UK Election Questions

by Harry on May 1, 2015

I have been following the UK election as much as I can given an unusually heavy workload for the time of year. Fortunately the campaign seems to have been pretty dull, so I haven’t missed much—and all the fun will be watching the results come in and finding out what nobody seems to know about the outcome. Most of my following of news is either reading or listening – I don’t watch much. So I miss certain nuances and tend to give politicians the benefit of the doubt when I hear them say things that either seem stupid or are mystifying. So, to get to the point, when I have heard Ed Miliband say that he will not go into coalition or do a deal with the SNP, I have tended to think—well, of course he is saying that to try and scare Scots into voting Labour, but he doesn’t really mean it and, when the time comes, he’ll do what he has to do to become Prime Minister.

But I just watched him on Question Time, and when I see him say it, he really seems to mean it . My first question is: does he really mean it?

One possible outcome is that Labour has the by some distance the most seats of any party, but falls well short of a majority, and can govern successfully in (some sort of) partnership with the SNP. On some possible versions of that, the Tories could not form a majority coalition even with the UUP, the DUP and either the LibDems or UKIP. Second question: Even if Miliband really does mean, now, that he wouldn’t do a deal with the SNP, would he renege on that in such a scenario? Third: What would the political consequences for him be if he did renege?

Please will our UK resident contributors and commenters try to enlighten me?



The Tragically Flip 05.01.15 at 3:18 am

Feels a bit like what we have here in Canada where the Liberals and NDP were roasted by the Conservatives for trying to establish a coalition with the support of the “seperatist” Bloc Quebecois in late 2008. The Bloc weren’t even going to be part of the Government, they merely agreed to support a joint NDP/Liberal government in confidence votes for some period of time.

I don’t know how effective this was with the general public, but the Liberals had a coup and the new leader (Michael Ignatieff, yes, that one) immediately backed out of the deal.


Neil Levy 05.01.15 at 4:39 am

Not currently resident in the UK, but when I left the election campaign was in full swing. The current campaign is genuinely bizarre: on the one hand we have Labour, who everyone believes will likely be in government in a coalition with the SNP, saying that they will never be in coalition with the SNP. On the other hand we have the LDP, who is currently in coalition with the Tories, talking about what evil bastards the Tories are.

Neither of them mean it. This is pre-election posturing; the LDP to try gain a shred of the credibility that have lost over the past 5 years and Labour to attempt to minimize the damage stemming from the Tory campaign, which essentially consists in arguing “a vote for Labour is a vote for the SNP, and the SNP are SOCIALISTS”. Miliband wants to try to reassure middle England that they can vote for Labour and get the Tories light. But I don’t think many people believe him (or rather, they don’t believe that they will get Tories light sans SNP).

By the way, it seems exceedingly unlikely that Labour will have the most seats. They would easily were it not for the SNP, but the Scottish wipeout makes it overwhelmingly likely that the Tories will have the largest number. I would still bet on a Labour-SNP coalition for the next government.


Joe M 05.01.15 at 4:44 am

Miliband really does need a coalition with the SNP, and could get the 326 seats required with no third party if it performs well on polling day.

The trouble however is not only that Miliband would dissuade Scottish Labour voters from voting Labour. It is the story the press would make of it; currently the major rightist outlets, Daily Mail, the Sun, Times etc. (and of course the Tories) are making a big deal about Labour potentially being ‘in the pocket’ of the SNP come election time. Of course, this is pretty much entirely baseless. But so far, the Tories have thrown a load of scare stories about Labour at the wall to boost polling (Miliband is weak, the economy is strong, crazy tax policies) and this SNP fear is the only one that’s appeared to have stuck. Lots of English voters resent the Scottish for having benefits the English don’t have, like free uni and prescriptions. (Also lots of Tory politicians have heavily implied that teaming up with a nationalist party somehow undermines democratic legitimacy.) So I’m hoping Miliband is holding out and trying to keep the focus on his party till Thursday.

The consequences of reneging would likely be quite serious in terms of his national image- huge denunciation from right-wing (and probably some leftist) press, not to mention the Tories themselves. This doesn’t matter though as long as a proper deal is being negotiated to make Miliband PM. I’m only hoping that all of this current no-SNP posturing is just posturing. You’re right- Miliband has ruled out coalition and confidence+supply more than any leftist should be comfortable with.


Chris Bertram 05.01.15 at 5:23 am

I’m finding it all pretty unbearable here. It is a campaign with no hope, but a mixture of fear and indifference (apart from in Scotland). The Tory campaign has been a mixture of risible and irresponsible promises (from the party of fiscal responsibility, ha ha) and demonisation of Ed Miliband, which hasn’t really come off. No energy, no enthusiasm. My prediction is for more right-wing coalition government, with the Tories and a weakened Lib Dems being propped up by the DUP. But then, I’m a pessimist about these things. My voting advice for England is to normally to vote Green if your MP is Caroline Lucas and in all those other cases where it won’t make a difference against Labour (unless your MP is of the ilk of Hoey, Field , Danczuk, Mann etc, in which case vote Green anyway).


Momentary 05.01.15 at 7:02 am

I think there’s a lot hanging on what “do a deal” means. He won’t do a coalition with the SNP, but he doesn’t need to, as long as the SNP (and the Greens and Plaid Cymru and possibly the Lib Dems if they unload Clegg) will vote in support of him forming a minority government, and won’t vote in support of the Tories forming a minority government. Whether that will require him to promise them anything, other than “not being a Tory”, is the question.

And yes, as @3 says, the posturing is for the benefit of English voters who believe the scaremongering about the SNP. Ugly to see.


Adam Roberts 05.01.15 at 7:05 am

I was listening to an election demographic/poll ‘expert’ on radio 4 last week who sketched out ten possible permutations of result, from Con overall majority through all the variations of no overall majority to Lab majority. In eight out of those ten, he said, Cameron will still be PM. I am not hopeful.


Momentary 05.01.15 at 7:18 am

@Adam Roberts fivethirtyeight is forecasting at and it’s hard to see how your radio 4 guy came up with 8/10. What it does show, if they’re right, is that the Lib Dems may wind up in a position where they have enough to be the kingmakers for Labour but not enough to be the kingmakers for the Tories again.


Joe Perry 05.01.15 at 7:23 am

What happens, I think, depends on the SNP. After all, they could vote for a Labour Queen’s Speech and Budget without any explicit deal. And Nicola Sturgeon has said many times that she would never prop up a Tory government. If Cameron is defeated in a confidence vote (which he’s frankly likely to be), then Miliband will be the only possible choice for PM, governing in a minority government which will have to work legislation through on a vote-by-vote basis. Not exactly a recipe for stable government, but it might still be workable


John Hayter 05.01.15 at 7:37 am

Nate Silver doesn’t call it here.


Abbe Faria 05.01.15 at 7:43 am

He’s serious. If he’s lying labour gets hit like the LibDems in 2020. But Miliband just doesn’t really need to negotiate.

Unlike the LibDems, the SNP will not let a Tory government stay in power. If left parties have a majority any Tory Queen’s speech gets voted down and Cameron’s government fails – he doesn’t need to negotiate for that. Miliband can then become PM and put up his manifesto item by item, and give the SNP a chance to vote it down. They’ll be reluctant to do that – negotiation or not – for at least a good chunk of the manifesto, as they’re to the left of Labour and want left policies to do through.

You don’t need to negotiate with someone more extreme than you who has no other alternative.


Matt Matravers 05.01.15 at 8:14 am

Abbe Faria is right (or so it seems to me). Up to now, EM had ruled out a “coalition” with the SNP. Now, he has ruled out any “deal”. To go back on that would be suicidal. He must be betting on Cameron not being able to command a majority in the House. The Queen then has to (has no choice but to) call on him to try to form a Govt. He puts his Queen’s Speech to the House and effectively challenges the SNP to vote it down by voting with the Conservatives. Assuming the SNP does not do that, EM then has to get each piece through (some, like the renewal of our nuclear bomb bearing submarines, with the support of the Conservatives and against the SNP, others with the SNP and others).
Two thoughts: the Tory press are already laying the ground for claiming that EM would have no legitimacy having “lost” the election (assuming he has fewer seats than the Tories). It might be roughly true that his Government would not have any democratic legitimacy is some sense, but constitutionally he doesn’t need it. He only needs to be able to get each serious bit of legislation through the House one way or another. Whether that will run politically is an interesting question.
Second, the SNP have also restricted their options by saying they would never vote with the Tories. I think they are more likely to go back on that than EM is likely to go back on his ruling out of a deal with them. It is worth noting that the SNP voted en bloc (I think there were a dozen or so of them) to bring down the Labour Government in 1979 with the result that we got ….. Mrs Thatcher).


Dan 05.01.15 at 8:32 am

Unfortunately, I believe it.

Yes, it is idiotic and a betrayal of everything his party should stand for.

Except: exactly the same thing happened last time. Labour could just about have cobbled together a majority coalition (or at least confidence+supply) from lib dems, SNP, and DUP. But labour rejected it off the bat, mainly because of the loathing between SNP and Scottish Labour.

[admittedly, such a coalition would have been outrageously fragile. But the fact that they didn’t even try makes me queasy]


Momentary 05.01.15 at 8:33 am

Matt @9 It is worth noting that the SNP voted en bloc (I think there were a dozen or so of them) to bring down the Labour Government in 1979 with the result that we got ….. Mrs Thatcher).

Well yeah but that’s kind of like the USA Republicans claiming to be the party of Lincoln — this is not the 1979 SNP.


Phil 05.01.15 at 9:00 am

I’ve been writing about this on my blog. Unfortunately it’s turned out to be a much bigger question than I thought – four separate posts instead of a couple, and I’m still halfway through the last one (which is the one about what Labour are playing at).

The story so far: Labour and the Tories are both talking about getting a majority; barring some extraordinary triumph or disaster in the next few days, neither of them is going to. The Tories will probably be the largest single party in the House of Commons, but nothing, absolutely nothing, in British constitutional history or in current operating procedure (which has been codified – google ‘Cabinet Manual’) says that being the largest single party matters a damn. The Tories may have a majority together with the Lib Dems and perhaps the DUP, but it’s likely to be a very, very small one. Labour almost certainly will have a majority together with the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the SDLP and the Green[s], and quite probably with the SNP alone. UKIP aren’t going to get more than three MPs – my bet is two – and nobody wants them on their side anyway. (Hopefully this election will be the dawn of the irrelevance of UKIP.)

