Nick Clegg’s statement on the SNP doesn’t preclude voting with them

There has been much revolution and intertwinement of under-garments over Nick Clegg’s statement about the SNP yesterday. In its refined form he talked about “not entering into a post-election coalition that relies on life support from the SNP or UKIP”. Earlier he talked about no entering into “arrangements” which involved the SNP.

This is all a bit of a non-event or non-story.

The poll numbers suggest Labour wouldn’t need us anyway. At the moment they have enough with their MPs plus SNP, SDLP, Green and Plaid to easily survive a confidence vote.

323 seats in the House of Commons are required to survive a confidence vote, assuming the independence of the speaker and the abstinence of five Sinn Fein MPs. The Guardian polling projection, which is remarkably similar to the other projections, shows Labour and SNP combined on 324 seats at the moment. Add in one Green MP, at least three Plaid and three SDLP MPs and Labour will probably command a voting bloc of 331 MPs, which is enough to comfortably survive a confidence vote.

The most likely outcome is that we, the Liberal Democrats, are, indeed, not involved in any “arrangements”, and proceed on a vote-by-vote basis, guided by our manifesto and consciences. It should be quite refreshing, especially as differences will be talked through in Parliament rather than in back-room no smoking zones. And, remember, we will still have a sizeable bloc of power in the Lords.

Some commenters have become mightily heated about Nick Clegg’s statement, saying it is anti-democratic because it rules out “working with” the SNP. Au contraire, I anticipate that we will vote the same way as the SNP on many occasions. But voting in the same lobby as another party is not an “arrangement” and I would call it “working with” the SNP. Who knows, we could even walk through the same lobby as them to, at last, make the second chamber an elected one. One can dream, can one not?

There’s a lot of bluster and semantics being thrown around at the moment. But after the election, rather like one of those old Etch A Sketch machines, the whole picture will be scrubbed and we’ll start again with a clean sheet.

* 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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34 Comments

  • Which kind of begs the question why a politician with his experience didn’t just say what you have Paul…

  • This fits my assessment in which I expect Conservatives possibly to have a few more seats, but the numbers do not add up even if they were able to negotiate a coalition with Lib Dems; Labour with SNP support could survive the Queen’s speech and would be able to form a government. However I do expect that Labour would want talks with Lib Dems as insurance cover, whipping boys and to ease passage through the Lords.

    That legitimacy of the government would be widely questioned is very likely to be a fact. Much of the media would be merciless with Miliband. Meanwhile UKIP and the right of the Tories would be banging on about the EU, ECHR, Liberalism, foreign languages and cultural plurality. Economic fragility would severely restrict Labour.

    An undiscussed issue for a minority government are procedural votes. Labour used a procedural vote to prevent House of Lords reform. I would anticipate votes on amendments and procedures that would become a nightmare for a minority government.
    ” It should be quite refreshing, especially as differences will be talked through in Parliament rather than in back-room no smoking zones” Refreshing? Possibly, but not for those at the sharp end – which is where Lib Dems will try not to be!

  • Bill le Breton 26th Apr '15 - 10:14am

    Paul, the danger here is that we are relying on a campaign about indirect process and not about direct action.

    The existential threat to ourselves is NOW. Either we shall fall to a Parliamentary Party of a dozen or we shall win 30 seats and have a platform to rebuild the Party and contribute to the future of the country over the next five years.

    The Tories have mounted an extremely damaging scare campaign demonizing the SNP and *branding* Labour and ourselves as their stooges. It is working.

    Our high command has reacted by trying to close off the impression that we could support a Labour/SNP ‘arrangement’. I don’t think that will work and of course it sends the wrong signals to people who we are trying to win back and keep on the other flank.

    It looks like a hasty decision, a panicky decision as well as a wrong decision.

    We must tackle the the Tories head on. It is they who are the threat to the Union (and to EU membership).

    Our reaction is so similar to what happened in this stage of the campaign in 2010 – then the central campaign failed to respond to the negative campaigning following the Manchester leader’s debate. Our strategists are again being found flat footed.

