Opinion: Gordon must resign if he loses his majority

There is a strange bit of spin being put out by the Tories that a hung parliament with a large number of Lib Dem MPs returned would mean Gordon Brown remaining as Prime Minister. Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they? This assumes that somehow the Liberal Democrats who clenched their teeth throughout 13 years of Labour violation of civil liberties, corruption, and senseless war, are suddenly going to fly to Brown’s rescue. That’s playing fast and loose with the facts.

For a good precedent, look no further than the last hung parliament in 1974, when Ted Heath’s Tories won over 200,000 votes more than Labour under Harold Wilson, but Labour won 4 seats more than the Tories. It’s sometimes pointed out that (with almost Brownite self-delusion) Heath refused to immediately resign, and didn’t move out of Downing Street on the day after the election, 1 March 1974.

But in fact the Prime Minister still resigned on 4 March – three days later. The rationale after the election was “We don’t yet know who’s won this election, but we know who’s lost it.” Even if Labour were still the largest party, if Gordon Brown were to squander a majority of over 60, then it may take a few days for the post-election dust to settle, but he would still have lost the confidence which he previously had some tenuous claim to, and he would have no choice but to resign.

If you want to go back further, you could cite the two previous hung parliaments of 1923 and 1929. In both cases, an incumbent Conservative government had lost its majority, but remained the largest party, and clung on for a month until its King’s Speech was defeated on the first reading. Labour, as the second largest party, then took office as a minority government. Both of these cases underlined the total futility of such attempts to hold on to power by your fingernails. And Brown is very familiar with both precedents – he wrote a PhD thesis and biography of 1920s Labour MP James Maxton. The idea that he might try to cling on without the support of his own party by citing a 1920s Conservative precedent which ended in failure seems laughable.

As for the scare stories on the effect of uncertainty on financial markets, this is largely irrelevant given the timetable as it stands. The full results won’t be known until Friday afternoon, and the markets will be closed over the weekend. By the time they re-open on Monday 10 May, four days after the election, the new environment should be plain for all to see.

If anything, this spells out the urgent need for fixed term parliaments with fixed transition periods, and the folly of expecting new ministers to all be at their desks when they’re still exhausted from the campaign trail – but for the immediate purpose of bringing down the Brown government, the weekend is more than enough time.

So don’t let this lie go unchallenged on the doorstep. Liberals haven’t endured the taunts of the other parties for so long, simply to prop up either Labour or the Tories at the first opportunity.

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20 Comments

  • Anthony Aloysius St 23rd Apr '10 - 12:25pm

    Sorry, but I think the constitutional position is clear enough.

    Brown will remain prime minister until he resigns (or is dismissed by the Queen – but obviously that would happen only in exceptional circumstances).

    Clearly if there’s a hung parliament there will be negotiations between the parties to try to arrive at some arrangement whereby a viable government can be formed. If Brown can’t make an arrangement that will enable him to survive a vote of no confidence, then he will have to resign, but not until then.

  • David Allen 23rd Apr '10 - 1:11pm

    It is imperative that we act in a way that will preserve effective government in the event of a hung parliament, and that we convince the British public that we will do so.

    The way we can do that is to reiterate the position as AASt describes it, and indeed to firm up on it. If there is a hung parliament, then while negotiations proceed, we will support the continuation of Brown’s government, on a purely interim basis, and subject to an interim timescale. This will ensure an orderly transition from the old government to a new government, without the risk of an interregnum which might upset the financial markets.

  • Andrew Suffield 23rd Apr '10 - 1:33pm

    In realpolitik terms, he has until somebody calls for a confidence vote in the House. Clegg probably won’t do that, but Cameron will do it as fast as he can get the ink dry. I can’t see Clegg whipping the vote in favour of Brown (would probably leave it to the individual MPs to decide), and I can’t see the Lib Dem backbenchers ever supporting Brown on their own, after the last year.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 23rd Apr '10 - 3:11pm

    In realpolitik terms, he has until somebody calls for a confidence vote in the House. Clegg probably won’t do that, but Cameron will do it as fast as he can get the ink dry.

    No one will be able to do it until about a fortnight after the election, because Parliament isn’t going to reconvene until 18 May.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 23rd Apr '10 - 3:50pm

    “OK, this is the constitutional position.
    The Queen must …

    Hmm. I think you’ll find that the word “must” is not to be used to princes.