Nick Clegg is telling anyone who will listen that the Lib Dems (a) would never ally with either the SNP or UKIP and (b) believe that the largest single party should have first go at forming a coalition. The Tory press, meanwhile, is pumping out the message that nobody should ally with the SNP – any coalition involving the SNP would be illegitimate – and that the largest party should form the government. It’s fairly clear why they’re doing this; what Clegg is up to is less obvious, particularly as it gives the Tories a huge incentive to try and gain seats from his own party.

Thanks to the voting system, the SNP currently look like getting 90% of the seats in Scotland on 49% of the vote. If that happens a lot of Scottish Labour MPs will lose their jobs, and a lot of Scottish Labour voters will go unrepresented. So it’s understandable that Labour are fighting for every vote in Scotland, which necessarily involves making out that electing an SNP MP will have a totally different result from electing a Labour MP – which in turn means ruling out a coalition. I understand that.

My worry is how deep the opposition to the SNP goes. I think there are three main possibilities, which unfortunately get worse in ascending order of probability.

1. Perhaps we’re still waiting for the other shoe to drop – just as Labour announced they were going to “control immigration” and then revealed that this actually meant enforcing the minimum wage so as to stop gangmasters illegally undercutting British workers. Very clever. (Perhaps a bit too clever, but that’s by the way.) Perhaps in a couple of days Miliband will say something like, “I said ‘No deals,’ and I meant it. But that’s not to say I’ll refuse support if it’s offered. We’ve got a plan, and we intend to stick to it; if other parties want to support that, great. I say to them, we’re not going to change our plan to suit you – we’re genuinely not interested in deals. But if you want to support Labour’s plan for the country, please do.” I think that would shoot several foxes & almost certainly make Miliband PM. Unfortunately I can’t see him doing it. I hope I’m wrong, though.

2. The Labour leadership may be thinking in terms of a minority government. Ruling out a deal may not make much practical difference. In a minority government the parliamentary arithmetic would be exactly the same as in a coalition – the government’s majority would just be re-assembled every time, generally from the same parties as the time before. This would have the additional advantage of disrupting the Tory/LD bloc by encouraging individual MPs – or entire parties – to support Labour legislation. A hegemonic strategy, in other words, from a position of apparent weakness. I think this would appeal to Miliband on several levels.

3. Sadly, the explanation for Labour’s current tactical choices may be simpler than either of these: it may be that they’ve bought the Tory line, illegitimacy of SNP involvement in government, largest-party-goes-first and all. Or at least that they’ve taken the decision to act as if they’d bought it, as they did in 2010 (disastrously) with the “Labour overspending caused the crash” story. (Miliband is challenging that now, but it’s a bit late.) Miliband is certainly taking a very hard line on the SNP (“I am not going to have a Labour government if it means deals or coalitions with the SNP”). Jim Murphy, leader of the Scottish Labour Party, has openly endorsed the ‘largest single party’ model, saying that a strong result for the SNP would directly benefit the Tories: “If this poll [giving the SNP all the seats in Scotland] is repeated on election day, David Cameron will be uncorking his champagne, because he might cling onto power; not because Scotland’s gone out and voted Tory, but because Scotland has voted against the Labour party and made sure David Cameron has the biggest party”. Debating with Nicola Sturgeon, Murphy even said… well, this:

Murphy also indicated that Labour would resist pressure to vote down the Tories if David Cameron’s party became the largest in parliament. Murphy told Sturgeon the last time the losing party had formed a minority government was in 1924. “It was so long ago, there wasn’t a Queen’s speech. It was a king’s speech,” he said.

Sturgeon retorted that Gordon Brown had tried to broker a deal to continue as prime minister despite coming second behind the Tories in 2010 – disproving Murphy’s thesis. But the Scottish Labour leader implied that the former prime minister was wrong, saying there was “an unstoppable force” behind the Tories which made it clear they were correct to form the government.

Largest single party = “unstoppable force”? Constitutionally speaking this is just nonsense, and from a Labour politician it’s defeatist nonsense.

In short, there are three possibilities still open: an informal alliance on Labour’s terms; a Labour minority government; and a Tory (or Tory/Lib Dem) minority government, with Labour letting them back into power because hey, largest party, whaddayagonnado. I really, really hope it’s not the third of these, and I find it hard to believe that a politician as calculating as Miliband would have that as his game plan. But those quotes from Murphy are quite ominous.

One more quote, from Nicola Sturgeon:

“I heard Ed Miliband and he sounded awfully like he was saying – and I hope I’m wrong about this because I think people across Scotland and the rest of the UK would be appalled if I’m right – he sounded as if he was saying that he would rather see David Cameron and the Conservatives back in government than actually work with the SNP.

“Now, if he means that, then I don’t think people in Scotland will ever forgive Labour for allowing the Conservatives back into office. But if he is a minority government, then he will not be able to get policies through without winning support from other parties.”


Maria 05.01.15 at 9:06 am

I was really surprised by it – Milliband’ saying he won’t do a coalition/support deal with SNP – and put it down to the anti-SNP scaremongering by right wing press. Which is all incredibly hypocritical given the politics Cameron is prepared to play with the union, just to shore himself up in the shires.

Like Chris, I’m disheartened by the campaign and agree with is diagnosis that it is utterly devoid of hope or indeed conviction. I live in Kate Hoey’s constituency and have actually been pretty impressed by her at various hustings. But happily enough, we have a Pirate Party candidate here ( So I can vote against the Tory/Labour stitch-up on state surveillance.

I wish being pro-Europe, generally pro-immigrantion (what with being one albeit a a white, educated ‘oh we don’t mean YOU’ type) and punishing the poor was a view the main parties catered for, but it’s not. So I am taking my vote and feeling bashful and about basically making a protest vote, but that’s what I’m going to do.


SKapusniak 05.01.15 at 9:15 am

This whole ‘deal’ question is mind-bendingly, face-palmingly, head-deskingly silly, because the Fixed Term Parliament (FTPA) act changed the rules of the game.

Unfortunately it seems few of the politicians down South, including the ones who passed it, seem to understand what it says, and the media seems (as usual) to be utterly clueless. Or at least it is suiting them all to pretend to not understand.

There is now a single specific form of motion that has to be passed to give confidence to a government, and a similarly a single specific form of motion to deny them confidence.

Nothing else now actually counts as far propping up or bringing down a government is concerned. Voting against any other bill or motion, cannot bring down a government even if that government loses.

If you read the SNP Manifesto, you see that it is almost entirely written in terms ‘we will support/we will oppose’, and many of the policies are exact duplicates or very near analogues of other parties polices. It isn’t a traditional manifesto at all, instead it is a very public roadmap of which way the SNP is intending to vote on a range of things that might come up in the House of Commons. Including a range of stuff Labour is likely to propose.

So in the scenario — by no means given — where Labour + SNP has a majority, unless Labour are willing to go into coalition with the Tories (or possibly voting with them for an immediate second election, which under the FTPA requires 66% of the House of Commons), I don’t think there is any way for for Ed Miliband to avoid becoming leader ofa Labour Minority government with SNP support.

As Ed Miliband isn’t actually leader of the SNP, he can’t stop SNP MPs from granting him confidence, and then voting as they have pledged or see fit, for or against, with no effect on that confidence, on the individual bills he brings forward.

Queen’s speeches are pretty much now irrelevant except (I believe) for relations with the House of Lords under the Parliament Act, as are shout-y declarations that ‘voting this measure down, means voting down the government!’.

The closest historical precedent for all this is actually the SNP Minority Scottish Government at Holyrood from 2007 to 2011, and not Westminister in the ’70s.

Apparently down South and in certain Scottish Labour circles, the SNP going ahead and doing this is seen as sticking it to the them good and ‘calling thei bluff’ for reasons I as a mere inhabitant of Scotland am unable to discern.

It score points in some kind of machismo heavy Westminster based pissing contest, I guess.

The politics of Scotland and England have apparently evolved into such a mutual state of incomprehension, I now can’t even begin to guess how baying hounds in the press, and the English public would react, and whether they would consider it ‘reneging’, should all that come to pass.

All I know up here in Edinburgh, is that stating a preference of letting the Tories in rather than dealing with SNP is, shall we say, a rather ‘brave’ stance to take.


Gareth Wilson 05.01.15 at 9:16 am

I’m pro-Europe, pro-immigration, and in favour of punishing the poor too. Unless that was a typo.


Salem 05.01.15 at 9:34 am

I don’t believe in the Labour minority government thesis, if they have to rely on implicit SNP support. The SNP is not a more-left version of Labour who have to support any Labour government for fear of something worse. They are a Scottish party who want specific giveaways and constitutional advantages for Scotland. Labour would find it extremely difficult to keep them happy even within a formal deal, and without one it will be next-to-impossible to give them enough concessions to keep them happy, while maintaining the fiction that the SNP is just supporting Labour’s agenda. The SNP will never prop up a Conservative government, but they might be very happy to bring down a Labour one in a way that leads to a Conservative election victory.

If Milliband is serious about no deal with the SNP, then I think we are heading for a second election.

If Milliband breaks the promise I think we are in uncharted territory. Such a betrayal would likely lead to electoral meltdown at the next election, so ordinary Labour MPs would want to rebel. It all depends on how easy it is for Labour to get rid of him as leader (seems very difficult according to the rules, but as those rules have never been tested, who knows how it would work in practice).

The Tories may have a majority together with the Lib Dems and perhaps the DUP, but it’s likely to be a very, very small one. Labour almost certainly will have a majority together with the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the SDLP and the Green[s]

If Tories + Lib Dems + DUP is a majority, then Labour + SNP + Plaid + SDLP + Greens can’t be.


lacero 05.01.15 at 9:50 am

The constitutional games Cameron and clegg are playing are absolutely disgusting, especially the idea that anyone but the biggest party has no legitimacy.
Nothing is making me want to vote labour more, and I find myself in a lib lab marginal for once.

This campaign has been defined by Cameron avoiding debates, newspapers screaming what are basically lies to avoid any new rules, and bizarre letters signed by anyone who once spoke to cchq.

I’m usually into elections but this one has really put me off.


Phil 05.01.15 at 9:52 am

#13 – Oops – your arithmetic is correct! If Labour and the SNP between them have 310 seats, there is no possible Tory majority. If Labour’s performance drops a bit below that, though, either Con/LD/DUP or Lab/LD/SNP could scrape a majority. Tough choice for the Lib Dems: the leftie Scottish secessionists or the Ulster reactionaries who have incited violence against the Lib Dems’ sister party?

Disagree on the SNP, though – they’re a left-of-centre party, probably no further Left than Labour apart from a couple of issues, but certainly nowhere near as right-wing as the Lib Dems. No way would they torpedo a Labour minority government just for the hell of it.


lacero 05.01.15 at 9:52 am

Salem@13 by under the fixed term parliament act how can they bring down the government? Once they let someone them in they’re in.