    Paddy, you were not so much involved then, but now you are. You have to launch a counter attack. – not a withdrawal to protect materiel. We don’t have the support to survive the attrition of this Tory campaign. We must knock it out.

    The Tories are the menace. At stake, the Union and the Economy. It is about security and wealth. We must fight fear with fear.

    Launch it now!

  • Even if Clegg has ‘clarified’ his latest remarks, it is clear he massively favours remaining in coalition with the Tories, as is Danny Alexander. Even Vince Cable is at it too.
    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/apr/26/vince-cable-chancellor-coalition-miliband-liberal-democrat-conservatives

    Whatever happened to the days when the Lib Dems portrayed themselves as a progressive party? Both Labour and the SNP use that term to describe themselves (by all means quibble over whether they actually are), yet the leadership are doing their damnedest to rule out working with either, in favour of the Conservatives, who are certainly not progressive.

    Also, Paul

    The most likely outcome is that we, the Liberal Democrats, are, indeed, not involved in any “arrangements”, and proceed on a vote-by-vote basis, guided by our manifesto and consciences. It should be quite refreshing, especially as differences will be talked through in Parliament rather than in back-room no smoking zones. And, remember, we will still have a sizeable bloc of power in the Lords.

    Are you really saying you will use the profoundly undemocratic Lords, where you influence will far outstrip your vote share, to influence the elected Commons?

    And you think this is conscionable?

  • The only remotely tolerable outcome for the election is for the Lib Dems to maintain a decent slice of their MPs but for Labour only to be able to govern in minority with SNP support or with a tiny majority of their own.

    That way Labour face instant unpopularity and press crucifixion as they have to make the same public spending cuts they have made political capital out of for the last five years and will start off with only 33% of the vote, i.e. zero democratic mandate.

    Providing there is a Lib Dem party worth speaking of in the wake of 7 May, it should be poised to clean up in terms of winning back left-of-centre votes.

  • “The most likely outcome is that we, the Liberal Democrats, are, indeed, not involved in any ‘arrangements’, and proceed on a vote-by-vote basis”

    Which wouldn’t be a big deal if Clegg had the same approach to the Tories, but instead he is perfectly happy to talk about forming another coalition with them. It’s hard to read this any other way than that he’s perfectly comfortable being joined at the hip with parties of the right, but he wouldn’t touch parties of the left with a barge pole.

    If that’s the Lib Dem position, then fine – but if it is then you’re going to have to accept that all those people who have been saying that Clegg has turned the Lib Dems into “orange Tories” were right all along.

  • Think I agree with you Paul. Overall best to paddle your own canoe until the actual result is out. Then anything can happen.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 26th Apr '15 - 10:47am

    g,

    Are you really saying you will use the profoundly undemocratic Lords, where you influence will far outstrip your vote share, to influence the elected Commons?

    And you think this is conscionable?

    Well, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation if Labour hadn’t so disgracefully blocked reform.

  • Caron “Well, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation if Labour hadn’t so disgracefully blocked reform”

    Not only that but the blocking procedure has provided a model for guerilla tactics in the Commons if Labour govern as a minority. Guillotine bills would be lost, amendments would proliferate and the opposition would use ambush tactics borrowed from Labour.

  • Thomas Robinson 26th Apr '15 - 11:12am

    What a useless politician Clegg has proved to be.

    Anyone who allowed himself to be fobbed off with a referendum on AV rather than PR has about as much political talent as an inanimate object.

  • “Well, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation if Labour hadn’t so disgracefully blocked reform.”

    You mean the Lib Dems and Tories wanted to do it but Labour stopped them? How did that work exactly?

  • John Barrett 26th Apr '15 - 11:21am

    If the SNP at Westminster proposed creating an elected second chamber and abolishing the House of Lords or PR for local Government (as we have in Scotland) Liberal Democrats would work with them and vote with them.

    If we have 30 seats after the election, I have no doubt Nick would feel entitled to participate in a future Government and to hold Ministerial office in that Government. If the SNP have 40 seats, elected at the same time – and Nick continues with the line that we could not work with them – I suspect they will point this comparison out to Nick, to say the least.

