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The beginning of the end of the UK coalition

by Gary J Wed Aug 8th, 2012 at 03:47:03 AM EST

I do not think that the events of today [Aug 6] will immediately end the coalition. They may however be the start of a slow loosening of ties, which may break up the coalition towards the end of next year.

Nick Clegg has today made a statement confirming that House of Lords reform is to be dropped, due to the opposition of Conservative backbenchers and the opportunism of Labour.

The failure of Conservatives to support House of Lords reform is condemned as a breach of the coalition agreement. As a result Liberal Democrat MPs (including ministers) will vote against the implementation of the Parliamentary boundary review. The boundary commissions are due to report by October 2013, so the vote on the Orders in Council to give legal effect to the changes would be expected to take place in late 2013 or early 2014.

If a majority of the House of Commons votes against the boundary changes, the existing boundaries will be left unchanged. This did happen once before. In the late 1960s the Labour government did not want to implement a boundary review. Home Secretary, James Callaghan, complied with the legal obligation to present the Orders in Council for Parliamentary approval, but asked Labour MPs to vote against. The 1970 election was held on the boundaries in force since 1955, with the new boundaries finally being introduced by the Heath government, with effect from the February 1974 general election.

Continued after the fold.

front-paged by afew

The Liberal Democrats proposed a compromise, which David Cameron has rejected.

Throughout this process my aim has always been too honour the Coalition Agreement in full - no more, no less. I stood ready - and stand ready - to deliver reforms that are controversial for my party because that is part of a wider, reciprocal arrangement.

That is why, for instance, in a last ditch attempt to keep both sides of the bargain intact, I suggested a solution that would have allowed us to progress with both reforms: a referendum on Lords Reform on election day in 2015, with first elections to the Lords taking place in 2020, while deferring boundary changes to 2020 too.

That would have been in keeping with the Coalition Agreement - in which neither policy had a set timetable. But this offer was not accepted.

So we must now restore balance to the Coalition Agreement, allowing us to draw a line under these events and get on with the rest of our Programme for Government.

I can think of only one precedent, in the last century, for ministers voting against the policy of the majority of the cabinet but remaining in office. That was the so called "agreement to differ" in 1931. This allowed the National government to introduce protection, with the pro-free trade Liberal ministers opposing the policy.

It remains to be seen if Conservative ministers will be prepared to agree to a similar "agreement to differ" in this case. In 1931 the Tories knew the protection policy would pass, whatever the Liberals did. In the present case the Conservative policy would be blocked by Liberal Democrat votes.

It also remains to be seen what the voters will make of Lib Dems accepting economic and other policies such as NHS reform, whilst causing a major row over constitutional issues.

I think voters will be spitting with fury.

Clegg has cursed at least one generation by doing a violent U-turn on tuition fees, and supporting the continued dismantling of the NHS.

He has stood by and whistled idly while disabled job seekers are bullied and harassed, the chronically ill are forced to work, and the long-term unemployed are - literally! - coerced into forced labour.

But he chooses to draw a line in the sand about Lords reform.

Nice one, Nick. Good luck persuading voters that your party has anything to offer in the next election.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Aug 6th, 2012 at 05:50:47 PM EST
It remains to be seen what the general public make of events (and particularly the 10% or so who have been supporting the Liberal Democrats in recent polls).

Anyone who was going to give up on the Lib Dems, because of Conservative elements in coalition policies, has probably already done so.

by Gary J on Mon Aug 6th, 2012 at 06:04:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Strategically, the issue is The Third Party is no longer credible as a Labour vote splitter.

From the days of the Soc Dems with Shirley Williams and the rest, the splitters have made it possible for the Tories to push through policies that have no real electoral support.

I have no idea if Williams knew what she was doing, but considering she ended up working for Harvard and the Institute of Politics I wouldn't find it surprising.

Clegg is part of that long-lasting Third Party tradition, with the difference that his enabling has been overt rather than covert.

So we're back to Milliband's Blair-ish weak-tea third-wayism - which is better than having Tory nutters running around breaking things, but only marginally.

If I'm right I think we'll see another splitter movement during Milliband's second term; they're just too useful not to have one around.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Aug 6th, 2012 at 06:22:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Who do you think would lead the SDP mark 2. David Milliband perhaps? If the kid brother can have a party to run, why not David?
by Gary J on Mon Aug 6th, 2012 at 06:55:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In the logic of what you suggest, a splitter movement would only be necessary if Ed Miliband were to quit the Blair-ish weak-tea third-wayism.

What do you say, Ed?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Aug 7th, 2012 at 02:44:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ed Milliband strikes me as a bit more sincere than Blair.  I was wondering if he was aspiring to be a Labour version of John Major.

John Major was famously a cricket fan. Ed Milliband outed himself as also being one, when he appeared on the BBC Radio Test Match Special programme a few weeks ago. He then admitted that the old Yorkshire and England player (and famously opinionated commentator) Geoff Boycott, was his childhood hero.