Somf 05.01.15 at 10:21 am

Skapusniak is right about the parliament act.
I am sure I heard Sturgeon saying a couple of weeks when pressed “would you bring down a labour govt” that the act meant it couldnt happen in the way thequestion was phrased – so its very likely the SNP already have it as a rationale to put to voters for when they do vote against Labour.

labour has never needed to go into coalition with the SNP and has always had the minority govt option for the reasons given by posters above – the media is confusing electoral success with parliamentary leverage.

The SNP are not left or right they are nationalists -everything else is secondary and changes from year to year.

I like Ed milibands strategy – the polls are within margin of error, the most unpredictable element is the scottish vote and the tory scares around the SNP have some traction in middle england so labour has to send a clear message to both scottish and middle england voters that SNP will get nothing extra out of a LAB govt.


sanbikinoraion 05.01.15 at 10:24 am

I’m quite certain it’s Phil’s #2 that Miliband is aiming for: minority government, in coalition with the Lib Dems, with de facto support from the SNP because the SNP have declared loudly that they won’t let the Tories in.

If the SNP were to force a 2nd election by blocking Labour’s minority administration, they themselves would take a kicking at the polls, and Labour would be the big winners.

The numbers are getting awfully tight now, though — we really could end up in a position in which the Lib Dems effectively get to decide who to join to form a government. I suspect getting a second coalition with the Tories past the party’s triple lock would be signficantly harder this time around because the party rank-and-file are still far more left-wing than Clegg, particularly if there’s a valid Labour option on the table at the same time.


Salem 05.01.15 at 10:24 am

Disagree on the SNP, though – they’re a left-of-centre party, probably no further Left than Labour apart from a couple of issues, but certainly nowhere near as right-wing as the Lib Dems. No way would they torpedo a Labour minority government just for the hell of it.

The SNP are a left-of-centre party, but they are a Scottish left-of-centre party. Of course they would torpedo a Labour minority government if they thought that a politique de pire would help towards Scottish independence. Here’s a clue: did the SNP’s seeming takeover of Scotland’s MPs take place under a Labour administration?

Salem@13 by under the fixed term parliament act how can they bring down the government? Once they let someone them in they’re in.

It just needs a bare majority of the House of Commons to vote no confidence in the goverment, and a new election is held. See here. This could even be gamed by the governing party voting no confidence in their own government.


Maria 05.01.15 at 10:24 am

Gareth @12, it was indeed a typo.


sanbikinoraion 05.01.15 at 10:41 am

To follow up on the numbers specifically, here’s the “worst case” for Labour based on the worst polling I’ve seen for them:
* Tory: 290
* Labour: 258
* SNP: 53
* LD: 25
* DUP: 9
* UKIP: 3

In this case, the Tories can muster a fragile peace with a rainbow of Tory+LD+DUP getting to 324 (with nowhere-else-to-go support from UKIP to tip them over the notional bar of 326 although in practice it’s 323 when you eliminate the Speaker and Sinn Fein’s seats).

In contrast, the polling averages look more like this:
* Tory: 280
* Labour: 265
* SNP: 50
* LD: 27
* DUP: 8
* UKIP: 3

In this case, the Tory+LD+DUP+UKIP combo gets a maximum of 318, whereas Labour+LD gets 292 with prop-up support from the SNP making 342. This looks a lot more stable assuming that the SNP play ball by passing Labour’s Queen’s Speech and budgets; there’s some flexibility in there for individual MPs to rebel without making Miliband look vulnerable.


JohnD 05.01.15 at 11:08 am

Best I can work out from the current polls two of the odder parts of the UK constitution (the voting system and lopsided regional structure) are finally about to clobber each other. The First Past The Post system is going to give the regional SNP, Plaid and the Ulster party far more seats than the national Lib Dems and Green parties, although the latter will almost certainly get more votes. As a result only Labour may well get well beaten in England (85% of the UK), but will then be the only party capable of forming a minority British government with SNP support.

At that point, the SNP in particular will have every incentive to demand policies that essentially transfer English resources to Scotland in return for even tacit support. If they get them this will a) make them more popular in Scotland and b) finally force the Tories to become an explicitly English party – it will be such an obvious angle of attack on Labour (English money to Scotland for SNP votes), which will weaken the Union. If fail to get anything they will be able to point out to their voters that despite an overwhelming Scottish mandate, they could get nothing out of the British Labour government, further weakening Scottish Labour and the government. More generally, Labour will be dependent on a party that fundamentally benefits from making the British government look like a failing waste of time. It’s worth looking to the US for what happens when legislative progress is dependent on a party that wants government not to work.


sanbikinoraion 05.01.15 at 11:28 am

What will be interesting to see is whether the Lib Dems have another crack at electoral reform under a Labour Party whose regional heartlands have been wiped off the map by the nationalists — Labour has always been mildly ‘for’ electoral reform on fairness grounds but resolutely against it on pragmatic loss-of-seats grounds. Now that they’re about to lose the seats anyway, will the fact that every party apart from the Tories is committed to some sort of electoral reform finally tip the balance?


Chris Bertram 05.01.15 at 11:33 am

What Ed Miliband pledged was that he wouldn’t preside over a Labour-SNP deal, so, in the event that such a deal is necessary, step aside Ed.


Lacero 05.01.15 at 11:34 am

@salem I had misunderstood the requirements for proposing a no confidence motion, thanks. I think it’s very unlikely the SNP would kick up a fuss and force an election.

They have a choice of working with Labour or Conservatives, or making no government possible. Of those three options only working with Labour won’t destroy them.


Mr Punch 05.01.15 at 12:14 pm

Sanbikinoraion’s point is a strong one. I think. Electoral reform is a (the?) key Lib Dem issue, which they signally failed to achieve through the Tory coalition; it’s a reason to switch partners and a route to some sort of redemption for the party and for Clegg.


FBH 05.01.15 at 12:15 pm

The SNP has already said they’re not interested in a formal deal. The thing is both sides know they don’t actually need one. Labour and the SNP are very close politically, and Miliband will probably find that policies he likes are the ones that the SNP will vote for given he’s trying to drive Labour left.

Given both parties are one another’s major opponents in Scotland, it’s not too surprising neither is really willing to work with the other on a formal basis.

He’s serious. . . in as much as a formal deal is kind of irrelevant given the SNP would self evidently prefer him to Cameron.


Somf 05.01.15 at 12:24 pm

Also its another example of how strategically disruptive miliband can be when he is at his best (murdoch, syria etc) . Just as media and politicians settleinto a consensus about game theorising the different types of coalition, Miliband changes the narrative and soon the pressure will build in the tory party and press about why they arent ruling out a coalition this time… Just watch.


JohnD 05.01.15 at 12:33 pm

I think some commenters are missing the point of the SNP. The goal of the SNP is not a slightly more left-wing UK, the goal is an independent, (and fairly left-wing) Scotland. Consistent with this, Nicola Sturgeon, the party’s leader, is not even standing for election to the UK parliament. As a result a successful, stable minority Labour government, reconciling Scots to both Labour and the UK would be the worst possible result for the SNP’s long term goals ( starting with winning next year’s Scottish elections).


Somf 05.01.15 at 12:34 pm

Re electoral reform –

AV referendum was in last parliament though, hard to justify another and not same for scottish referendum ?


Cathal 05.01.15 at 12:38 pm

@Chris, 29 – a different country, different context, and different story to be told. But such a thing happened in Ireland. In 2007 then leader of the Green Party Trevor Sargent said he would resign as leader and would not accept a seat at cabinet if the party went into coalition with Fianna Fail after the 2007 election. The numbers stacked up in favour of a FF-Greens-Progressive Democrats coalition, negotiations started, the Greens got some minor concessions, and FF-PDs were propped up again for another term. Sargent resigned following the negotiations, but he slipped around the side door and came back into the fold after being nominated as a Minister for potatoes and garden cultivation by then PM/Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Sure Bertie was a man you couldn’t say no to, even if all it was was a bit of plámásing, and at any rate, he was no longer officially leader of the Greens, so he wasn’t reneging on any commitment at all at all…apart from now being in cabinet. Another Green Party member Ciarán Cuffe wrote prophetically in 2007 that ‘a deal with Fianna Fáil would be a deal with the devil. We would be spat out after five years, and decimated as a party.” The Greens walked before they were spat out, resigning from government in 2011, but they were wiped out after the election later that year anyway when their six elected politicians not only lost their seats but polled so badly that they could not even claim back election expenses. And that’s the end of that diversionary side story. As for what’s happening in the UK, it looks like a pretty turgid affair from the hiberno side of the pond.


Somf 05.01.15 at 1:14 pm

Chris @29 –
I cant see that happening as I think milibands position is a strategic one for Labour and would make sense to those leading the party also.

A coup to remove him cannot happen quick enough because of labours party rules and would totally confirm the Tory attack line that Lab is subservient to the SNP.

Also he has been trying to ‘brand’ Labour as a party that engages with voter cynicism and apathy by not making promises that are unlikely to work (and explicitly saying when thiscomes up e.g immigration numbers) so doing something shifty like that would be damaging.


sanbikinoraion 05.01.15 at 1:24 pm

Somf — I think the results of this election are going to make people sit up and pay attention. The SNP are about to get 50 seats with approx 2.5% of the national vote share, putting them well ahead of the Greens with 1 seat from 6%, UKIP with 3 seats (maybe) on 18%, and Lib Dems’ 25 from 10%.

We’re going to not only see the second-largest party become the Government, but the right-wing parties Tory+UKIP gaining a bare majority of the national vote share, but locked out by a regional party hardly anyone gets to vote either for or against — who despite getting a minority of the votes in their region have won going on 100% of the seats. It’s utterly, utterly perverse, whichever way you dice it.


casmilus 05.01.15 at 1:36 pm

See John Lanchester’s blog at the LRB for 30.04.15

Looks like the LDs are positioning for a deal with Miliband.


Harry b 05.01.15 at 1:40 pm

Thanks, this is great.

One response to Dan at #12 — I heard an interesting world service reflection on the 2010 election, with various insiders saying that in the weeks leading up to the election both the Tories and the LibDems had devoted a great deal of time to thinking about what to do if the parliament was hung — working out scenarios, figuring out what bargaining positions to take, what pledges to ditch if they had to. And Labour arrived the morning after the election having given it no thought at all. This would help explain why they didn’t even try. Presumably SOMEBODY is thinking this stuff through, despite Miliband’s public stance.