    There are many other issues the SNP stand for, such as, free access to higher education, an end to the “bedroom tax”, no Trident replacement, no building of new nuclear power stations and more, that many Liberal Democrat members also support, even if the party leadership has distanced itself from some of those policies – or has never supported them in the first place.

    To rule out any arrangement involving the SNP, rather than saying we could work with them where we agree, sends out the message that our one and only priority is getting back into Government, more likely with the Conservatives than with Labour.

    As I have said before, electorally, in Scotland, it also sends out a strong signal that we would rather be in Government with the Conservatives, which is exactly what the SNP will use against us in every held Lib-Dem seat, as nearly every one of those seats is now under threat from the SNP. Vote Lib-Dem and you will get a Tory government will be their message.

    The SNP have their faults, but so do all other parties – including those Nick is happy to work with.

  • You could more fairly say ‘ we wouldn’t even be having this conversation if Cameron had been able to deliver his party, as Nick did on policies contrary to Lib Dem values’ .

  • There is logic in being outside the next Government for political ends, but not for the good of the Country. There are dangerous forces trying to break up the United Kingdom: SNP and leaving the EU: say 1/3rd of the Conservatives. They can not and should not be trusted. On the economy, a Labour government would be terrible, just look at France or the nice ‘anti austerity’ Government in Greece. The Country can’t afford large such chaos, it must have solid, sound, progressive and economic competent Liberal Democrats at the heart of power.

  • Craon

    Well, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation if Labour hadn’t so disgracefully blocked reform.

    Isn’t the Lib Dem line (or it was at the time) to blame both major parties, not just Labour?

    Anyway, the past is the past, Labour’s current policy is for an elected Lords, the Lib Dem policy is for an elected Lords, the SNP don’t want the Lords as it is and there’s more than a few reform minded Tories. There’s a majority next parliament, no matter the outcome, to support Lords reform.

    Would the Lib Dems join a progressive alliance to achieve this change?

  • I very much agree with Bill Le Breton. I think it is important for the Lib Dems to sound Liberal and above some of the dangerous tactics the Conservatives are employing. In a lot of seats they are the opposition and people need to understand that there are good reasons for keeping them out of office. The tactic at the moment is failing because it assumes that Lib Dem Voters in Conservative facing seats are soft Tories rather than people who see something attractive in liberalism and unattractive in both Labour and The Conservatives, These seats were fought and won on a progressive inclusive platform not by invoking xenophobia and waving the flag at outsiders. The Lib Dems are pro Europe, are believers in devolved power, electoral reform and cooperation as well as being in favour open democracy. These are things to be proud of.

  • Paul

    Well that has been the constitutional position for several centuries. It’s abhorrent and we have and will work very hard to change it. But while it exists we participate in its revising role.
    I am not a fan of democracy by not turning up.

    Yeah, that’s fair. But on the other hand if a party can command the support of a majority of the Commons and the Lib Dem bloc in the unelected Lords tries to prevent it forming a government, or to drive the direction of that government, then that is even more abhorrent.

  • It seems to by no means certain that all Labour MPs would vote for a democratic Lords!

  • Tony Greaves 26th Apr '15 - 1:41pm

    On the Lords reform bill, it got a huge majority in the Commons at 2nd Reading (about 350 from memory) with only really a group of dissident Tory headbangers voting against. But there was no support for a programme motion – Tory headbangers plus Labour refused to pass it. Since as a constitutional Bill it had to be taken on the floor of the House, without a programme motion it could have blocked other business for weeks.

    So Labour voted for the principle of the Bill then blocked its passage. They were asked to suggest a programme motion they would accept and refused to do so. Let’s be clear – it was Labour that blocked Lords reform.

    On the new session, of course the LD peers will use our pivotal position under any minority government to Liberalise legislation. The odd thing will be that there are no SNP peers. If the SNP really want to play a constructive role at Westminster they must take some places in the Lords so at least their voice can be heard.

    Tony Greaves http://liberallord.com

  • Tony Greaves 26th Apr '15 - 1:43pm

    A lot of Labour peers do not want a democratic Lords.