  • Philip Young 23rd Apr '10 - 4:48pm

    Heath invited Thorpe to Downing St for two fire-side chats. However, the sums didnt add up – all the Tories, plus all the Liberals, were still short of a majority, from memory about three. That was one stumbling block. The other was that over the Sunday lunch with the Parliamentary Party at Lord Byers pad, it was clear that the MPs couldnt support someone who had gone to the country to seek a mandate “who governs, us or the unions” and lost that argument. Voters said “well not you mate, and, for that matter, not the unions either.”

    In the first 90 minute chat, it was supposed to be all about “demands” and how it would work out with various offers, in fact, PR and voting reform was dealt with in the first 20 minutes, the rest of the time, Heath wanted Thorpe to know under strict Privy Council terms that the country was broke, and that if they did a deal, the Con-Lib Govt. would have to go cap in hand to the IMF for a bail-out. As it happened, Wilson took over and it was two years before Healey took that famous plane trip to the IMF for a loan (which Heath had forseen as inevitable). So, financial meltdowns under the Tories happen as much as they do under Labour.

    Sadly, David Steel, who had rushed to London after hearing on the World at One that “Chief Whip David Steel is rushing to London” (he wasn’t doing any such thing, he was peeling potatoes in his kitchen with Judy preparing for lunch, but said “if Im supposed to be rushing to London, I might as well do so”) had hoped to be in on the talks, as it would be useful, he thought, if Thorpe had a witness to any offers. Alas, they pulled up at the back door of Downing St in Thorpe’s black Humber, and the security bods saw Steel at the wheel, and thought he was “just Thorpe’s driver” and so didn’t invite him in…he sat in the car for the 90 minutes waiting in the rain.

    When the time came to blow Heath the raspberry, Thorpe sent Judy Young (no relation), in her one-litre Mini Mayfair, to Downing St to hand in a letter saying “no dice”.

    P.Y.

  • Philip Young 23rd Apr '10 - 4:54pm

    Something else, which has just come back to me after I filed the above, the stuff about the dire straits of the economy were never leaked, or revealed to anyone, by Thorpe. He had been told by Heath to keep it under his Homburg, which he did. Not even over the lunch with the MPs, who pressed him hard with Pardoe “C’mon then, what did he really say” ever finding out what Heath said.

    Heath wondered if cross-party agreement could be reached to go to the IMF, and Thorpe said “of course, we are all in this together” – but Heath was pessimistic, and reckoned Labour wouldn’t play ball and would exploit it for all it was worth. Only until a couple of months ago has it come out what the full content of those talks were really all about, as the Cabinet Secretary had taken a minute of the meeting, which was included “by mistake” in the release of some papers under the 30 year rule. Brown probably regarded all this as fascinating and the fact that the Tories were in dead financial trouble, it probably appealed to him to have the Minutes released “in error”.

    It was a fascinating time to be working as the Party Press Secretary. Over an omelette and chips with Archy Kirkwood, there was much to natter about that weekend.

  • Philip Brennan 23rd Apr '10 - 7:43pm

    Sorry to interrupt your cosy chat, but could we get back to the first paragraph of the blog. :
    “There is a strange bit of spin being put out by the Tories that a hung parliament with a large number of Lib Dem MPs returned would mean Gordon Brown remaining as Prime Minister. Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they? This assumes that somehow the Liberal Democrats who clenched their teeth throughout 13 years of Labour violation of civil liberties, corruption, and senseless war, are suddenly going to fly to Brown’s rescue. That’s playing fast and loose with the facts.”
    The implication of all of the above seems to be that your party is prepared to wait until the outcome of the election instead of making a stand, now, and saying that they would not countenance a working relationship with labour. Forget Brown, he’s just a symptom of the (your words) violation of civil liberties, corruption, and senseless war,
    None of the above seems to invalidate the “strange conservative spin”. If the Lib Dems think they can play real politik rather than principle, they’ve just lost my vote

  • Philip Young 23rd Apr '10 - 9:00pm

    PB: Well, nice of you to drop in, put the kettle on for a mug of Horlicks, as that’s settled that one. Except there is no reason to actually come and out and say “we dont like Brown so wont be doing much talking when he rings up” given we are doing ok right now, but, you’re thinking what we’ve all been thinking.