With enough seats, Labour can do a deal with PD and the Unionists or the LibDems minus Clegg. Depressingly, of course, the Unionists would be the left wing of a Unionist/Tory/UKIP and or LibDem deal. Not clear that they wouldn’t be the left wing of a coalition with Labour.


JohnD 05.01.15 at 2:15 pm

sanbikinoraion – that’s right, it should be enough to force another rethink. Whether it will is up to the British public, who are notoriously uninterested in constitutional issues. As I said above, the interesting thing for me is whether the English will stay quite as keen on the Union if they are subject to a reverse of the Thatcher years – subject to a UK government which clearly represents such an unimpressive minority of English voters


Z 05.01.15 at 2:17 pm

It’s utterly, utterly perverse, whichever way you dice it.

I guess it depends on whether you think representatives in a representative democracy are elected to represent the people or the people of some geographical sub-entity. As it turns out, I rather agree with your implicit position (that the proportion of representatives in the parliament should be closer to the general share of vote) but that leads to other perverse outcomes (in the case under discussion, the majority opinion of the geographical area Scotland would be underrepresented).

All in all, the prospective results seem to be a good case for the full autonomy of Scotland.


sanbikinoraion 05.01.15 at 2:32 pm

> I guess it depends on whether you think representatives in a representative democracy are elected to represent the people or the people of some geographical sub-entity.

Well, that’s a problem in itself, isn’t it, in a system the regularly elects a representative who had more people vote against them than for them?


Dean C. Rowan 05.01.15 at 2:53 pm

Ian Masters devoted a show to the election yesterday: His featured interviewee was Prof. Toby Miller at Cardiff. I can’t say for sure they addressed the credibility of Milliband–I was listening on car radio while driving–but it was a good discussion about the election in general.


PlutoniumKun 05.01.15 at 3:05 pm

I’m not based in the UK, but my call on this is as follows:

Milliband is gambling on calling the SNP bluff. He knows full well that the figures indicate that a Labour/SNP (and possibly LibDem) coalition is the logical outcome, but he is also aware that the Tory messaging on the SNP is having a major impact on the doorstep. He has no choice but to firmly rule out a coalition.

This means in reality that the only possible Labour government (bar some amazing turnaround) will be a minority one based on the SNP not voting with the Tories. But he knows that it would be electoral poison for the SNP to force an election by siding with the Tories on an issue. Therefore, he is gambling that he can create a stable government, either as a sole minority Labour, or a formal coalition with the LibDems (and maybe SDLP and PC). This depends on either an informal behind the scenes deal with the SNP, or to simply face them down and defy them to vote with the Conservatives.

At first I thought that this was crazy, but looking more closely, I think it makes sense. Realistically, the SNP will probably not want to go into a formal coalition with Labour – and any such coalition would be potentially very unstable, with the right wing rags constantly railing about over-powerful Scots. So, since such a coalition is unlikely to succeed, it makes political sense to rule it out now (when he can gain electorally from it), and rely on an informal, behind the scenes deal with them if necessary. In reality, this is what would probably happen anyway.

It does, however, put huge pressure on the SNP to decide how to approach this. Most likely they would consider bringing down a Labour government to be far too risky, so would be reluctantly content to accept a private deal based on protecting Scottish interests and a somewhat more radical Labour government (which I suspect Milliband wants anyway, I get the impression is his significantly more radical that the overall Labour leadership).


CJColucci 05.01.15 at 3:11 pm

I admit it, I’m just looking forward to hearing about Chancellor Ed Balls.


Jameson 05.01.15 at 3:49 pm

I think a major factor in Miliband’s strength of feeling here is the bad blood that must still exist in many Scottish Labour circles towards the SNP. The referendum campaign was often nasty, was less than a year ago, and I wonder if any move towards suggesting that the SNP are not that bad would drive down those remaining core Labour voters. There are decent numbers still in Scotland who would not reward any suggestion that they might vote Labour and get SNP, even though we all expect it.


Scott P. 05.01.15 at 3:59 pm

Wouldn’t the logical strategy be to have Labour and the Conservatives (and any others of note) form a Union Party for Scotland, all agreeing to divvy up the districts so there was only one non-SNP candidate per district?

But I guess petty politicking is more important than the preservation of the Union.


JohnD 05.01.15 at 4:12 pm

Scott, my understanding is that the Conservative brand is currently so toxic with Scottish voters that the first whisper of such a pact would move the chances of a Labour wipeout from ‘Likely’ to ‘Certain’. That’s not going to help the Union either.


Ronan(rf) 05.01.15 at 4:38 pm

I have a question about the Lib Dems that I wonder could someone clarify. I actually voted for them last time (having lived in England for only 7 months at the time, Labour couldnt win in my constituency and they seemed to have a number of decent policies) but I havent really been able to work out where they stand (ideologically,so to speak) over the past 5 years.
Are they politically closer to the Torys or Labour ? They seem to be a conventional liberal party in some ways (on small government, civil rights etc) but also not full Tory on the welfare state etc
How can they shift alliances (potentially) so easily ? Would their base be closer (demographically) to Labour or Tory voters ?


Scott P. 05.01.15 at 4:44 pm

“Scott, my understanding is that the Conservative brand is currently so toxic with Scottish voters that the first whisper of such a pact would move the chances of a Labour wipeout from ‘Likely’ to ‘Certain’. That’s not going to help the Union either. “

Not sure I understand. The outline of such a deal would be Labour candidates for most of Scotland, with a few Conservative candidates in the border counties. Throw in one for a minor party or two to get them to buy in if necessary.

There wouldn’t need to be a Union platform, although in principle it ought to be possible, with both Labour and Conservatives agreeing to support it whichever is the majority.

The premise is SNP is not a majority party, at least not in every district. Would non-SNP voters really reject any alternate candidate, no matter who they are? Then they statement I tried to quote about SNP having more power than their numbers warrant isn’t really correct. SNP would realistically be a majority party for all of Scotland.


harry b 05.01.15 at 4:55 pm

Ronan — others can disagree, but my take is that it is a pretty broad church, with some left of center, some right of center, and many quite unprincipled (ironically, I think, a legacy of the SDP), and how they act is (right, left, unprincipled) is subject to the somewhat arbitrary electoral process (the parliamentary party is not very representative of the membership) and the fact that as a small parliamentary party they have a tiny pool of possible leaders — so even if they are, on average, left (or right) their only plausible leader might be right (or left). If Clegg loses his seat they, and the Labour Party, will have much more room for manouevre than if Clegg keeps his seat. That said, the psephologists I have been listening to think their presence might be much reduced, and then who knows.


JohnD 05.01.15 at 5:02 pm

Personally I would probably characterize the Lib Dems as a classically Liberal party with a strong additional willingness to try and step in and adjust policy to help out people who suffer from such policies, especially economically. ( they’re a merger of the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party after all. ) However the position is somewhat complicated by the fact that for a long time they were the ‘other’ party, with a lot of protest votes (and members). 5 years of compromised government have obviously wiped out that part of the base. I suspect a coalition with Labour would have had much the same effect.


harry b 05.01.15 at 5:07 pm

Also, about many decades of not having thought at all about what they would do in government (eg, tuition fees).


Salem 05.01.15 at 5:51 pm

As others have said, the Lib Dems are a broad church. However, their activists are mostly ex-SDP, or in that line of descent (whereas their voters are very much not), so this complicates things greatly. The activists are the ones who go to conference, become MPs, etc, so they can push the party in a non-representative direction. I think the Orange Book group are more representative of the Lib Dem voter base than the likes of Matthew Oakeshott would allow.


nick s 05.01.15 at 6:37 pm

You don’t need to “do a deal” to be supported in a confidence motion. Miliband’s position is based on the best alternative to a negotiated agreement, given that the SNP has already pledged to keep the Conservatives out of government, and that there are plenty of English voters outside the circulation range of the Sunday Post who have expressed some aversion to having the SNP play any predetermined role in government. (Those voters have also expressed aversion to any coalition, even though collectively they’re going to vote for that outcome.)

We’re more likely to see the rump Lib Dems split than anything else, because that’s what Liberals do.

One curious aspect of the campaign has been how media attention has been directed towards how Miliband assemble a Commons majority, with none on Cameron. Given the seat projections, even if there’s a majority for Con+LD (perhaps with DUP support) it’s not going to be a continuation of the 2010-2015 coalition. And yet, not a dickie bird about that.


Phil 05.01.15 at 6:55 pm

The Lib Dems – and, I think, the Liberals before them – are a weird combination of civil libertarian left-liberalism, economic right-liberalism and (crucially) a deep vein of populism, which offers a quasi-principled justification for just about any combination or calibration of the first two on the basis that it’s What the People Want. Of course, once you’ve said that your policies are more *or less* civil-libertarian and more *or less* economically liberal, you’ve basically covered the entire political spectrum; almost anything can be justified on that basis. Hopefully that’s a trick that you can only pull once.


R Cottrell 05.01.15 at 8:03 pm

This is all so much number crunching and navel gazing. I am waiting for someone other than myself to notice that this election is about, foremost, the future of the British Union and within that, the future of the English component nation. Tam Dyell posed this issue years ago with his famous West Lothian Question: the rights of English MP’s to rule on Scottish affairs, and vice versa. It is now about to be answered.
The wretched Cameron, a product of the PR industry, gloriously over-promoted, has mangled the response (English votes for English issues) in such a fashion it is now an open invitation to consider both an independent Scotland and the English tearing along the dotted line known as the Border.
I aee also that has noticed (so far at any rate) the connection with Parnell’s Irish Fenians who kept the Liberals in power way back before WW1. The Irish nationalists held the balance of power in Westminster. We are in for a repeat performance. The English Question is bubbling just below the surface.
That is why Nats are on steroids. They have a simple West Lothian answer. If, and it is an if, Labour attempts a Queen’s Speech with Ms. Sturgeon’s support, it will by the inevitable course of nature, dictate both Scottish and English independence. I will not complicate the issue with the matter of Wales, but it may be an inevitable outcome that within a possibly federally structured English nation, London, which is already a greater city dynamo state, will demand its own devolved status.
Richard Cottrell (ex Euro MP)


Ronan(rf) 05.01.15 at 8:35 pm

Thanks all for the replies re the Lib Dems.


Steve 05.01.15 at 8:41 pm

Help! What in the world are you supposed to do if, like me, you have three options: vote for a party whose policies you support (the Greens), but have no chance of winning your seat; vote for a truly excellent sitting local MP who is a paragon of virtue within his party, but is, you know, a LibDem; vote for the career politician Labour candidate whose entire campaign seems to involve attacking the excellent LibDem MP? Quite apart from the unfairness of fptp, I’m still stuck on whether I’m supposed to be giving a mandate or voting for a manifesto….