I do not think think attending the cricket was just a sham, just to get some niche publicity. Not only did Ed Milliband attend The Oval Test (in south London) when he was on the radio, but the Second England v South Africa Test at Leeds where he was attending in his own time. The commentators on Test Match Special reported that, during a rain break, the Leader of the Opposition was seen following Boycott (the Yorkshire County Cricket Club President) to go and look at the Yorkshire cricket museum.

What all this says about the policy Ed Milliband would follow, if he became Prime Minister, is difficult to say. Labour has been quite evasive about exactly what they would do if they were restored to office, since the last general election. I suspect it would not have been enormously different from what the coalition has done, so far as austerity politics is concerned.

by Gary J on Tue Aug 7th, 2012 at 03:54:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
For better or worse, being evasive until much closer to the election has been the opposition tactic for about 20 years now. I doubt we'll get much more understanding of Ed until the next election looms.

FWIW, I think Labour would have started out on the austerity road in a similar fashion to the coalition, but would have U-turned by now. There are plenty of Blairites who are in love with the nonsense economics of austerity (and the class war side-effects) but where Tory and the remaining Lib Dem voters are all for shrinking the state, no matter what the cost, there would be more pressure on a Labour government to change direction.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Tue Aug 7th, 2012 at 06:11:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think Ed probably is more sincere than Blair (what a benchmark...).

But being a Geoff Boycott fan doesn't plead in his favour. I mean, cricket, yes, but Boycott...

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Aug 7th, 2012 at 03:37:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well having listened to the Interview, His earliest International was the game where Boycott scored his hundretdth century, during a test match and was carried shoulder high by the crowd. You can see why it would have an impact. (TMS is a cultural icon and with a sunlamp and apropriate herbal acompaniment was my winter holiday on my sofa, especially when play was in the Carribean)

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Aug 7th, 2012 at 06:37:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Boycott can definitely run his pie-hole.  Imagine how entertaining it would be for him to start holding forth on political topics.
by rifek on Wed Aug 8th, 2012 at 12:14:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sir Geoffrey rocks

I was listening to the Test Match commentary. And Jonathon Agnew was complaining that the security had been so tight it took him an hour to get into the ground. So out of nowhere came Geoffrey Boycott, who sneered "We've Tony Blair to thank for that."

"I'm sorry Geoffrey," said Agnew, with a hint of "WILL you keep quiet" but Boycott asserted "Tony Blair's to blame for that. He was told if we went to war with Iraq it would increase the risk of terrorism but he wouldn't take any notice."

"Well," said Agnew, "I think it's the terrorists to blame really," mumbling as if he had a dozen producers yelling into his earpiece "SHUT HIM UP - distract him by suggesting he was weak against left-arm spinners or something."

But Boycott held firm, which was how British radio broadcast for surely the first time ever the sentence "We should never have invaded Iraq in the first place that's pushed out gently on the off side and there's no run."

by LondonAnalytics (Andrew Smith) on Fri Aug 10th, 2012 at 10:09:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Gods, that's funny.  The latest test with SA could have used such a distraction.
by rifek on Wed Aug 29th, 2012 at 01:53:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What would it take to be less sincere than Blair?  Richard Nixon's dead.
by rifek on Wed Aug 8th, 2012 at 12:12:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Clegg cursed his party by entering the coalition, so why shouldn't he curse everyone else?  The Lib-Dems will be a rump after the next election, with defectors going both directions.  I wonder if both Tory and Labour radicals will be emboldened, knowing that the moderates have no viable alternative to defect to.
by rifek on Wed Aug 8th, 2012 at 12:19:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I would have thought that those who were going to leave the Liberal Democrats, have already done so. The effect of joining the coalition has been bad, in electoral terms, but not as catastrophic as some political opponents hope.

The party overall has been weakened, but I am not (at the national level) seeing the shredding process, which tore apart the Liberal Party between the World Wars.

Then you had cross-cutting schisms, with the Asquith-Lloyd George division of the 1920s giving way to a three way factional split in the 1930s (mainstream Liberals, Liberal Nationals and the Lloyd George family group). There were members of all these groups who ended up going left, right or forward. For example of Lloyd George's MP children, Gwilym ended up as a Conservative and Megan as a Labour MP.

by Gary J on Wed Aug 8th, 2012 at 02:29:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There were figures earlier this week that membership had fallen by 25% over the last 12 months

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed Aug 8th, 2012 at 01:34:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Less shredding than the interwar period is not wholly optimistic...
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Wed Aug 8th, 2012 at 01:41:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem is that, with FPP still in place, ANY losses relegate the Lib-Dems to level two.  They had to play for PR or something closer to it to hold on, but Clegg punted it away.
by rifek on Wed Aug 29th, 2012 at 01:49:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well I do think that the LibDem seat count will come out worse than it would from calculating their votes from the last election but that's working from just one constituency.

