’ for Labour would be in the detail, particularly in the form of amendments and procedure. The FTPA means that we have more freedom in response to a minority Labour government and would always not need to “prop it up for fear of electoral consequences”.

    My main concern is our relationship with SNP. The fears that I voiced on LDV at the time of the referendum campaign have turned out to be worse than I expressed. I advocated a more neutral stance, saying that ‘devo max’ could in effect, be achieved as a consequence of either a Yes or a No vote. There appear to be tribal isssues and it is not looking good for us. If there is to be a minority Labour government it is imperative that we mend fences and try to establish cooperation with SNP.

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