Matt Matravers 05.01.15 at 8:51 pm

@R Cottrell (58). Here is a post by me from a Facebook discussion from a week or 10 days ago along similar lines:

I spent a fascinating afternoon with a historian today who didn’t think much of comparisons with 1992, but was interested in the 1885 election when Parnell led a nationalist block in Parliament of 85 (!!) seats.


thorazine 05.01.15 at 9:07 pm

@Ronan(rf) – I am a fairly new migrant to the UK (new enough that this election will be my first opportunity to vote here) and I have found the party system here extraordinarily arcane. (I mean, I can handle the idea of political parties that are defined by common political opinions, and I can handle the idea of political parties that are defined basically by tribalism and history, but the system here seems to do both of these things at the same time.)

With regard to the Liberal Democrats, I found an old Dsquared post particularly helpful – .


Phil 05.01.15 at 9:14 pm

Steve – you may well live in the same constituency as me! I’m voting Labour without the slightest hesitation, for entirely negative reasons set out (five years ago) here.


js. 05.01.15 at 11:29 pm

This is a wonderfully helpful thread. Thanks all. (Special mention for Phil @14, which is fantastic.)


djr 05.02.15 at 12:01 am

Scott P @ 48, 51:

What you propose would translate to “we don’t actually want your opinion on the political direction of the UK, we’ve decided who you should vote for, now do what you’re told.”

This might not have the result that you’re expecting.


LFC 05.02.15 at 2:43 am

Ditto what js. said (except I prob. didn’t read the thread as closely as he did).


LFC 05.02.15 at 2:46 am

p.s. and as a non-Briton, I haven’t understood every one of the details and refs; but interesting anyway.


Phil H 05.02.15 at 3:28 am

I think this is just all a long process of bedding in a non-two party system. Labour and the Tories want to go back to single party majorities, of course. But it doesn’t seem like that will happen. The Lib Dems are perceived to have done badly in their coalition: they had to give up on many of their pledges to support the Tories, and will undoubtedly be punished for it. What everyone is worried about is that in the next coalition, whoever it may be, the junior partner will be considerably bolshier than the Lib Dems, in order to try to avoid their fate. The rhetoric being used is that the SNP will hold their senior partner “to ransom” over certain issues.

What this reflects is that neither British politicians, nor the press, nor the public are yet used to a system in which every party goes in knowing that they’re not going to get everything they want. There isn’t a history of committed horse-trading to get a result, so no-one knows (a) how to do these negotiations, or (b) if some other party is going to blow the negotiations up. (Unlike many European countries, for example.) This will surely continue for another couple of elections, and then settle down. Once we’ve been through a few cycles of coalitions, minority governments, and broad alliances, everyone will start to get a feel for how it works, and that it does work, and we won’t have the scaremongering any more.

I’m glad the SNP are getting some traction, because it makes life easier. Five years ago we faced the possibility of the Lib Dems being permanently in power, allying with first Labour, then the Conservatives. It was an awful prospect. Now we have some options.


Eli Rabett 05.02.15 at 4:06 am

Now some, not Eli to be sure, might point out that after losing the independence vote Alec Salmond resigned as First Minister, leaving that pond to Nicola Sturgeon, in order to run for Parliament and that Salmond will be in a position to lead the SNP MPs at Westminster.

Salmond has always been known for his hate of the English and his deviousness. Salmond’s only other mission in life is an independent Scotland

That the SNP will play nice with Labour appears an assumption with little to back it.


nick s 05.02.15 at 4:16 am

Nothing else now actually counts as far propping up or bringing down a government is concerned. Voting against any other bill or motion, cannot bring down a government even if that government loses.

It’s worth reading Harold Wilson’s remarks in March 1974, during the Queen’s Speech debate, in which he set out the terms by which the minority Labour government would treat Commons votes:

The Government intend to treat with suitable respect, but not with exaggerated respect, the results of any snap vote or any snap Division… In case of a Government defeat, either in such circumstances or in a more clear expression of opinion, the Government will consider their position and make a definitive statement after due consideration. But the Government will not be forced to go to the country except in a situation in which every hon. Member in the House was voting knowing the full consequences of his vote.

Now, it remains to be seen how the limitations of the FTPA are handled in practice, given that it was enacted primarily to seal the coalition deal in 2010, not for long-term use: conventions die hard. A government in a parliamentary democracy that can’t pass a budget could conceivably be kept in office, like a plaything mouse that a cat doesn’t want to kill right now.


Igor Belanov 05.02.15 at 8:42 am

At this election, and in the years to come, Labour will pay for its timid conservatism on constitutional issues. They should have countered the Conservatives’ ridiculous ‘English votes for English issues’ mess-up and the SNP’s independence demands with the promise of a genuinely federal UK, plus a proportional voting system and abolition of the House of Lords. It is their unwillingness to confront these issues that sees Labour coming into the final week of the election campaign endlessly having to deal with arguments about their relationship with the SNP rather than concentrating on attacking the Coalition parties.


derrida derider 05.02.15 at 10:36 am

Igor Belanov @71 is right – Labour has sacrificed its long run position for short term gain in not going for something like preferential voting (the Single Transferable Vote in UK parlance).

The point is that if they had been the ones pushing that they would have been the ones controlling the detail (eg do voters have to fully state their preferences by numbering the ballot from 1 to xx or is it optional, or is who the vote is to be transferred to nominated in advance by the candidates, etc) – and that detail actually makes a big difference to outcomes. Sticking with First Past The Post in the presence of strong REGIONAL parties that compete with them was always going to cause them grief eventually (not to mention creating perverse outcomes from the POV of democratic legitimacy).


harry b 05.02.15 at 1:13 pm

Yes, Labour certainly has no grounds for complaint about this mess. Presumably the political class will, at some point, revive the AV/STV/PR system, realising that the FPTP system results in both arbitrariness and unpredictability of a kind that gives the leaderships of these parties less control than they would like over whom their MPs are. Also Scotland — the idea that a party with less than a majority of the votes would have almost every (or perhaps every) seat in a region is bizarre.

And I think Eli’s conjecture is something less than completely crazy. Quite a lot less.

Agree with js about the whole thread and Phil@14. I’ll set up an open thread on Thursday afternoon (my time, Central Standard Time) unless CB beats me to it, and will expect the commentary here to be superior to the commentary I’ll be watching on the BBC.. (And I like Jeremy Vine). Phil — that means you (among many others). No pressure or anything.


Igor Belanov 05.02.15 at 2:03 pm

You LIKE Jeremy Vine?



stevenjohnson 05.02.15 at 2:40 pm

Not knowing much about the details of UK specifically, I’m not certain what FTPA does. But to me it seems like FTPA means that a government without a majority can continue till the time predetermined for fixed elections unless it fails two different specifically dedicated confidence votes. Which to my naive eyes plainly appears to be a step away from a parliamentary system. Also, detaching a vote of confidence from any specific issue is not a way of focusing on the essential question in any political crisis. That is a diversion into symbolism. Further, it seems to me to replace devising a new parliamentary majority with new elections. The government in effect prorogues a hostile parliament. Again, I can’t help but see this as a step away from parliamentary government.

As to the projected difficulty of passing a new budget, it seems to me the typical recourse would be to maintain the old budget with any necessary simple administrative adjustments. The old budget would in effect be ship money for a minority government.

In the specific situation, it seems likely enough that the


harry b 05.02.15 at 3:18 pm

I listen to him in the mornings (my mornings, his afternoons), and the mix of frivolity and whereas at first I thought he was kind of stupid, and frivolous I’ve come to appreciate that he takes on serious questions reasonably well, is firm but kind with the people he talks to, manages to be sympathetic when things get traumatic without being mawkish, knows when to shut up, and loved Tony Benn and loves Dennis Skinner.


harry b 05.02.15 at 3:20 pm

SO. He won me over. My 18 year old still thinks he’s a ninny.


engels 05.02.15 at 4:04 pm

I’ve been pretty successful in tuning all of this out but I did make the mistake of switching on Radio 4 the other day and they had asked all major parties whether they thought there would be anything wrong with an education secretary sending their children to private school. All said no. Anyway: back to the football commentary.


engels 05.02.15 at 4:27 pm

Great LRB piece by Richard Seymour- Labour win would lead to ‘Pasokification’


Brett Dunbar 05.02.15 at 5:33 pm

You’ve pretty much got that totally backwards. Before the FTPA the PM could normally call an election at any time. The act means that the consent of parliament is now required. Either two thirds of the members voting for a dissolution or the government losing a motion of confidence, which is a simple majority of those voting, and no one then winning a confidence motion within 14 days. A second motion is not required for a dissolution of is required to prevent a dissolution.


Abbe Faria 05.02.15 at 5:47 pm

The left wing case for PR is outdated. The Tories and UKIP routinely poll 50% between them, and the Orange Bookers and Unionists another 10%. On the other side you have the Nationalists and Greens, who both have a very ambiguous relationship to the Left. There’s no alliance of progressives waiting to be unlocked by PR like people dreamed of in the 90s.


engels 05.02.15 at 5:57 pm

On a more positive note: “Baltimore set for victory rally as officers charged”


nick s 05.02.15 at 6:10 pm

A second motion is not required for a dissolution of is required to prevent a dissolution.

And the Cabinet Manual makes it clear that if a government loses the confidence of Parliament, it is expected to resign if an alternative government can be formed. The 14-day window is primarily to establish whether an alternative government exists, not to give the existing one a second bite of the confidence cherry.


stevenjohnson 05.02.15 at 7:47 pm

Brett Dunbar @80
“You’ve pretty much got that totally backwards. Before the FTPA the PM could normally call an election at any time. The act means that the consent of parliament is now required. Either two thirds of the members voting for a dissolution or the government losing a motion of confidence, which is a simple majority of those voting, and no one then winning a confidence motion within 14 days. A second motion is not required for a dissolution of is required to prevent a dissolution.”

I’m not quite certain who the “you” meant may be. But I thought the power of the PM (who would generally have a parliamentary majority) to call an election is an aspect of a parliamentary system. It’s not calling an election when the PM doesn’t have a parliamentary majority that strikes me as the move away from a parliamentary system.

Further, the plebiscitary form required, rather than a budget vote or perhaps a key treaty approval, confuses the issues. By and large I think parties will find it much harder to vote new elections on a pass/fail basis, than to vote down a budget or treaty that openly violates their campaign pledges. It seems to me FTPA eliminates these as confidence votes. Also, limiting their choices to a new election or not, which in effect risks everyone’s jobs, rather than negotiating a new government coalition, I think can’t help but reduce the role of parties in parliament.

