Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Monday, 17 June 2013

No confidence in "Confidence and Supply"

Liam Byrne has come out in favour of a minority Labour government if there is a hung parliament where Labour are the largest party after the 2015 general election.

His view is that he thinks a minority Labour administration could achieve more than a coalition and also that the current government has "given coalitions a bad name".

In some ways this view is unsurprising. In the political memory of almost everyone in the contemporary PLP (at least in the Commons) they have never had to share power. Their experiences in government between 1997 and 2010 were of sole stewardship of the levers of government and it is hardly surprising that elements within would want to repeat that, even if the electorate did not want to give them a majority.

But there is an implicit assumption built into this idea from Byrne. For a minority government to have any stability it would require minor parties (likely including the Lib Dems) to be willing to agree a "Confidence and Supply" arrangement with Labour. This would mean them promising to support Labour in any confidence motion and also to allow budgets to pass.

I have previously detailed my views on confidence and supply explaining how I think it would give all of the downsides of a coalition but without many of the benefits. This would apply just as much in a potential arrangement with Labour as it would with the Conservatives.

I do not think my views on this are unusual. There are plenty in my own party who feel similarly, indeed that is one of the main reasons that the 2010 coalition went ahead as the alternatives were all worse in the views of the key negotiators.

So if Byrne's view prevails within Labour and they as the largest party in a hung parliament try to go for a minority government that is predicated on some pretty big assumptions about how smaller parties will fall into line and provide the day to day support needed to even perform the basic functions of a government. It is far from clear that would be forthcoming and it is somewhat arrogant in my view for Byrne to simply assume that it would and that somehow it would mean Labour could achieve more than it could in a coalition. In fact this is the same arrogance that Adonis betrayed in his book "5 Days in May" (that I reviewed here) where he and other senior Labour figures were convinced a coalition with the Lib Dems could work despite the maths not favouring such an arrangement based on a series of assumptions about how all the other parties would back them.

To an extent I can understand Byrne's wish to find a "better way" to govern were there to be a hung parliament. There is no denying that coalition has been tough and from the outside looking in to Labour politicians I can see why they might balk at such an arrangement themselves.

But the idea that a minority government would be better strikes me as tribalistic and short-sighted. Any minority government is unlikely to last more than a year or two and parties who show they are unwilling to work with others may well find they are punished at the ballot box at least as much if not more than those who are willing to take the risk of going into coalitions.


Nigel Ashton said...

We were well and truely shafted by Labour during the Lib-Lab Pact of 1977-78, which was in effect a Confidence and Supply Agreement. Never again.

KelvinKid said...

The SNP were able to run a successful minority government in Scotland for four years up to 2011. They were able to strike a succession of deals with a number of parties on a variety of issues. They were so good at it that they convinced the Scottish electorate to vote them in with an overall majority in 2011.

Anonymous said...

i have often thought that the liberals should have gone for a confidence and supply model instead of a coalition. i dont know what the correct model is i think its all about risk. i think confidence and supply minimises the risk for the junior party and maximises the risk for the larger one. coalition vice - versa. i think the idea comes from the greens who were concerned about being swallowed up by coalitions in france and germany.