Thursday, 13 May 2010

The future is orange (and blue)

As a follow up to my post a couple of days ago discussing how difficult the decision to take government office for the first time is, as well as yesterday's post analysing what the Lib Dems got out of the coalition agreement, I had a thought.

There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth across the UK, from the "progressive left" to the not so progressive (or left, for that matter) Labour party, from disgruntled Lib Dems unhappy with the "coalition for change" and, well, pretty much the whole of Scotland - who categorically did not vote for the Tories.  Each have valid concerns about this "frightening" new form of government.

The "progressive left" argue that the majority of the electorate really voted for them - and still got lumped with a Tory-led government.  Well, maybe if the "progressive left" were one party instead of seven, there may be a case.  Labourites are mad because, although they got thumped in the election, the Tories didn't win outright but the Lib Dems picked them anyway - it's almost like they got ditched for what they see as an uglier member of the opposite sex - and are incredibly bitter about it.  Disgruntled Lib Dems are, well, disgruntled - they didn't vote for a Tory government either, but they've got some of their own stuff in there... though it could be interesting to see how much of it passes.  And then there's Scotland who, granted, did not vote Tory. But until Scotland is independent, a UK government with little mandate in Scotland is something that will have to be suffered from time to time.  Just think how England would have felt if Labour had managed to form a coalition - the Tories managed a majority of English seats.  So yes, it's unfair - but it's the way the system works.  Scottish Labour MPs may need to realise this sooner rather than later.

But, I digress.  There's something more important that has struck me.  It may not matter how annoyed people are at the moment - and the wailing and gnashing of teeth may continue for some time yet.  And then when it is finished, it may continue even longer.  And though yesterday I was picking holes and arguing, perhaps harshly (and I did say that at the time) that the Lib Dems were only in it for the office jobs, I think this could be a long-term thing, for two reasons.

Firstly, the five year fixed-term parliaments.  This is an indication that the coalition is in it for the long-haul.  Fixed-term parliaments are much fairer - it means the election is not called when the sitting PM thinks he can win, and for this reason there is no real objection.  But it is an indication that the Tories & Lib Dems are looking long-term - for a five-year term of office at least.  Secondly, the proposal to change a vote of no confidence from a simple majority to 55% of the Commons voting in favour - which is more controversial (see Mr Harris this morning for a scathing post on the subject) but not less indicative of a government set on working together for the long term.

Together, these two changes to the Commons set-up - plus the potential for reform to the House of Lords, incorporating a PR electoral system for all members in a House that currently also has a Tory-Liberal/Lib Dem majority - suggest that Labour may be out of office for a considerable period of time.

Now I know I should let the dust settle - the election was only one week ago after all - but look at this the way I am.  Yes, we still have to wait and see how this coalition holds up, how the policies fall, how agreements hold, personality clashes etc etc.  But the plan is that they will still be there heading into the election in 2015.  If they change the electoral system in anyway, it is likely (depending, of course, on how the electorate feel about them) to increase the number of Lib Dems, always maintaining a Tory + Lib Dem majority though unlikely to provide any single party with a majority.  Which means the parties could form an electoral pact, as seen in Germany with the CDU/CSU & FDP, and the SDP & Greens previously - a notion that would have been unthinkable a week ago.

Obviously I'm getting ahead of myself a little.  But there is some logic there - for both parties.  The world will change much in the next five (10?) years.  Tory policy on the EU may soften.  The economy may (hopefully!) recover.  The two parties may find themselves agreeing on more and disagreeing on less.  An agreement to keep both in power - at the expense of Labour - for the foreseeable future would be in both parties interests.

I wonder if that is playing on the mind of any future candidates for the leadership of the Labour party.

UPDATE - I just read Alex Massie of the Spectator on the very issue, and it seems he's equally speculative regarding the future - but paints an equally bleak picture for Labour.


Doug Daniel 13 May 2010 at 12:22  

Tom Harris' reaction is understandable and fair, but also extremely hypocritical in light of his own party's track record for creating No Confidence vote legislature. See the 1998 Scotland Act, and you'll see that Holyrood requires a 66% majority to overthrow the government -

So, this 55% thing is wrong, particularly as it would currently require an extra 2% coming from the Tory benches, but Labour needn't try to pretend they don't have form in this as well.

Quite simply, all three of the main London parties are as averse to proper democracy and accountability as each other.

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