Tuesday, 16 December 2014

How much real influence?

There was certainly something refreshingly different about the pictures of the leaders of the SNP, Plaid Cymru, and the EnglandandWales Green Party meeting in London yesterday.  Not at all like the usual pictures of senior politicians.  And I can certainly understand why the London-based commentariat, looking at things through the prism of Westminster politics, is taking more interest in parties which might, as they see it, hold the balance of power in a hung parliament after May next year.
But I wonder whether that prism isn’t giving them a rather distorted view, which looks rather different with a bit more analysis.  Paradoxically, it seems to me that the more electorally successful the SNP are next May, the less real influence they might end up wielding.  And I say that for a number of reasons.
Whilst the experience of voting for one party and getting a government of another has become commonplace in Wales and Scotland, it’s actually very much the exception in England.  The sheer size and dominance of England within the union means that, taken as a unit, it almost invariably gets the government for which it votes.  The only exception would be if the Tories had a slight margin in England which was more than balanced by an ‘excess’ of Labour MPs from Wales and Scotland.  If the SNP really do win anything like the numbers of MPs which some recent opinion polls have suggested, then the loser would be Labour, and the probability that the largest party in England would also be the largest party in the Commons becomes close to certainty.  England would get the government for which it voted.
Ah, but it might be objected, but how do they get their legislation through without a majority of the whole house?  Given that the SNP has a long-standing policy of not voting on ‘England-only’ matters (whilst there is the difficulty at times in determining which matters meet that definition, it’s pretty clear in a wide range of fields), the government of the day in Westminster doesn’t need a majority of the whole house, merely amongst those MPs from EnglandandWales, in effect.  And reaching that point looks like a much easier target for either Labour or the Tories to achieve.  It’s EVEL by any other name, but without having to change anything.
On UK-wide matters, such as defence or foreign policy, the SNP-led block would of course vote, but their votes would only count for anything if there was a significant disagreement between the Labour and Tory parties.  And on issues of war, peace, and weaponry, how often does that really happen?
Much as I’d like to believe that a hung parliament could be the stimulus for nuclear disarmament, it won’t happen.  Only a few self-deluded old stagers within the Labour Party could convince themselves that their party is really, deep-down, a party of disarmament.  It isn’t – Labour has supported (or even taken) all of the key decisions on maintaining and upgrading the UK’s nuclear weapons for decades.  And with the Tories and Lib Dems also committed to retention – disagreeing only about how the weapons should be delivered if they were ever to be used, with the Lib Dems perversely supporting a less reliable and less accurate approach to mass destruction – there is a huge majority in the Commons against nuclear disarmament.  The next election isn’t going to change that.
So what’s left to influence?  Fundamentally, only the budget.  And given that the three parties have already said that the only party they’d even talk to about that is the Labour Party, just how much would that party really have to concede to win a fairly trouble-free five year term?


Bored of Labour said...

I'm a cynical sort and would agree
the three parties might not have much influence, but at least their trying to articulate an alternative to City Banking and privatise everything else approach to the UK economy that Conservatives, Labour, UKIP and Lib Dems favour.

Plaid Cymru wont gain much either way, but if the SNP get 30 plus MP's and end up having no influence because Labour refuses to deal with them it would push Scotland further along the road to independence, so it's a win win for them.

John Dixon said...

"at least their trying to articulate an alternative to City Banking and privatise everything else approach"

'Articulating an alternative' is an entirely reasonable thing to do; over-egging the likelihood of it changing much is likely to result in unfulfilled expectations.

Anonymous said...

The SNP are not interested in either Plaid or Greens, they have thrown the "Nuclear" option as a red line that neither Tory nor Labour will cross.

The strategy is to force a second referendum as soon as possible.

John Tyler

Bored of Labour said...

'Articulating an alternative' is an entirely reasonable thing to do; over-egging the likelihood of it changing much is likely to result in unfulfilled expectations.'

So what are they supposed to do, adopted the Carwyn Jones/Rhodri Morgan approach of managing decline or worse do nothing, I'll never understand why a man of your experience is so incredibly naive when it come to politics, better to raise expectations and give hope (however false) than never try and change things, that's always been Wales and welsh nationalism's problem, no ambition.

John Dixon said...

John - I actually agree with you, up to a point, although I'd word it differently. I think it's unfair to suggest that the SNP aren't interested in Plaid or the Greens, but it is certainly true that the overlap of interests looks considerably less in a scenario where the SNP could hold the majority of seats in Scotland. That gives them a very different agenda. I also agree that they want a second referendum, but I'm not so sure about the "as soon as possible". That there will be a second referendum, I'm in no doubt. That it will happen sooner than seemed likely in the immediate aftermath of the first seems also fairly certain. But there's work to be done first.

Insofar as the SNP's tactics in the House of Commons post May 2015 are geared more to setting the scene for a further referendum than they are to wringing any concessions from a UK Government, then that inevitably gives them a different perspective and agenda from that of Plaid and the Greens, who between them are likely to have no more than 5 seats.

And that sort of brings me on to Bored of Labour's comment, which misses the point that I was making. Of course parties should try to change things rather than managing decline; the question is about tactics. A nationalist party asking for a few concessions on austerity is a remarkably unambitious approach. And in that sense, I agree with your comment about a long term lack of ambition.

Spirit of BME said...

Mr Dixon, for once you are behind the curve. Plaid support for a Labour administration is not about influence, but to get access to – “The Trough” – as with most parties.
Over the last decades Plaid has been led and controlled by a bunch of “Red Tories” who are enmeshed in the monarchist state and their institutions and their first step was to get members into the House of Lords (I did not vote for it). They now have a lot of time-servers coming up for retirement, so the dash for ermine is now on and as these people have spent all their political lives in the world of “lalaland” politics they are totally unemployable in the real world.

John Dixon said...


And there's me thinking that I'm a cynic!