What if…?

by Harry on May 4, 2010

Chris Brooke is on a roll again. Responding to fears that Cameron will demand the PMship if there is a hung parliament in which the Tories have the largest number of seats, and force Brown’s, or the Queen’s, hand:

People are making analogies with the presidential election in the United States in 2000 — but what was striking then was far more the spinelessness of the Dems rather than the unscrupulousness of the Repugs. The bottom line is that politics is about power, and if the Tories are the only ones willing to play hardball, then – bluntly – good for them. If the Queen discredits herself along the way by being pressured into being openly partisan, then that’s a good thing, as it’ll work to hasten the end of this stupid monarchy. And if voters disapprove of what the Tories are doing, then they’ll punish them when they get the chance. That’s democracy.

This reminded me, for no particular reason, of what happened immediately after Labour’s unexpected victory of 1945. Morrison (appalling grandfather of the magnificent Mandelson) tried to involve Bevin in staging a coup against Attlee. Bevin forewarned Attlee (to whom he was intensely loyal) and in the end Attlee just sat through Morrison’s demands to be given a shot at becoming PM. Bevin was stunned by Attlee’s relaxed attitude. When Morrison was done, Attlee just said something to the effect of “Well, I’m driving to Buckingham Palace, where the Queen will invite me to form a government” (not exactly — he didn’t drive, his wife did — she was, apparently, a crazed driver, and his colleagues would occasionally try to stop him allowing her to drive him — while he did the crossword).

I doubt that whoever goes to the palace on Friday will be driven by a wife, or will be doing a crossword puzzle.

Anyway, read the whole thing.



Ginger Yellow 05.04.10 at 2:58 pm

What was striking about 2000, surely, was the unscrupulousness of the Supreme Court majority.


mds 05.04.10 at 3:28 pm

Gad, the Stephen Harper disease is spreading. And I used to think that parliamentary democracy was a good thing. Apparently there are sufficient loopholes in Westminster to nourish the notion that parliamentary majorities should not be permitted to stand in the way of Tories wielding power.


Pub Editor 05.04.10 at 3:30 pm

Attlee just said something to the effect of “Well, I’m driving to Buckingham Palace, where the Queen will invite me to form a government”

Wasn’t George VI still King in 1945?


PHB 05.04.10 at 3:36 pm

Looks rather unlikely that the Tories get the most seats. In fact they could well end up repeating the exact same performance as their last two election losses and increase their share of the vote by 1%.

Only thing that is going to change here is that Labour and the Liberals have traded votes. Why does Cameron believe that losing an election gives him the right to be PM? He is going to lose, all the parties are going to lose. Only difference is that Cameron expects to lose slightly less badly than the second placed party and somewhat less badly than the third placed party. But he is going to lose.

Oddly enough, the Tory support for the monarchy means that there is no way that the Queen can cave into him unless she wants Labour and the Liberals to add reforming the monarchy into a republic to their list of constitutional changes. The Queen can cave to Brown or Clegg without any fear of the Tories turning on her.

If the Queen is dragged into this mess she is hardly going to repay Cameron for doing so by anointing the stitch up.

The point of the conventions drawn up by the civil service is that they are setting out the rules that they are going to follow. And whether Cameron Torypants likes it or not, the civil service are the referees here. So attempting to dispute the rules is merely a waste of his Old Etonian breath.

At the end of the day Cameron cannot win a vote of confidence in the Commons and a Liberal/Labour coalition can. Cameron know this.

Looks to me as if Cameron is signaling that he is not interested in negotiations with the Liberals so that he can reduce Clegg’s bargaining leverage with Brown.


Style 05.04.10 at 3:41 pm

Based on Canadian experience, I would advise Mr. Brown not to resign as Labour leader until after the first Conservative budget. When Mr. Dion proposed himself as PM of a coalition government to replace the minority Conservatives , he was badly hampered by having already announced his resignation as Liberal leader.