I will do a diary at some point explainig how I think that will come out.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Aug 7th, 2012 at 06:40:41 PM EST
Ceebs, I shall be interested to read your views.

I find it difficult to estimate the potential Liberal Democrat seats after the next election, particularly given the uncertainty about the boundaries.

My best guess is that the Liberal Democrats will retain at least between 6-14 seats, which was the range of the number of constituencies the Liberal Party won in elections between 1945 and 1974. The current party is still significantly stronger and better organised than the Liberal Party was in the mid-twentieth century, so I may be underestimating its capacity to win seats in the next general election.

Trying to estimate precisely which seats may be retained, on present boundaries, will need some work but I have looked at Scotland.

Orkney and Shetland (a Liberal/Lib Dem seat continuously since 1950 and composed of two Scottish Parliament seats which went Lib Dem last year) is the safest Liberal Democrat seat. Alistair Carmichael, the Lib Dem Chief Whip (and government deputy chief whip) is well placed to be re-elected.

There would be a chance of Charles Kennedy retaining his seat (Ross, Skye and Lochaber), although probably no others could be held in mainland Scotland particularly if Ming Campbell retires.

by Gary J on Tue Aug 7th, 2012 at 07:38:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But note that from 1999 to 2012 their share of the vote in Orkney has dropped from 67.4% to 35.7%. It may not be as safe as it was.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Wed Aug 8th, 2012 at 02:43:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree that the Liberal Democrat vote has declined in Orkney and Shetland, but not to the point that the seat is likely to be lost. The fairly even split between SNP, Conservative and Labour support, together with the difficulty of an Independent candidate gaining support in both Orkney and Shetland, leaves the Liberal Democrats well placed.

Nothing in politics is absolutely certain. The past is not necessarily a guide to the future, but I still predict that the Liberal Democrats will retain Orkney and Shetland at the next general election.

by Gary J on Wed Aug 8th, 2012 at 07:28:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In the longer term, a near-wipeout in the next election tells us little about their prospects after that. There will be a large number of electorates where they will be second (to Lab or Con, depending on region). And after a term of a Labour government with a large majority, they will probably flip a large number of Lib/Lab seats. And Labour's strategic interest will no doubt to have disaffected Lab voters going to Lib not Con.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Wed Aug 8th, 2012 at 04:11:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Very good point, eurogreen. The next election will be difficult for the Liberal Democrats, but they retain underlying strength as the third largest UK party, with the prospect of making progress again in the longer term.
by Gary J on Wed Aug 8th, 2012 at 07:34:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why is everyone discounting, say, the Green Party as a "third party" in England?

If you are not convinced, try it on someone who has not been entirely debauched by economics. — Piero Sraffa
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Aug 8th, 2012 at 04:18:02 AM EST
Because you can't get there from here.

FPP politics, in a country as conservative as Britain at least, requires historical incumbency. The libs aren't going away : on balance, it suits the two bigger parties to have a buffer between them.

The inertia in FFP is huge. The historical precedent of the emergence of Labour, pushing the libs into third party status, was only possible because it coincided with the introduction of universal suffrage.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Wed Aug 8th, 2012 at 05:07:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
England is not Europe™.
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Aug 8th, 2012 at 05:39:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Green Party has a few patches of support. It has, at least, managed to win one parliamentary seat. This suggests that the Greens have got a better idea than UKIP, that you need to concentrate efforts to win seats in a first past the post system.

However the Green Party has not, so far at least, demonstrated any major increase in support since the coalition was formed. They are not challenging for the status of the English third (and Welsh fourth) party.

I would have thought that UKIP have wider, but thinly spread, support. They also do not seem to be mounting a serious challenge, at the UK Parliament level, to the Liberal Democrats third placed party status.

by Gary J on Wed Aug 8th, 2012 at 07:49:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The UKIP are more of a threat to the Tories than Labour or even the Lib Dems.

They're supported by head-banging elderly tabloid readers, and they have a veneer of sophistication which the various overtly racist parties have never been able to acquire.

If Cameron had drifted leftwards there would have been some high profile Tory defections. Now that the coalition is creaking the risk seems to be lessening, but there could still be some UK IP scalps in a general election - especially if the Cleggeron attempts to patch things up by making someone like Cable chancellor.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Aug 8th, 2012 at 08:07:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem for UKIP is that there's no real will on the right to replace the Conservatives with UKIP MPs. (I think they have a better chance regarding MEPs.)

Without some defections, any constituency that looks like tipping to UKIP will see huge investment from Tory funders to make sure that the Tory wins...

As such, it's very hard for UKIP to gain MPs as they have little support in non-Tory areas.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Wed Aug 8th, 2012 at 01:45:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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