May 7th, 2010

breaking bad

It looks like a Silly landslide

I've been waking up at 5am all this week out of anxiety. That meant there was no possibility of staying awake for the count. I saw David Mitchell announce the first exit poll at 10pm and zonked out. I have just woken up and spent some time on the BBC site trying to figure out what's going on. The Tories might just scrape it. However, as fjm just said on her blog, any majority may be rapidly whittled away by the personal peccadilloes of individual members. My constituency stayed Labour, with a 3% swing away.

My prediction is another election this year, like in 1974. The Lib Dems will begin by supporting the Tories, on various ghastly measures, gain a concession on PR and then find a pretext to renege on the deal as soon as there's an opening.

Obviously if they can gain traction the Lib Dems will attempt to use it to introduce PR: arguing that with 23% of the vote they are very under-represented in Parliament. This is because they represent an economic stratum which is not clustered geographically. I think however that people voting under PR will vote in new and unpredictable ways. The long term consequences may be splits in the major parties, but even the short term consequences at the next election are hard to call. It won't be 'take the current vote and run it through the electoral machine I just thought of'.

(ETA - delightful to see a high turnout for a change, though I am startled that people were turned away; that should never happen)

You might like this handy BBC flowchart of what happens next. My header is taken from Monty Python's election night special sketch.
breaking bad

Coalition politics

For the Tories, PR is a very difficult card to play. They must always seem about to offer it, in order to secure Lib Dem support inthe Commons. But once they do offer it, it becomes in the LDs interest to precipitate a vote of no confidence. Hence PR has to be trailed as permanently 'about to happen'. How long could they realistically keep that up? About six months tops I think. They might spin it out with a referendum, then a phased implementation over several years. Still risky though.

On the other hand, abandoning PR while giving Nick Clegg a cabinet seat (probably Foreign Office) and perhaps Cable as Chancellor is a much better strategy for the Tories. Not least because it gives Cameron an excuse to ditch his old friend/liability Osborne. This strategy locks the Lib Dems into the Tory project, and drains their credibility, while the Tories strengthen their electoral position (by faffing about with a commons committee and gerrymandering the electoral boundaries). Once they feel they have fixed things up enough, the Tories can ditch the Lib Dems. I think this would take more than six months, and probably ends with Clegg crossing over to the Tories.

It is in Labour's long term interest to stand back and let this happen.