Given the UK’s unwritten basic law, I don’t see how a minority government couldn’t use FTPA to postpone new elections until the term is up, even if they can’t pass new laws. It’s true the parliament would continue to meet but it might as well have been dissolved, leaving the government to rule without new statutes or revenues.


Stephen 05.02.15 at 9:04 pm


If I’ve understood things right, there are two problems with using FTPA to postpone new elections until the term is up, even if they can’t pass new laws. One: the Armed Forces Act 2011 expires at the end of 2016, before which it has to be extended for another 5 years otherwise there ain’t no armed forces.

Two: without another annual budget being accepted, there ain’t no taxes neither.

I think any possible coalition, even including SNP, would find these difficult.


Phil 05.02.15 at 9:20 pm


[the FTPA] seems to me to replace devising a new parliamentary majority with new elections

It’s not calling an election when the PM doesn’t have a parliamentary majority that strikes me as the move away from a parliamentary system.

The FTPA replaces new elections with a (time-limited) process of devising a new parliamentary majority, thereby taking power away from the Prime Minister and giving it to the House of Commons as a whole – the reverse of your first comment (as Brett said). But your second comment suggests you know this & don’t approve, so I’m confused.


stevenjohnson 05.03.15 at 1:08 am

If for example Labor and Miliband gain the plurality, then government defeats on major questions like budgets are irrelevant. FTPA means there will be elections on such and such a date. The minority government need only keep all its opponents from uniting on a no confidence vote. For example, SNP can vote against a budget that cuts services too much even for them to stomach, but it won’t make a difference.

FTPA mandates there only be early elections if there is a majority for early elections. Unlike Phil@85, I do not see how the FTPA requires the government to have a working majority in Parliament. FTPA requires a positive endorsement of early elections by the parliament, instead of needing new elections if it is impossible to reorganize a working parliamentary majority on sufficient issues to continue.

If Stephen@84 is correct, then a confrontation between a minority government that will not bargain, as Miliband has promised, parliament has only the option of either uniting very disparate forces for new elections, which is intrinsically difficult. Or, it can deny government funding. Limiting the parliamentary majority to this kind of nuclear option does not strengthen parliament I think. Why would shutting down the government work for anyone in UK if it doesn’t work for the Republicans? Further, if I understand it, the unwritten system in UK means lawsuits for failure to provide services could be relieved by injunctions to continue the old laws until political decisions are made…after the fixed term is up. And frankly if it was a Conservative minority government, I would expect business to voluntarily forward witholding. (And stop withholding if it were a Labor minority government.)


Tom Hurka 05.03.15 at 1:50 am

The hope from Canada is that the Tories win the largest number of seats but Labour forms the government either in coalition with, or as a minority government with the support of, the SNP, Lib Dems, or whoever. This will scotch the argument Stephen Harper will make later this year — and that’s completely false to the parliamentary tradition — that only the party with the largest number of seats is entitled to form a government. This, one hopes, will allow some kind of Liberal-NDP combination.

Two further things. The Canadian experience with (many) minority governments is that the smaller supporting party always demands concessions for supporting the government. They’ll look foolish if they don’t, i.e. if they support a government they opposed in the election and get nothing in return. So Labour shouldn’t expect to be able to govern without deals. Also, the general tendency is for the smaller supporting party to suffer in the next election, as the Lib Dems are doing this time. If a vote for party X ends up as a vote for a government of party Y (even with some concessions), why not vote just for, or most clearly against, party Y? See for example the NDP’s success in the 1972 election followed by its sharp decline in 1974, after it had supported Trudeau’s Liberals for two years.


Scott P. 05.03.15 at 3:10 am

“What you propose would translate to “we don’t actually want your opinion on the political direction of the UK, we’ve decided who you should vote for, now do what you’re told.”

The house is on fire. At such a moment, no other issue has any relevance. There’s no point discussion which drapes to buy until the fire is out.


Collin Street 05.03.15 at 3:50 am

> At such a moment, no other issue has any relevance.

I really don’t think it’s up to you to dictate to others what they should — must — care about.

No. Other issues do, in fact, have relevance. You might not like it that people care about things you don’t, but at the end of the day that’s your problem, and as someone claiming an adult’s right to comment you probably need to step up to an adult’s responsibility to show some perspective.


Alison P 05.03.15 at 6:20 am

If I were Ed M, and not able to form a majority administration, I would convene a strategic round table which includes people from every party – maybe not UKIP. Then I would put out a policy portfolio from that, and say vote or not for that, the lot of you.

But more fundamentally there needs to be a rejection of ritual suffering as an economic method. But I think almost half of English people believe in it as a kind of religious sacrifice of the weakest which will bring good harvests. And those people will bring us down.


djr 05.03.15 at 12:09 pm

The house is not on fire. The independence referendum happened last year, and No won. Telling the Scottish people that they don’t get to take part in UK politics is probably the best way to set the house on fire.


Brett Dunbar 05.03.15 at 2:50 pm

The SNP have been fairly clear that they won’t treat the results of this election as a mandate for a second referendum. They have indicated that they are likely to include a commitment to holding a second referendum in the Scottish election manifesto in a year’s time.


Val 05.03.15 at 11:54 pm

So UK voters has Miliband really held a press conference with his election promises carved in stone? it appears to be true from this article

– but as the writer says, it appears to break records for stupidity in elections (and I’ve seen a bit of that).

Also, excuse basic dumb question, but is the situation in the UK that the party with the most votes in an electorate wins that electorate, even if they don’t have a majority?


Val 05.04.15 at 12:13 am

Sorry – I realised I could get that info about the voting system by googling, so I did. I’d always vaguely said UK has a ‘first past the post’ system, but don’t think I’d fully realised what that meant till I read this thread (shame face). Somehow I’d always had a theoretical 50% “post” in my head at the same time, which works when you only have two candidates of course.

Anyway (I did know it once, I’m sure! Just hadn’t fully realised what it could mean eg SNP predictions) it is an odd system, isn’t it? Especially given that history of parliamentary democracy wasn’t about just two parties, was it?

We too have had many pontifications here in Australia about how awful coalitions are lately (notwithstanding that one of our major ‘parties’ is a coalition and has been for years) and how Labor won’t ‘do deals’ with the Greens. Ridiculous stuff.


harry b 05.04.15 at 12:53 pm

RE Val’s comment: The one argument for retaining FPTP was that it delivers stable majority governments. Everyone has always known that what is about to happen with the SNP is a theoretical possibility, given the rules of the game, but nothing like it has happened — the worst that has happened has been the majority party getting fewer votes than the minority party.

Is there now any argument for retaining FPTP that actually has any force at all? (other than that its hard to decide what the replace it with?).


chris y 05.04.15 at 1:43 pm

Everyone has always known that what is about to happen with the SNP is a theoretical possibility, given the rules of the game, but nothing like it has happened

Something not unlike it happened in 1892 in fact, when the Conservatives and Liberal Unionists were the largest party (bloc?), but didn’t constitute a majority and lost a confidence vote within days. The Liberals then formed a minority government depending on the support but not inclusion of the Irish Nationalists, which managed to remain in office for three years. There were no deafening calls for constitutional change.


kidneystones 05.04.15 at 4:32 pm

45 is wrong about the SNP and 93 is right. The only goal of the SNP is to create the conditions for a Yes vote for an independent Scotland. If given the opportunity, the SNP will prove a responsible and pragmatic partner for Labour for 12 to 24 months. The right-wing press will present Nicola as evil incarnate and the Scots as lot of freeloaders living off the backs of ordinary English voters. Once the SNP have constructed a viable economic reputation for themselves, in part by helping stabilize the British economy, they’ll pull the rug out and force an election. Without the SNP, Labour can’t win. Which means a Conservative government which the Scots won’t live with. The SNP has been unrelenting in its hostility to the Conservatives before and since they lost the no vote. Deposing Cameron this week makes the SNP heroes at home. The prospect of conservatives ruling Scotland again, should be enough to allow the SNP to run on a platform of another referendum within two years. Labour needs to find a new leader who can figure out what Labour stands for very, very quickly. Don’t see that happening.


Ronan(rf) 05.04.15 at 5:10 pm

thorazine – thanks for the link. I’m glad that others (as well as Phil’s link somewhere above), more astute on British politics than my callow self 5 years ago, made the same misjudgement re the Lib Dems.
I agree with your judgement on British politics being a peculiar mix of somewhat coherent political positions and tribalism, but I think I’ve come to the conclusion (perhaps with the exception of some northern european countries, although I think my opinion there is skewed by ignornace) after having watched US politics from afar the past few years, that all politics is basically reducible to tribalism, even (perhaps especially) that in the most institutionally advanced countries.

chris y – I’m not sure if you’re being sarcastic ? Surely that administration led to the second Home Rule Bill, and so was (in some quarters) defined primarily by calls to consitutional change (which ended up helping force Gladstone’s resignation IIRC) ?
On the bigger question, I think the comparison between the Irish nationalists and SNP might obscure a bit. Parnell was looking for Home Rule (which the SNP have) not independence, and had a broad domestic mandate for it (whereas the SNP have recently lost any mandate for independence.)
I’m not sure what the SNP in power could work towards rather than, perhaps, the slow movement of more powers towards the Scottish Parliament (and more investment in the Scottish economy?)


Ronan(rf) 05.04.15 at 5:14 pm

(correction the IPP rather than Parnell, who was dead by the second bill)


TM 05.04.15 at 5:18 pm

95: First past the post is a pretty absurd misnomer – the characteristic of the system is precisely that there is no “post” and most MPs are elected by less than a majority. The last majority government had the support of all of (if I remember right) 35% of the voters.


Ronan(rf) 05.04.15 at 5:22 pm

I had missed kidneystones comment, (non refreshed page) which I think clears up the SNP position for me. Although is that timeframe (before another referendum) a little short?


Ed 05.04.15 at 5:29 pm

Since this thread is still alive, it should bear stating that the most likely outcome of the election is a coalition between the Tories and Labour. In this case Cameron would remain as PM, though the coalition agreement might have a provision for the job to be swapped to whoever the Labour leader is in two years.

The reason is that though the Tories are the main electoral rival to Labour in England and Wales, the Scottish Nationalists are the main rival to Labour in Scotland. Labour has an institutional interest in denying the SNP as much success as possible, to bolster the Scottish Labour Party. A coalition between the Conservatives and the SNP would actually make more sense, since the Scottish Tories are pretty marginalized now anyway, but would probably be too much of an about face even for modern politicians in both parties.

