Wednesday 7 January 2015

Not so grand

The media and some politicians have given a lot of attention recently to the idea of a grand coalition between Labour and the Tories if the next election produces, as seems highly likely, a hung parliament.  The idea is not without a certain logic; looking at the avowed policies of all the parties currently represented in the House of Commons, the two with the most similar outlook are undoubtedly Labour and the Conservatives.  Whilst there are some minor differences of emphasis, on all the major issues there’s a high level of agreement.  And faced with demands from other parties for either the abolition of Trident or a retreat from austerity (or both), they’d find it easier to agree with each other on the substance of those issues than to yield any ground.
But the UK isn’t Germany, and we don’t have the sort of proportional voting system which makes hung parliaments the norm.  Both the major parties are clinging to the notion that an overall majority for one party is the UK norm, and that the last election was nothing more than a temporary aberration.  They expect their version of ‘normality’ to return soon.  And given that the apparent probability, as it currently appears, of a large block of SNP MPs is part of the reason for the speculation, their expectation isn’t entirely unreasonable – after all, post Scottish independence, that problem will disappear.  Besides which, and despite the pitifully minor differences between them on policy, the Labour and Tory parties are going to spend the next four months defining themselves in terms of not being the other.
Short of a major UK crisis – and I don’t think that a block of 30-50 SNP MPs led by Alex Salmond really counts, even if it might look like that to some commentators – I really don’t see any possibility of a grand coalition.  We are, after all, dealing with politics here, not logic; and the two things rarely coincide.
Anyway, the speculation is driven in part by a false premise, which is that a stable government needs to have the guaranteed support of 326 of the 650 MPs to form a workable administration.  The commentators are simply looking at the numbers to see what combinations might arrive at that magic number, but there’s more to it than that.  
Certainly, there is a need to come to some sort of arrangement in order to get a budget approved by a majority in parliament, but for all the hand-wringing about the deficit, they all know that, in reality, they have plenty of room for manoeuvre.  The sort of money they would need to find to ‘buy’ a majority for a budget is chicken feed in the overall scale of things.  And (unless the SNP changes its policy in relation to voting on ‘England-only’ matters) on most policy issues a majority for the government of the day will only need around 280-290 votes; a much more achievable target for either party, particularly if they have the support of even a much reduced group of ever-compliant Lib Dems, whose own policy catalogue isn’t that different in any event.
Much as I’d quite like to see Labour and Tory lining up together formally, I simply don’t see it happening in the real world.  It would help to expose how little difference there actually is between them, and how narrow the Overton window within which political ‘debate’ is allowed, something which neither of them will be keen on, to say the least.  They’ll avoid that at all costs.  But none of that will stop the pundits speculating of course – they’ve got column inches to fill.


G Horton-Jones said...

Given the post 1945 political situation that has become entrenched in the English psyche that a two party state is all they can hope for -- it is little wonder that the English cannot see beyond the choice of Labour or Conservative governance

The Governance of England is going nowhere in this scenario

Spirit of BME said...

As always I cannot fault your logic on this issue, but I do not reach the same conclusion.
If the election does not produce a winner the current election system does have a remedy , namely the Head of State, who gets the job by the grace of (the Anglican) God has a chat with God and decides what is best for her subjects and calls in who she wants to kiss her hands – well, that`s the theory.
In a no winner scenario the elected politicians lose a lot of their power as they cannot produce a solution, then the State with it vested interests comes more into play.
If the largest party invites the SNP then the military establishment might baulk at that .If UKIP is invited with a fast track Europe out referendum, then the City of London might deem that bad for business.
There has only been one National Government in peace time and that was in 1931, where the world finance was in a delicate state and big shifts in voting with the rise of Labour. The Establishment has only one task – to defend the realm and as the system is designed for two party operation, a swift 12 or 18 months National Government might well be the answer in this troubled economic world, but it will also send a message that voting for smaller parties next time round is futile.