The inimitable Guido Fawkes, in a post-Clegg blogpost today, describes an election result scenario in which Labour, despite having won a smaller percentage of the national vote than either the Tories or the Lib Dems, still emerges with a few more seats in the House of Commons than any other single party, although well short of an overall majority. Guido imagines that after a day of talks between David Cameron and Nick Clegg, a message goes to the Palace that the Tories and Lib Dems have agreed to form a ‘Change Coalition’ government which will command an overall majority in the House; it will be led by Cameron (since the Tories have more Commons seats than the Lib Dems) and a number of Lib Dems will hold cabinet posts in it, including, naturally, Clegg and Vincent Cable. The Queen accordingly invites Cameron and Clegg to the Palace and invites them to form a Change Coalition government.
All nice and plausible so far? A Lib Dem decision to join the Tories in a coalition in the circumstances imagined by Guido would be consistent with Clegg’s repeated pledge to “let the people decide” which of the bigger parties he should agree to support in a hung parliament, if, as in Guido’s scenario, the Tories had won a bigger share of the national vote than Labour. But there would remain the problem of Labour, with a smaller share of the votes, having just a few more parliamentary seats than the Conservatives. And under our constitution, it’s the seats that count when it comes to the right to have the first go at forming a government, as several clear precedents demonstrate. I have accordingly posted the following awkward-squad Comment on Guido’s post:
Comment no. 108: Brian Barder says: April 18, 2010 at 11:21 am
“Pardon me for pointing it out, but there’s surely a gaping hole in this scenario. There is no need for Gordon Brown, as leader of the biggest single party in the house of commons, to resign as Prime Minister, and until he does, there is no vacancy at Number 10 that the Queen is at liberty to fill by inviting Cameron to form a coalition government with the Lib Dems. Brown would be free to form a minority government – perhaps inviting the LibDems to hold three or four cabinet posts including Cable as Chancellor – and, when he has done so, to meet the House for the debate on the Queen’s Speech (written of course by Brown). The Queen’s Speech is full of Lib Dem-friendly goodies, including a mild form of PR. A frantic Dave Cameron pleads with the Lib Dems to come over to him and, together with the Tories, defeat Brown in the vote on the Queen’s Speech. Nick Clegg is tempted but Chris Huhne and Cable flatly refuse and make it clear that they are happier with Labour now that Labour is promising more concessions to their point of view than the Tories. The Lib Dems vote with Brown to defeat a Tory ‘no confidence’ motion and the newly vamped Brown government settles down to resume governing the country. The Queen is spared the agony of having to make difficult, loaded decisions. Everyone is happy – except the Tories. Oh, dear. How sad for the Tories.”
Actually, despite the Clegg epiphany on Thursday night, and the hysterical reactions to it by the opinion polls ever since, my money is still on an overall Tory majority on May 6th, meaning a single-party Tory majority government and no need for any concessions to the Lib Dems. But I admit that my confidence in this forecast has been badly shaken by the post-Clegg polls, and also by Cameron’s distinctly below-par performance in the first debate.
Just suppose that:
* Clegg continues to do well enough in the next two debates to enable the Lib Dems to hold on to the seats which the Tories need to win from them if they are to form a majority government, or even to overtake Labour in the number of seats won;
* Gordon Brown repeats his well-informed, sober, unflashy, substantial performance in the two remaining debates, especially in the third debate on the economy, and confirms the suspicion aroused by the first debate that he is actually a much more solid and reliable prospect as prime minister than Cameron;
* the Tories’ attacks on Clegg and Lib Dem policies, prompted by the Clegg epiphany in the first debate, backfire badly with the swing voters and especially with younger voters, while Labour shrewdly continues its policy of highlighting its natural affinities with the Lib Dems and the glaring defects in the Tories’ platform, also offering some tasty bonbons to the Lib Dems (electoral ‘reform’, ditching Trident replacement and ID cards?).
If all those possibilities materialise, the election outcome imagined by Guido Fawkes becomes a real possibility. And if that happens, the consequences that might flow from it, as described in my comment on his post quoted above, look to me a whole lot more plausible than Guido’s Tory-Lib Dem Change Coalition. Note that something like my scenario remains perfectly possible even if, as I would expect, Clegg and Cable were to decline Brown’s offer of seats in his new cabinet, preferring instead to give a conditional promise of cautious support for a Brown minority government, with the emphasis on the ‘conditional’.
Perhaps all is not yet lost, after all?