Far from being unthinkable, the UK has been governed by Conservative/ Labour coalitions in the past, and at this moment another major EU country, Germany, is being governed by the equivalent (CDU/ SPD, note that CDU politicians are comfortable enough with the SPD that they have considered jettisoning the CSU from the coalition and evidently could live with the disappearance of the FDP). Labour in England and Wales are less damaged by a coalition with the Tories than Scottish Labour would be with a coalition with the SNP.

This assumes a situation where the SNP has displaced Labour as the largest party in Scotland, and neither a Conservative -Lib Dem or Labour -Lib Dem coalition is mathematically possible (however the parliamentary math showed that after 2010 it was impossible to keep the Tories out of the government, you would have needed an unwieldy assembly of every non-Conservative and non-Unionist party, but every commentator forgets or ignores that). The polls show that its still possible for the current Coalition to be re-elected with a reduced minority.


Stephen 05.04.15 at 6:20 pm

kidneystones@98: “Once the SNP have constructed a viable economic reputation for themselves”.

Given their frantic waffling before the referendum, and the collapse of the value of North Sea oil subsequently, I think that might take rather a long time.


Phil 05.04.15 at 7:29 pm

the UK has been governed by Conservative/ Labour coalitions in the past

Only once, and there was a war on at the time. You may be thinking of the National Government of 1931-40, but that was a (hugely uneven) coalition between the Conservatives and the small National Liberal and National Labour groups; the Labour Party continued to exist throughout, and expelled all the members of “National Labour”. Of all the plausible outcomes, a Grand Coalition isn’t one.


Phil 05.04.15 at 7:47 pm

the parliamentary math showed that after 2010 it was impossible to keep the Tories out of the government, you would have needed an unwieldy assembly of every non-Conservative and non-Unionist party

Not really. As I wrote at the time, Labour and the Lib Dems had 315 seats between them, in a House of Commons of 644 voting members (650 minus the Speaker and 5 abstentionist Sinn Fein MPs), making an effective majority 323. Two parties: 315 seats – or rather 319, counting the SDLP and Alliance, who vote with Labour and the Lib Dems respectively. That only leaves 19 MPs unaccounted for, and 14 of them would have had to vote with the Tories to bring the Labour/Lib Dem alliance down. This would basically mean the Tories allying with both the Democratic Unionists and the SNP – it couldn’t be done.

Clegg took the party into a coalition with the Tories, rather than Labour, for one reason only: he wanted to.


Val 05.04.15 at 10:21 pm

UK readers might take issue with this, but from a feminist perspective it seems to me that the refusal to ‘do deals’ is – at least here – partly reflecting a gendered image of a proper leader, rather than realpolitik. A ‘real leader’ is firm and in charge.

Of course here that reflects our recent history of a female ALP leader who needed to do deals to establish government, and most notably did deals with a Greens party led first by a gay man and subsequently by another woman. All the stereotypes you could want! The fact the deals were actually good policy didn’t have a chance in that shitstorm.


harry b 05.04.15 at 11:41 pm

Val — I don’t really take issue with that. Though in other countries where this happens frequently it doesn’t seem to be a problem. I think the voting system makes it more sensible in the UK to say “no deal ever” (as long as you don’t really mean it, but only if you seem to mean it) than under a PR system. But I couldn’t articulate exactly why I think that (I’ll try to figure it out).
I don’t think Nicola Sturgeon (the SNP leader) is being any less devious than anyone else here, though.


kidneystones 05.04.15 at 11:55 pm

104 Agreed, with caveats to follow. 103 offers an option no serious pundit credits and deserves credit on that point alone. The unthinkable in one form or another is precisely what may happen. Subsequent comments flesh out voter discontent with the Lib-Dems and the very real possibility that they’ll disappear right off the map. The factors which will drive the agenda after the election, however, are extremely ugly. By which, I refer to the age-old issues of class warfare, hostility towards others, and an over-arching sense of entitlement and resentment. I don’t have the charts handy; however, as bad as Labour’s problems are in Scotland, they’re worse in England and Wales, both of which have viable and growing independence movements, as hard as that may be for outside observers to accept. Labour’s handling of the NHS in Wales has opened up real space for independence parties (won’t bother to botch the names and spellings here and apologize for my general ignorance of the key players). Key Labour leaders, by whom I mean leaders who actually represent people earning under 40,000 pounds a year living outside London are under enormous pressure over the EU and the ‘threat’ of uncontrolled immigration. Many left-wing Labour supporters ‘left’ Labour and Tony Blair behind for the Greens and the Lib-Dems. The Greens are likely to continue to grow and to take modest numbers of votes from Labour and the Lib-Dems. The problem for both these two parties is that neither can afford to lose even modest numbers of votes. Labour’s big institutional advantages, cash, and infra-structure ensure the party second-best status in England for a time. But, as folks have noted, second-best wins practically nothing, but the right to whine. The SNP will create conditions for a stable Britain, but income and regional inequality will continue to rise. Labour’s refusal to hold an EU referendum will animate the right and unhappy outside London Labour supporters. English anger, especially among the poor and the disenfranchised will be increasingly focused against Labour, against London, against Europe, and against Scotland and Wales. Labour needs to represent Labour and ‘allow’ English people to take some pride in their heritage, because pride in heritage, language, and culture are key driving forces in the rise of the SNP and regional independence parties. I predict…more of the same!


engels 05.05.15 at 12:04 am

Val, doesn’t this

UK readers might take issue with this, but from a feminist perspective it seems to me that the refusal to ‘do deals’ is – at least here – partly reflecting a gendered image of a proper leader, rather than realpolitik. A ‘real leader’ is firm and in charge.

sit rather oddly with this?

That vocal white male middle class left tends to be ‘realistic’, ‘pragmatic’ and so on. They will use the language of their supposed neo-liberal enemies, the language of rationality and econo-speak, quite freely, but they won’t often use the language of morality, priciple or ethics. To talk about fairness, even on CT, is to risk being derided … That’s one of the reasons why people like me, people in politics who try to make the left take left positions, probably don’t tend to make much progress. Because we’re unrealistic, we’re bleeding hearts, we’re fairies at the bottom of the garden (especially of course if we happen to be women).

Possibly not…


Brett Dunbar 05.05.15 at 1:30 am

A Labour Liberal Democrat coalition might have been marginally viable on paper but would have required strong party discipline in in both parties to work as even a fairly small backbench rebellion would bring about a government defeat. The Conservative Liberal Democrat coalition on the other hand had a majority of 80 and as such it required a substantial rebellion to have much effect.


kidneystones 05.05.15 at 3:02 am

A handful of interesting and very ominous stats from a very recent poll:

Ed’s positive/negatives are identical to Farage’s..
Voters favor Conservatives to run the economy over Labour 2-1
Voters trust Farage to handle immigration over Labour 4-1, (48-12) with trust in Conservatives running a very distant second at 27.
Which means that whoever forms the government is going face an electorate that favors UKIP’s immigration by a much higher margin than support for either leading party. The interactive maps at the link:
don’t show who’s running second in northern Labour seats, but UKIP will be running strong seconds in many races. Labour’s London elites have displayed such enormous disdain for the concerns of the working people outside London that it’s very difficult to see how they staunch the wounds. I’ve been in unions most of my life and can’t imagine sitting in the same room with Harmon and company. Should Farage lose and Evans take over we may see support for UKIP rise even more quickly.


kidneystones 05.05.15 at 3:27 am

I succeeded in shocking myself with this last post, the ramifications are even starker than I posited in 109. The Observer poll confirms that a large number of Labour, Lib-Dem, and Conservative supporters prefer UKIP’s immigration policies to those of their own party. Should Labour form a coalition with the SNP and deny 48/100 British voters the EU referendum UKIP promises, Labour support outside London is certain to continue to fall and at a much faster rate, with many of these voters moving to UKIP in the next election a year or two away, an ideal scenario for the SNP. An EU referendum might keep the UK together, but who knows?


david 05.05.15 at 3:28 am


Like immigration restrictions in 1962 and 1965, [the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, 1968] was loathed by liberal opinion and loved by the public… Gallup, which tracked public attitudes from 1958 to 1982 (Coloured People in Britain; London: Gallup, 1982), found consistent majority support for immigration restrictions. Support for the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 ranged from 62% to 76% (question 35); support for ‘a strict limitation on the number of immigrants’ from the Commonwealth 87% in 1965 (question 50); support for the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, 1968 was 72% (question 56); and support for the Immigration Act, 1971 was 59%, with 25% not knowing (question 85). In 1968, The Times and the Spectator accused the government of shirking an obligation willingly accepted by the British government in 1962. See The Times, ‘Hasty law makes bad cases’, 23 Feb. 1968 and the Spectator, ‘A shameful and unnecessary act’, 1 Mar. 1968

In that sense, nothing has changed – we have always banked on elite consensus to exclude or at least slow the march of a perennially popular Powellism; see the recent cosmopolitan-communitarianism thread.

Labour’s elites have pretty much always treated the anti-immigration concerns of the working class with well-deserved disdain and contempt – remember Gordon “bigoted woman” Brown?


Eli Rabett 05.05.15 at 3:54 am

Folks, it has been fun. C U tomorrow


Val 05.05.15 at 3:57 am

engels @ 101
No I definitely don’t think they conflict. Qualities being in inverted commas is probably a giveaway that they relate to an imagined self, yes? The image/s are both of someone who is realistic, practical, in control, firm, decisive etc – Maggie Thatcher and Ed Miliband could probably both subscribe to that, right? Doesn’t make those ideas any less gendered or any less constructed by a particular kind of masculinist/patriarchal discourse about leadership.

On the question of being firm and decisive, I can’t resist telling this story: when I was working for the Victorian Parliamentary Labor party, there was at least one senior MP who used to talk about not being a “soft cock” in politics. This was a member of the ‘leadership team’, not some outré backbencher. Admittedly that’s almost 20 years ago now, but social change happens slowly.


kidneystones 05.05.15 at 3:59 am

114 I take it you endorse the class contempt of Labour elites for working class anxiety about immigration. Working people (men) have always displayed an understandably narrow notion of rights. Those who have little to share and little hope for more are always more unhappy to see increased competition in the workforce. Emmeline Pankhurst found next to no support for women’s rights among working men. She helped win the right to vote from a Conservative government she helped keep in power. It is quite wrong to put a class-spin on xenophobia, however. There are just as many bigots among the wealthy as the poor. The difference is that the poor lack the skills and the confidence to move as freely as their economic betters. Like it or not Labour elites and their glib dismissal of working class anxieties as ‘the march of…Powellism is one of the main reasons UKIP is on the rise. The other reason is that Cameron has promised for years to reduce immigration numbers to the tens of thousands and failed. An Australian or Canadian style immigration policy is not Powellism, unless you’re about to argue that a majority of Australians and Canadians are Powell-style bigots. Labour’s failure to clearly acknowledge the fact that many Britons of all creeds do not favor political union with the EU is precisely why Cameron stands an excellent chance of forming the next government, his horrific policies notwithstanding.


