News from the UK?

Looks as if Labour is up for a deal to keep the Tories out of power, and willing to concede “electoral reform” in the process.

The BBC is demanding that various British pols comment on what seems to be a rather squirrely* exit-poll result, showing the Tories 17 seats short of an absolute majority, Labour and the Lib-Dems between them without enough seats to form a coalition, and – this is the squirrely part – the Lib-Dems actually down three seats after what seemed to have been their strongest campaign since 1924.

The Labour talking point is “a strong, stable government.” But both Mandelstam and another minister explicitly criticized “first past the post” and talked about “electoral reform.” That, of course, would be the key Lib-Dem demand in any coalition negotiations. Since the Tories seem incapable of cracking 40% of the vote, “electoral reform” could lead to a semi-permanent Labour/Lib-Dem coalition. Of course, Labour could have figured that out any time in the last thirteen years, but I suppose a Shawshank redemption is better than none.

Update* Not so much. Looks like the Lib Dems left their game in the training room, making essentially no gain even in popular votes. The ‘hung Parliament” prediction looks right: about 305 Tory, a little more than that, but still well short of the magic 325, for labour and the Lib Dems combined, the other thirty or so various minor parties. The Tories may be able to do a deal with, e.g., the various flavors of Ulster bigotry to form a government. Labour and the Lib Dems would need the votes of the Scots and Welsh Nationalists, the Alliance and SDLP from Northern Ireland, and the lone Green MP. (Sinn Fein does not take the seats it wins at Westminster.)

The Beeb commentators seem to have swallowed the Tory idea that it would be outrageous for Labour to cling to power after an electoral defeat, but just peachy-keen to have 37% of the voters choose a Tory government. But they’re agreeing with one another that tonight’s result wrecks what had been the sole argument for the undemocratic first-past-the-post system: that it tends to produce strong majority governments rather than “horse-trading.” All three parties seem to have lost the election tonight, and electoral reform has won.

Second update Nick Clegg, having finally won his own seat (with a huge swing) has now spoken out about the horse-trading to come: in coded language of course. With the Tories rushing to declare Gordon Brown defeated, Clegg called for patience and an avoidance of haste, and warned about rushing to make decisions or claims “that do not stand the test of time.” Seems pretty clear to me: he wants a deal with Labour.

Third update Clegg says Cameron has the right to try to form a government. Cameron says he’s willing to form a minority government if he gets a promise that he won’t have to face constant motions of confidence, but would rather have a more “comprehensive” deal with the Lib Dems. But he then goes on to say that Europe, immigration, and defense are all off the table, that he wants an “all-party committee of inquiry” to kick electoral reform down the road, and that he’s still intent on cutting the deficit (i.e., to a contractionary fiscal policy) as an urgent matter in the face of a recession. If this is the best he can do, even under the gun, one can only hope that the deal doesn’t come off.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

7 thoughts on “News from the UK?”

  1. With only 3 seats left, Labour(258), LibDem(57), SNP(6), SDLP(3), PC(3), and the Greens(1) have 328 — a majority in parliament for the left.

    Cameron needs to win over the LibDems. If he can't, Labour could lead an anti-Tory caretaker coalition just long enough to pass electoral reforms that could keep the Conservatives out of power for another decade.

  2. I hope it is obvious that first-past-the-post does indeed suppress minor parties, and greatly enhances the likelihood of one-party majorities. To imagine that it could ever be expected always to guarantee that result, and that you won't get a hung parliament once in a while, is foolish. Maybe their talking heads aren't any better than ours.

  3. Despite all the denigration of the exit poll, it came remarkably close to the final numbers: off by two seats at most.

    There are only three possibilities (with four outcomes):

    1. LIB/CON coalition. Getting less likely with each statement. It isn't just the policy issues which make this hard: Cameron has a lot of MPs who have been out of office for 13 years and want their hands on the division of the spoils; it won't be easy carving out jobs for Liberal Democrats.

    2. LIB/LAB/SNP coalition. They don't need all the minor parties. SDLP votes with Labour anyway. LIB/LAB/SNP is 324. "One is enough" said Winston Churchill. Such a government is fragile, though: it's one heart attack (or other accident) away from collapse (although, to be fair, Caroline Lucas will probably at least tacitly support it). And negotiating it in the first place won't be easy.

    3. Conservative minority government. Two outcomes: (a) Cameron loses the vote after the Queen's Speech. He stays in office during the summer, but can't do anything that requires Parliamentary approval. New elections in October. (b) Cameron wins the vote after the Queen's speech. Enough of the smaller parties back him because they can't afford another election this year. George Osborne's Budget next spring, though, gets defeated and there are new elections next May.

    If I had to bet, I'd bet on 3(a). 3(b) is next most likely. I'd prefer 2.

  4. I don't think Clegg can afford a pact with Brown – his own constituents wouldn't have it, it seems to me. Clegg would have to condition it on a new Labour leader.

  5. "The Tories may be able to do a deal with, e.g., the various flavors of Ulster bigotry to form a government."

    In a small piece of good news on the night, the leader of the (sectarian, Protestant) DUP, Peter Robinson, lost his seat to the non-sectarian Alliance http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/elect…. The Ulster Protestants have made it clear that their price for support is simply cash. Progress, progress.

  6. I suspect that Clegg would probably be able to sell any coalition to his party, provided the deal included a referendum on PR. My guess though is that such a concession would be step too far for conservative backbenchers and Cameron probably believes that he can put enough pressure on Clegg to enter into some sort of pact with the Tories without a concession on PR. And he might well be right.

    The Libdems might be able to extract a promise for PR out of LAB, but they probably would have to swallow the continuation of an already fairly unpopular Brown as the PM; a LAb/LibDem/SNP government would have a fairly shaky majority, and the opposition might be able to trigger an election in a years time or so when the economic pain has really hit home and the electorate may assign blame for that not only to LAB, but also to the LibDems. Way less tainted by the economic malaise, the Tories may then be able to sweep into office on the back of a landslide victory and the LibDems may be set back by a decade or so even with some sort of PR. In the worst case scenario, the LibDems may not even have gotten PR by the time a LAB/LibDem/SNP coalition crashes.

    Just my two cents.

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