Some random thoughts on latest dramatic developments in the UK, all the more random for lack of sleep.
First the Really Good News.
As for the feverish politics, note the following.
It is not only that the new Parliament is ‘hung’, ie no party has an overall majority. It is so exquisitely awkwardly hung, opening the way to manifold permutations and machinations in theory and practice.
The point of our system is that a government should have a working and reasonably reliable majority in Parliament, enabling key business to be done.
That majority mainly depends on the total number of seats each party wins. But not exclusively.
So NB distinguish:
– a coalition (where two or more parties do a deal to maintain a Parliamentary majority, with MPs from those parties getting roles in government). In principle the most robust outcome, but it raises very awkward issues of sustained trust as between the key Ministries needed to get the different coalition elements on board. (See eg the miserable experience of the Law and Justice party in Poland with the populist parties Self-Defence and Polish Families from 2005-07)
– a ‘positive’ Parliamentary pact, where one minority party sets up a government on its own with some sort of formal understanding that other parties will join it to vote FOR certain key laws in return for not bringing the goverment down any time soon
– a ‘negative’ Parliamentary pact, where one minority party sets up a government on its own with some sort of informal understanding (or maybe a de facto expectation) that other parties will not vote AGAINST key laws – perhaps because no-one wants or can afford a new election for a while
In each case the issue in practice turns not on how many total seats the parties have, but instead on what operational expected majorities from here and there can be mustered in Parliament going forward.
Many permutations possible with varying degrees of potential stability, involving varying degrees of bluff and nerve.
NB the issue of avoiding new early elections will loom large in the respective leaders’ thinking – expensive, and what might be different/better/worse if they happen?
Not to forget that in mainland Europe you tend to get coalitions/alliances between parties. In the UK you get coalitions/alliances within parties.
By which I mean that the key party leaders have to brood on how far their own party would accept in practice different possible deals.
Would the Eurosceptic trending Conservative Party risk a split over EU policy within its own ranks if a deal was done with the Europhile Lib Dems?
Would the Lib Dems risk a split between its own socialists and liberals if they cut a deal with the Conservatives?
Would Labour (or Conservatives) be able to deliver a vote on electoral reform to satisfy Lib Dem requirements? (The point being that all MPs elected under the current somewhat idiosyncratic but well understood voting system will tend to want to keep those arrangements. Any ‘reform’ is bound to leave some MPs likely to lose out next time round, a turkeys-unimpressed-by-Christmas-scenario).
Damon Runyon may or may not have said this:
The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet
In this context, the widest range of options and (vitally) sense of momentum is with the party which has much the biggest haul of seats and the highest number of votes, ie the Conservatives. Plus neither Labour nor the Lib Dems can afford a new election soon.
Which is why on balance after a flurry of uncertainty and desperate babbling brought about by sheer exhaustion, I expect David Cameron to lead the next UK government for a while under some sort of formal or informal arrangement as outlined above.
If this happens, an uneasy game of chicken will ensue: the Conservatives in effect will be saying to Parliament every day: "Vote us out if you dare – and face the consequences"…
Update: good analysis trending in the same direction from Brian Barder.