Val 05.05.15 at 4:10 am

On immigration – again comparing – in Australia, when we had a consensus position on multiculturalism, people were much more accepting of it. And in Victoria, where I live, we have never had as much problem with overt racism or support for anti-immigration parties as in NSW or Queensland, for example – and that seems to be because support for multiculturalism has always been a consensus position for major parties here.

The racist/anti-immigration party here was ‘One Nation’ – it never got much traction in Victoria, unlike other states. That is the effect of genuine leadership, I would say – politicians can take the people with them, when they take a principled position.

It’s the same with the death penalty. We have recently had a big uproar here about Australian citizens receiving the death penalty in Indonesia. In fact there are probably quite a few citizens here who would support the death penalty if they were given any encouragement, but because all the major parties here take a principled stand against it, they are not encouraged.

So I would suggest that there may be many in all classes and parties in the UK who are possibly at least potentially racist or anti-immigration at some level, but the more politicians pander to it, the worse they will get.


kidneystones 05.05.15 at 5:25 am

118 Thank you for the civil and thoughtful reply. You’ll know better than most what ignoring working class anxieties means – Pauline Hansen. You have yet, however, to reply to my initial question do you support Labour elites characterization of working class concerns as bigotry? You’re entitled, of course, to your position if that’s the case. The problem for the Labour party in Britain is that ‘Labour’ increasingly means the party of government employees (public service unions), and has fewer and fewer connections with the people it purports to represent. That’s the challenge Labour faces in Britain. Regional parties offer a real choice to traditional Labour parties, and UKIP, like it or not, is not overtly anti-immigration as much as it pro-English. It is, in a sense, a Libertarian English nationalist party, whereas the SNP is a quasi-socialist Scottish nationalist party. Conservatives still command support from the business elites and the seriously upwardly mobile. Going back to my original post regarding the outcome of the election, I see very little difference between the jingoism and anti-English xenophobia of the SNP and the anti-Europe exhortations of UKIP. If the SNP succeeds in demolishing Labour in Scotland and can set the stage for a successful yes vote, only an Australian style immigration policy and an EU exit is going to offer Labour any chance of surviving another decade in Britain.
The choice will be between the Conservatives, UKIP, the Lib-Dems, and the Greens. As noted, working-class Labour voters will migrate very easily towards UKIP. Left-leaning Labour voters find new homes in the Lib-Dems and the Greens. I like Australia and have visited several times. The general standards of scholarship are first-rate, despite the recent uproar regarding grade inflation among cash-cow foreign students. Is the figure 1/5?

Finally, I wonder if you saw the post by a British academic calling for the outsourcing of grading to India, because he/she was far too busy for this sort of mundane drudgery. Dsquared, as you may know, works for a finance company specializing in using Indian talent to undercut British white-collar workers. I wonder how long Labour elites will continue to dismiss job protection as bigotry once they find many of their own jobs migrating to Asia. This move is already well underway in the fields of publishing and creative services.


ZM 05.05.15 at 8:14 am

Val and Kidneystones,

A pro refugee group I am in met with our local Labor M.P. Lisa Chesters the other week about Labor party policy on refugees.

While both major parties are pro immigration (a professor I had said this is because Australian welfare state economics is based on having a growing population which is a bit like a pyramid scheme I guess) they take a hardline on refugees. Our M.P. is publicly on the left and thinks refugee policy should be more humanitarian.

Our electorate is working class and the average income is below the national one, and there is higher unemployment, and at the moment in the nearer big regional city there is quite a bit of reliance on sort of food banks like in the U.K. There was a petition that got a couple of thousand signatures that was against multiculturalism, and there is an outspoken councillor in the regional city who has campaigned against a mosque being built — which was a huge issue here (oddly enough the people in Occupy Melbourne became campaigners against the mosque too). So what kidneystones raises is quite a live issue in the area in Victoria where I live.

Our M.P. was very helpful when we asked how we could help influence the Labor party to have more humanitarian policies for refugees. But she also said she thought politicians will be followers rather than leaders on these issues — the issues need resolving at the community level before the parliament will act. So she said it is important to engage with people who fear multiculturalism or immigration or refugees, and often they are misinformed.

I think foreign students are beneficial to universities. I often do my group projects in groups with foreign students and sometimes I will want to try to change their choices of English words, as I think maybe they are not academic enough for the assignments — but then this also makes me more aware of the strictures of academic English which are not ever really specified you just end up taking them on board without good reason a lot of the time. Also foreign students help you have a more international perspective — I had a project with a Singaporean student and I did not like free trade, so I thought maybe we could have protectionism again — but protectionism would hurt Singapore.

On the low paid workers — our M.P. drew out attention to the fact that some visa categories are being abused and migrant workers are being treated like slaves in Australia despite labour regulations. There was just a Four Corners investigation into this the other day in the agriculture field :


Guano 05.05.15 at 9:59 am

# 119 “The problem for the Labour party in Britain is that ‘Labour’ increasingly means the party of government employees (public service unions)”

I really don’t think so. The problem for Labour is that it is a party without roots.


Chris Bertram 05.05.15 at 11:01 am

@kidneystones ” Labour elites characterization of working class concerns as bigotry?”

Well, I don’t know what you’re thinking of, exactly, but presumably Gordon Brown’s characterization of Gillian Duffy as “some bigoted woman” is in the background here.

A few points:

(1) the “working class” *in the sense employed here* is a declining and ageing section of the population. Assuaging their concerns in the future will win you fewer votes and lose you some among other voters.

(2) Bigotry does indeed lie behind a lot of hostility to immigration on the part of this demographic, and there’s plenty of good social scientific research to back this up. It may be bad political tactics to call people bigots, as well as being a poor strategy to get them to change their minds, but there’s a lot of bigotry out there.

(3) Concern about immigration among the UK electorate have always been high and have been so pretty much independently of how much of it there has been. This has certainly been the case ever since Powell’s notorious speech and has been accompanied since forever by a litany of moaning that “we aren’t allowed to talk about immigration” by people who talk about it incessantly. It isn’t clear that any policy response will change the level of anxiety one way or the other, since the anxiety has little rational basis.

(4) A lot of the talk about competition for jobs etc is just crap. On R5 yesterday there was a woman complaining about how the influx of Polish and Romanian workers has meant that her daughter, a social worker, had had to go and get work in another city. Competition from Romanian social workers? I don’t think so. In fact there’s a shortage, so a few Poles and Romanians would be a good thing. Generally people rationalize their bigotry by referencing a range of factoids that aren’t true, around jobs, wages, benefits etc.


engels 05.05.15 at 11:22 am

What Guano said. And that it’s run by people who thought this was a good idea:


kidneystones 05.05.15 at 11:25 am

Hi Chris,
Actually, what I’m thinking of is the fact that New Labour’s leadership is made up of oxbridge gits who view Britain’s working classes as a lower life form. Guano is partly right except that Labour’s roots have withered, in part thanks to New Labour policies. I’m pleased you’re so candid about your hostility towards the poor, irrational buggers who for some wholly irrational reason believe that Labour leaders who ask for their votes couldn’t give a damn about their concerns.

Have you ever done any factory work or manual labour? It’s honest work done by largely honest folk. Our own daughter elected to enter the work force rather than attend university, I’m pleased to say. Some here may regard her decision as a failure. Worse, it seems pretty clear she’d prefer to marry and start of family soon. I’ve worked in business and spend time with some reasonably formidable academics (I don’t include myself). I hope this doesn’t come as too much of a shock, but from my experience most of the really clever people I know operate outside the university environment.

Re: Grade inflation for cash: here’s the link:


Igor Belanov 05.05.15 at 11:38 am


Actually, Labour is aware of the stereotyped ‘working class’ and has made efforts to appeal to their ‘concerns’, particularly in fields such as immigration. The groups they tend to disregard are those that the party seems to view as the ‘undeserving poor’ such as the unemployed and those on disability benefits. Countering these to ‘hard-working’ people has been a typical Labour ploy, and this is clearly appealing to prejudice.


kidneystones 05.05.15 at 11:53 am

Hi Igor,
Thanks for this. How would you measure the efficacy of the enlightened oxbridge elite to address the concerns of the bigots, as Chris calls them? (I stand by my assertion, btw, that bigotry is not a function of class. As one Jamaican explained, educated liberals are invariably better at concealing their bigotry.) 12 percent of Britons trust Labour on immigration. 13 percent of Britons are UKIP supporters. Yet, nearly nearly half the populace trusts UKIP on immigration. Bertram’s open smear of the lower orders put me in such a good mood, I’m about to watch season one of In the Think of It, again!


Chris Bertram 05.05.15 at 12:11 pm

“Bertram’s open smear of the lower orders”

Hmm. First class trolling there.


engels 05.05.15 at 12:18 pm

One view of bigotry, from someone who went to state schools in working class areas before going to Oxford: the kind of out-and-out racism which was common among ex-private-school boys at Oxford was unlike anything I’d ever encountered at school. Also: I don’t think there were any black students admitted that year by the enlightened tutors of my college (my black friend from school was rejected by his college).


kidneystones 05.05.15 at 12:22 pm

Hi Chris,

Sorry about that. When you say there’s plenty of ‘good social science’ to support the notion that bigotry is rife (uniquely?) among the working classes, you’re not ‘smearing the lower orders’ you’re paying working class folks a kind of compliment. None of us are clever enough to understand it.

When I want to troll you, I can assure you, you’ll know it. There’s a debate taking place and Labour is losing it – 48 percent to 12. Your arrogance is part of the reason.


stevenjohnson 05.05.15 at 1:50 pm

The notion that “government employees” aren’t part of the people is remarkable. There are more of them than there are rich people, for one thing. But it’s true that if they go on strike, the owners can’t go bankrupt, so in that sense they aren’t workers.

As for the grade inflation poker game, I’ll match the pot with grade inflation for legacies and raise with grade inflation for athletes.

I am however awed by the achievements of a social system where only the graduates of Oxford and Cambridge Universities are sufficiently indoctrinated in snobbery to despise Britain’s working classes as a lower life form. Thank God the natural nobility of the less educated upper classes in England puts the kibosh on that sort of thing. And isn’t it convenient that an Oxbridge degree is such a reliable indicator of moral perfidy?


novakant 05.05.15 at 3:42 pm


novakant 05.05.15 at 3:45 pm

I’m pretty sick of this election, but there a re some good signs:

The current UK electoral system is frankly ridiculous and a big part of the problem.

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