Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Searching for heroes...

Who should the British left turn to in their quest for redemption? Owen Jones has the answers:

Francois Hollande, 26 May 2012:
The forces of austerity have had a kicking in France and Greece; in the Netherlands, for example, the anti cuts Socialist Party is doing well in the polls. The backlash against austerity has arrived in Britain, too. Space has opened for a radical departure from the consensus: it now needs to be tapped into.

Hugo Chavez, 8 October 2012:
Chavez has won fair and square. Despite formidable obstacles, he has proved it is possible to lead a popular, progressive government that breaks with neo-liberal dogma
Syriza, 22 December 2014:

Here in Britain, Syriza already represents a warning to Labour. The explosion in Syriza’s popularity has everything to do with Labour’s sister party in Greece, Pasok, coming to power and unleashing austerity on its own supporters.
Russell Brand, 4 May 2015:

Brand has been on a very public political journey, previously indicating his support for voting for Scottish independence and Syriza in Greece. He has been supportive of the Greens, and still calls on the people of Brighton Pavilion to return Caroline Lucas to parliament.
Podemos, 27 May 2015:

Study after study shows that most Britons believe in policies that are on the “left”: like a living wage, public ownership of utilities and services, or workers’ rights.

A Jones endorsement would seem to be something of a kiss of death...

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Well, yes

Public discourse in this country would be more civilised, productive, and robust if the left were less sanctimonious, less smugly certain of the righteousness of their cause, and more sensitive to the fact that everyone doesn’t see things their way.
I've mentioned before that this sanctimony is a real handicap for the left. As we're seeing in the Guardian this week, shrieking hysterically about how the other side is evil is a very good way of stopping yourself from thinking.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Calloo Callay!

Turn out I should have gone with my gut. I don't think I've ever been so astonished and delighted as I was by that exit poll. For even that to turn out pessimistic is just something else. Tory majority...

DC's obvious problem is that maintaining a majority of 4-5 over a Parliament is on the impossible side of difficult. Short of scrapping the FTPA and holding a snap election in 6 months (which would be punchy), there is one thing he could do to sort this.

The SNP have demanded full fiscal autonomy (so that as well as spending responsibilities, they also have tax-raising ones). The Tories' Strathclyde Commission recommended this anyway - so SNP and Tory policies are aligned. So offer that, and in exchange push through EVEL, ideally with SNP support, if necessary without.

The Tories have an 80 seat majority in England and Wales...

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Dangling from a Scottish rope

The one Tory attack that has really stuck this election is that a minority Labour administration would be dependent for its survival on the support of the SNP. It has stuck so well that Ed Miliband has been forced to disavow, in very clear terms, the idea that Labour would do a deal with the SNP. In fact, this is what he said:
he was “not going to have a Labour government if it means deals or coalitions with the SNP”
That's a very wide-ranging thing to say. No coalitions is one thing, but no deals? He went even further on the Today programme on Monday, saying that he wouldn't even have conversations with the SNP. I think I can see what he's driving at, but it's a very risky strategy. What he wants to convey is that his administration would not be dependent on the SNP; what he wants to promise is that he won't make any deals to get his Queen's Speech through. The problem is, of course, is that governing requires more than this - there are hundreds of bills that need to pass, and Labour would need SNP support for each one. The idea that this can be done without deals being cut (let alone without even talking to them) is absurd.

Labour are pinning their hopes on the line put by George Eaton:

The Nationalists’ leverage, however, would be weaker than they and the Tories suggest. Their pledge never to prop up a Conservative government automatically restrains their bargaining power. Roy Hattersley, who served in Callaghan’s cabinet, draws a contrast with the Liberals’ position at that time. “The only pressure on the Lib-Lab pact was from the Liberals in the country. The Liberals in the country didn’t want them to prop up a Labour government,” he told me. “The Scottish National voters desperately want a Labour government. Therefore the pressure is on them to come to a compromise with Labour in a way it wasn’t under David Steel. The trump card that Ed Miliband has in his hands is that Nicola Sturgeon will never be forgiven by Scotland if she’s instrumental in there being a Tory government.”
Labour, in other words, can put SNP support in their pocket and not worry about it. Unquestioning loyalty is guaranteed because, if the SNP don't support Labour, they put the Tories in. I'm not Scottish, and I find the surge in SNP support fairly baffling, but I don't think the SNP can be taken for granted like this. The key difference between the upcoming scenario and the Lib-Lab pact days is that in the late 70s Labour had a majority over the Tories. For Labour to fall, it needed the Liberals and the SNP to vote with the Tories to bring them down. If Labour have fewer seats than the Tories, then all that would be needed is the SNP's abstention.

A positive vote with the Tories to get rid of Labour would, I can see, be a stretch for the SNP. Merely refusing to keep propping up a failing Government? That's a much easier thing to imagine. And if Labour think they can avoid this without talking to them then they have another think coming.

So, it's a Labour budget, and the SNP have made noises that they might not be able to vote for it, because it doesn't give enough to Scotland. Does Miliband try and make concessions? His words above make that very hard. Does he ignore them and push on regardless? He risks losing the budget. He's painting himself into a corner that might prove very tricky to break free from...


Well, if the polls are right (and since last time I had a sort of gut feeling that they weren't, and then it turned out that they were, I'm going to stick with them this time), then we're probably going to see the Tories as the largest party, but unable to get to a majority even with the help of the Lib Dems. What happens next is really rather idle speculation - until we see what the numbers are, there's no way of seeing how the thing will work.

People are, however, getting very aerated about legitimacy. If the Coalition loses its majority, say Labour, then it will have no legitimacy and Cameron must resign. Ah, reply the Tories, but if the Tories win most votes and most seats, then a minority Labour administration, implicitly dependent on a separatist bloc of Scottish MPs would not have any legitimacy either. 'For God's sake,' reply various constitutional authorities, 'legitimacy is just numbers - any party that can get its Queen's Speech through is a legitimate one'.

The professors are obviously right in one sense. The actual law here is clear: the Prime Minister is the one who can command a majority in the Commons for his legislative programme. Equally, the law is clear that Cameron gets first go at trying:
Where an election does not result in an overall majority for a single party, the incumbent government remains in office unless and until the Prime Minister tenders his or her resignation and the Government’s resignation to the Sovereign. An incumbent government is entitled to wait until the new Parliament has met to see if it can command the confidence of the House of Commons, but is expected to resign if it becomes clear that it is unlikely to be able to command that confidence and there is a clear alternative.
Talk of a "constitutional coup" is balls. Cameron is entitled, as Prime Minister, to try and make the numbers work for him. If they don't, he will resign. That's where the problems start. For Cameron to have tried that approach, the Tories would have to have significantly more MPs than Labour: say 20 more. For Labour to form an administration in those circumstances, where they will have lost disastrously in Scotland, and appreciably in England will look odd to most voters. As Phillip Collins says, while a minority Govt formed by the second largest party is unquestionably legal, legality and legitimacy are separate concepts.

It's worth remembering in this context that in 2010, the numbers for a 'league of losers' coalition between Labour, Lib Dems, and nationalists just about stacked up. A Government led by Gordon Brown, and supported by every non-Tory party in the Commons would have had a majority. That would have been a Government that was perfectly constitutionally permissible, but would have had a continuing crisis of legitimacy.

Let's spare a thought for the potential nightmare result: Tories largest party but unable to get over the line with Lib Dem/DUP support; Labour second but unable even with SNP to get to majority. The rules say that Cameron should resign if he can't command confidence of the House AND there is a clear alternative. What happens next? Tune in next week...