Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Does the Lords reform debacle make a coupon election more likely?

My first thought was "highly unlikely" but the more I am mulling it over the more I am wondering if the inevitable dynamics that will result from the latest coalition debacle could move things in that direction.

The first thing to note is that without the boundary changes Labour are now overwhelmingly favourite to win the next election outright, probably with a big majority. I know 3 years is a long time in politics but the idea that the Conservatives (and Lib Dems) are going to recover in a major way from their current lows with the economy in such a mess and austerity on the menu for several more years to come is somewhat fanciful.

The second point is that if Labour win in a big way in 2015 then the other two major parties can likely kiss goodbye to any chance of office for another political generation. We saw after 1997 how much the large majority cushioned Labour against future election losses. It could be 2030 before the Blues or Yellows are seriously contending for power again.

But of course it's a massive leap to go from that fairly sober reflection of reality to implementing a deal whereby the Conservatives and Lib Dems allow the coalition partner a free run at certain seats. It's all going to boil down to the following issues:

1) How much do Cameron and Clegg want to retain power? If they are serious about keeping their hands on the reins after 2015 they are going to have to very seriously think outside the box.
2) Even if they wanted to, how well could they control their respective parties in the country to adhere to any deal? There is significant and growing animosity amongst the grassroots of the coalition partners and the idea that PPCs in potentially winnable seats may have to stand aside "for the greater good" is likely to be very hard to swallow.
3) How would such a deal be treated by the electorate? I can certainly imagine Labour making all sorts of hay with the idea that the coalition was trying to stitch up the election.
4) What would the long term calculations be? For the Tories there may be less downside. They would get the chance to retain power rather than face a potential decade or more in the wilderness. But history suggests that for the Lib Dems were they to go along with a plan like this they could be subsumed by the larger political partner. And even before that it could easily cause a split with "Independent Liberal Democrats" leaving the party to fight on their own terms.

On balance I still think this probably won't happen but you never know. I've observed throughout my politically aware life that politicians will do almost anything to hold onto power. John Major clung on until the bitter end in 1997 and even announced a 6 week proroguement of parliament in order to just eke out another couple of weeks. Gordon Brown endured indignity after indignity to stay in a job that it would seem he didn't even really enjoy and even tried himself to form a coalition with a party whom he despised (and whose name he consistently got wrong!).

I do not underestimate the allure of power. Especially for those who already have their hands on the tiller.

1 comment:

Adam said...

I can't see it. The Tory backbenchers were not so concerned with winning the next election that they'd see unelected peers phased out. And Lib Dem members similarly simply wouldn't have it.

If both parties are that scared of a Labour majority, there's a much simpler route. Cameron will offer us a package of policies in return for backing the boundary changes, which still have to go to a vote. It doesn't look good for Cameron or Clegg but better than a coupon election or certain defeat.

Throw in the possibility of a 2015 EU referendum and a new airport/runway and there's a good case for a proper second coalition agreement as part of the coming renewal.