It took a while, but the 2010 General Election is now more or less over, and a victor crowned. David Cameron of the Conservative party has been given the job of Prime Minister by Queen Lizzie, at the head of a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government. And it seems a lot of people are a bit miffed about this.
If you look around, there are a lot of messages saying things like “I voted Lib Dem to keep the Tories out – never again”. Clearly, some people didn’t understand what they were voting for, so I’m going to look back a bit at this election, and explain why – for now – we should wait and see what happens, rather than screaming blue murder.
The result and the choices
Nobody won the election – not the Conservatives, not Labour, not the Liberal Democrats, nobody. Our electoral system in the UK assumes the election of an undefeatable majority, which is why both Labour and the Tories spent so much time warning of the end of the world if a majority was not reached. In the absence of a clear majority, there are three possible outcomes – a coalition between multiple parties (traditionally seen by the public and the media as weak and unstable); a minority government which could be toppled by a single vote of no confidence (traditionally seen by the public and the media as weak and unstable); or going back to another General Election to see if a do-over would result in a majority.
So, in 2010, with the results we had, there were a number of possible options:
- A Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition (363 seats, majority government)
- A Labour-Liberal Democrat-Scottish National Party-Plaid Cymru-Social Democratic & Labour Party (or similar) coalition (327 or so seats, majority government) – the so-called “losers’ rainbow”
- A Labour-Liberal Democrat minority coalition (315 seats, minority government)
- A Conservative minority government (306 seats, minority government)
- A new General Election
Now, those are in order of number of seats, but not necessarily order of stability. But those were the choices we had. I don’t think anyone disputes that.
Vote Clegg, Get Brown
So, under the laws of this country, the first right to form a government when there’s no majority goes to the incumbent, which means Gordon Brown. People who were complaining about Gordon “squatting” at 10 Downing Street seem not to understand the law – it was the correct place for him to be, up until he either successfully formed a government, or failed to form a government and resigned.
So, from the numbers above, you can see that either the best Gordon would achieve would be a minority *slightly* larger than the Conservatives – something easily overturned if the Conservatives and any of the minor nationalist parties were to gang up – or the rainbow, which would be too unstable to last a week.
With the numbers the electorate came up with, there was never a feasible Lib-Lab option The pure Lib-Lab coalition would have been toppled trivially – and the rainbow coalition, fueled only by anti-Tory hate, would have lasted as well as any other political regime based purely on spite (i.e. it wouldn’t).
Vote Clegg, Get Cameron
So, how about the other options – the Liberal/Conservative alliance, or the Conservative minority? Well, as the clear least-losery party of the election (given nobody deserves the title “winner”), they had the most “right” to be in charge, like it or not. This is borne out by the number of seats the current system gives them – and the subsequent options it would provide (including the near-viability of a Conservative-only government). Whether Labour like it or not, it’s not people voting for the Liberal Democrats (who only got a 1% increase in vote share) who lead to the large number of Conservative seats – it’s the droves of people who abandoned Labour.
During and after the campaign, Nick Clegg said that in the event of a non-majority, then his party would speak first and foremost to the party which did best – which in this case was the Conservatives.
Vote Clegg, Get Clegg
Here’s the thing. There seem to be a lot of people who voted for the Liberal Democrats in the belief that it’d be a vote for “not Tories”. These people shouldn’t have voted for the Lib Dems, because clearly they’re against the main Lib Dem policy of vote reform. Vote reform in any form would increase the likelihood of hung parliaments – which means an increase in the number of coalitions and deals. A vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote for coalitions and deals. And no, that doesn’t mean coalitions of “anyone but Tories”, that means any coalition or deal which helps push the individual parties’ manifestos with a minimum of compromise – which sometimes might mean the Conservatives, and sometimes mean Labour and sometimes might mean SNP and sometimes mean DUP and so on. Not only that, but electoral reform would help the small parties too – full STV, the preferred system as far as the Lib Dems are concerned, might well give commons seats to UKIP or even the BNP, as a “fair” representation of their voters (over a million votes between them).
A vote for the Liberal Democrats has resulted in the Conservatives dropping some of their policies entirely (such as the inheritance tax changes).
A vote for the Liberal Democrats has resulted in the Conservatives adopting some Liberal Democrat policies (such as the move to a £10,000 income tax free band).
A vote for the Liberal Democrats has resulted in the Conservatives going against their own future chances at power, and secured movement on vote reform (a first step system called AV where the winner is the least hated candidate).
And, whilst the specifics of the deal haven’t come out yet, we can assume that a vote for the Liberal Democrats has also added the farcical Digital Economy act to the Tories’ “Great Repeal Bill”, a laundry list of Labour laws that the Tories want stripped from the books.
A seventh of the coalition is Liberal Democrat. Five members of the new cabinet, including the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, are Liberal Democrats (though only Clegg and Danny Alexander as Scottish Secretary have been announced so far).
Vote Clegg, Get…
So, here’s the thing to take away from all this: if a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition were the same thing as a Conservative majority government, then there wouldn’t have been any need for five days of negotiation. If a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition were the same thing as a Conservative majority government, then there’d have been no change in the income tax threshold – but there’d have been a change in inheritance tax. The Lib Dems will keep the Tories honest, and achieve more of their manifesto than they’ve ever been able to before.
My advice to anyone stewing that they voted for a “coalitions are good” party believing them to be an “anti-Tory party” is: wait and see.