    Tony Greaves

  • paul barker 26th Apr '15 - 2:47pm

    Any government that relied on the support of the DUP/UKIP/SNP would be a threat to the continued existence of the UK. Thats not in itself an argument against us joining a coalition with Labour or Con, it depends on the numbers. If by joining a coalition we could prevent The tories having to rely on the DUP/UKIP or Labour on The SNP, theres a case to be made for that. If the choice was between a stable Government involving us & an unstable weak one without us, thats not so clear cut. Sometimes a weak, bad Government is better than a strong, bad one.
    The overall context is a period when both Labour & Tories are at risk of major splits, in Government or out. Part of our duty as a party is to encourage those splits so the question is whether we can do that better in Power or in Opposition ?

  • Tony Greaves “Let’s be clear – it was Labour that blocked Lords reform.”

    No, that’s not numerically possible. The Tories plus the Lib Dems have a majority in the HoC.

  • Heck. I find myself in agreement with Paul Barker !

    Apart from that last sentence about ‘ encouraging splits’. Phew!

  • “Any government that relied on the support of the DUP/UKIP/SNP would be a threat to the continued existence of the UK. ”

    I’m looking for even a small grain of truth in the above sentence, and I have yet to find it.

  • Bill le Breton 26th Apr '15 - 5:16pm

    There is some very good thinking on the first phase of government formation by Carl Gardener http://www.headoflegal.com/2015/04/19/ed-can-enter-no-10-without-nicolas-keys/

    His reading of constitutional law suggests that if Cameron cannot expect to carry the confidence of the Commons he will have to resign (regardless as to whether Miliband can carry the confidence of the House). That is, in the specific situation where the Tories + LDs + DUP do not reach 323 in numbers, Cameron must resign or risk a constitutional crisis around breaking the law.

    Importantly, it matters not whether the Tories are the largest party or have the most votes. Cameron must resign. Nor does this conflict with the Cabinet Manual.

    At this point the Queen will appoint Miliband as Prime Minister (unless some other person has a better chance of building a majority , but who might the candidates be for that? Clegg? Hardly. Boris Johnson? Would he stand a better chance than Cameron had done hours before? No. So, Miliband becomes PM.

    Let us assume that Miliband and the SNP begin talks. If the figures are such that these two can marshall 323+ votes then we are on the sidelines. But what if the LIberal Demcrats hold the balance and that for a ****grouping**** to carry the confidence of the House it must include the Liberal Democrats – what would Nick Clegg do??

    He has said that he won’t join such a grouping as it relies on an arrangement that includes the SNP. AS PM, Miliband would seek to pass a QS. Would Clegg really be prepared to vote against Miliband’s Queens Speech and thus trigger a motion of confidence under the terms of the FTPA?

    It would be Clegg and Clegg alone who would be responsible for removing the second Prime Minister the country had had in a matter of hours. It would be Clegg who got the blame for a second general election within weeks of this one.

    The Liberal Democrats could not afford a second election and, anyway, the public would be so annoyed that the Party would face wipe out in the second election.

    No. Clegg would have to support Labour’s QS now without any leverage at all to get anything from it.

    I don’t think Clegg has thought this through at all.

  • Tony Greaves 26th Apr '15 - 9:25pm

    Phyllis (whoever and wherever you may be)…

    What I said was that the Government could not get a programme motion through the Commons on the Lords reform bill due to opposition from (1) rightwing Tory headbangers + the Labour Party. If the Labour Party had wanted the Bill passed they could have negotiated a programme motion with the Government. I repeat – the Labour Party blocked the Lords reform bill. That is I think a historical fact.

    Bill le Breton – I think you are wrong about Cameron “having to resign” if Con+LD+DUP does not add up to 323+. He can try to negotiate with others if only to abstain. That might be a difficult thing to do but if the numbers are close he might be able to do it, at least for a while. Anyway the Queen might tell him to stay put for a day or two until further arrangements can be made.

    I do not think she will deliver a Gracious Speech unless and until she is sure it sill stick.

    Paul Walter – I know I keep saying this but it might matter! – a motion for an early election under FTPA does not require a 2/3 majority it requires at last 434 MPs to vote for it.

    Tony

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