    Now, where do I post the membership-form and subscription form for Lib Dem News?

  • Richard Marriott 23rd Apr '10 - 11:47pm

    Clegg has done a fantastic job for the Liberal Democrats in this election, because he is sane, presentable and puts his case well. Pity I could never vote for a party which would give an amnesty to illegal immigrants and sacrifice what is left of our sovereignty to Euroland, in particular by sugning us up for the Euro.

  • Malcolm Todd 24th Apr '10 - 8:13am

    As it happens, the Tories weren’t the largest party in 1929, Labour was. In any case, looking for political precedent from elections held in the 1920s is a pretty hopeless bet. Events, media-driven, move much faster now.

  • I think its very smart of the Tories to suggest that an alliance would be done between Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg. A huge majority of the population will not consider another GB government so its really an open goal.

    Incidentally as a person who is more likely to vote Tory, but who has been swayed by the idea of a strong LibDem party and the annihilation of the utterly corrupt Labour party I would welcome a statement from Nick Clegg saying that he would not countenance any coalition with Labour.

  • It is a shame Nick isn’t sticking to his four policies in a hung parliament and has now started to add other conditions and discuss different hyperthetical situations. Dangerous sounds of chickens being counted before the eggs have hatched.

    What if on May 7th the choice is either let Cameron form a minority Government or do deal with Labour ?
    The Lib Dems wouldn’t let another party tell us who should be leader, so neither should we tell them.

    It would be fairly obvious to everyone that Gordon Brown would have to go soon. He might stay on as PM until Labour has had a leadership election – would that be too bad ?

    Labour could still get a deal with the Nationalist and other minor parties, as could Cameron – lok at the SNP-Tory alliance in Hollyrood. It would suit them both, a Tory Government being a spur to independence or removing scottish MPs from most house of commons votes.

  • “What is more likely to do for him, though, is that if there is any sense in Cowley Street, they will say they will not countenance any form of coalition or confidence and supply agreement if Gordon Brown is the Prime Minister.”

    Actually they should say that NOW. At the moment the message on coalitions is very confused. It’s obviously all fun to outmaneuver the Tories by talking about coalition but many of the Labour voters we’ve acquired (and indeed, a fair number of firm LibDem supporters such as myself) are overwhelmingly opposed to the mere hint of a coalition with the Tories. Whilst I agree with the democratic mandate point Clegg had been making it just seems intrinsically more plausible that we could make meaningful policy with the progressive elements in Labour than with the anti-authoritarians/centralists in the conservatives. The line should not be ‘I won’t prop up Labour’ (which may happen if the Tories get the plurality but refuse to budge on key manifesto policies) but ‘I won’t prop up Gordon Brown’.

    Hopefully it won’t be an issue because he’ll do the decent thing and voluntarily stand down. With any luck the election will get rid of Balls. A Labour party led by one or other of the Millibands is probably something we could work with.

    “In realpolitik terms, he has until somebody calls for a confidence vote in the House. Clegg probably won’t do that, but Cameron will do it as fast as he can get the ink dry.” – I think one way to interpret Seth’s question is ‘should we vote ‘yes’ on a no confidence motion. The answer is yes we should. Or if a general election is the automatic consequence of such a vote, we ought to make it clear enough that we will so as to make him take the decision to stand down himself.

    Either way, there should be no Gordon Brown MP by the end of may. Wouldn’t be at all opposed to Lord Brown or Kirkaldy however (unlike Lord Blair); he’s not a bad man, he just shouldn’t be Prime Minister.

  • Richard Marriott:

    “Pity I could never vote for a party which would give an amnesty to illegal immigrants and sacrifice what is left of our sovereignty to Euroland,”

    But you are quite happy to vote for a party that that takes its orders from Washington, even to the extent of sacrificing British lives in an illegal war fought to further enrich and aggrandise the US military-industrial-petrochemical complex?

  • Duncan wrote:

    “he’s not a bad man, ”

    Really? He supported Cheney’s illegal war in Iraq.

    BTW, how many of these posters saying they like X about us but are not going to vote for us because of Y are trolls put up by Conservative Central Office to destabilise us on the hung Parliament issue?

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