Matt Heath 05.04.10 at 4:26 pm

Looks rather unlikely that the Tories get the most seats. In fact they could well end up repeating the exact same performance as their last two election losses and increase their share of the vote by 1%.

The second of these sentences sounds about right. The first doesn’t. According to FiveThirtyEight’s simulations it’s only barely within the realms of plausibility that anyone other than the Tories will win the most seats


Tom Elrod 05.04.10 at 6:11 pm

A bit off-topic, but a question from a curious American: how serious are attempts to dissolve the monarchy? I imagine that while it’s probably a vague long-term vision among some, for many more it’s seen as an important, traditional part of the British state, or the British character, or something. I’m sure that the situation is much more complicated than that, but I just wouldn’t know. If the LibDems/Labour decided that dissolving the monarchy was actually a key policy, what kind of support would they get and how politically possible would it be?


LFC 05.04.10 at 6:24 pm

Off-the-cuff answer (also from an American) to Tom Elrod @7:
If the LibDems/Labour decided that dissolving the monarchy was actually a key policy, what kind of support would they get
Not very much, I think
and how politically possible would it be?
if you mean how possible constitutionally: if a majority supported it, a way could be found to do it — bills to abolish the monarchy have been introduced before — but I don’t think a majority does support it (though I’m not sure; I’m just going on an impression).

Also, People magazine and similar U.S. publications might go out of business b/c they couldn’t put Princes William and Harry on the cover any more. No great loss to the world of journalism, but it would add to the unemployment rolls.


chris y 05.04.10 at 6:37 pm

bills to abolish the monarchy have been introduced before, and passed and implemented. But no, it would have little support at the moment, because the monarchy presents little threat to anybody’s interests in its present form, and most Brits have a horror of strong presidencies, a la the US and France.


belle le triste 05.04.10 at 6:53 pm

Pub@3: Attlee would have been well aware that Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was — as with all the Black Guelph matriarchs — the Saurian power to be appeased, her puny human trophy-consort notwithstanding.

It’s like no one reads LaRouche any more.


Bloix 05.04.10 at 7:15 pm

“Tourism is Britain’s 5th largest industry, our 3rd largest export earner and worth £115 billion a year.”
And the monarchy is absolutely crucial to the tourism industry. It would be insane for the UK to become a republic.


Tom Elrod 05.04.10 at 8:05 pm

chris y @ 9:

Touche, sir.


PHB 05.04.10 at 8:10 pm

Of course there is no push to dissolve the monarchy today. That is entirely due to the fact that the Queen makes every effort to avoid being pulled into contentious political questions that would cause her role to be controversial.

If she ever does enter the partisan political fray it is a question of when, not if the monarchy goes. That is why she is no more likely to get involved with Cameron’s machinations than putting in for ‘Celebrity Pole Dancing’ in the mother-daughter category with the Princess Royal.

As for the tourist appeal. I am told that Paris remains a popular tourist attraction despite the manner in which the Bourbon dynasty was ejected from the throne. Indeed almost as many visitors queue up to view the guillotine blade that put into effect that departure from office as the Jewel room of the tower.

Gyles Brandreth was distinctly unsuccessful with his ‘Royal Britain’ venture. Seems that most visitors to London are not that interested in the royal aspect.

The monarchy has not always been a popular institution in modern times. The Queen is quite aware of that fact being married to a deposed Greek prince. Last thing she is going to want is a political controversy to muck up her celebration of her Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics in 2012.


Matt Heath 05.04.10 at 8:14 pm

And the monarchy is absolutely crucial to the tourism industry.

So it’s often said, but is there any evidence for it? It’s not like the Windsors are going to blow up their castles out of spite if relieved of their duties. I’ve never met anyone who when travelling around Europe stated any preference for monarchies over republics.


Putney Debater 05.04.10 at 8:20 pm

“appalling grandfather of the magnificent Mandelson”? Appalling grandson of magnificent grandfather!


Matt Heath 05.04.10 at 8:28 pm

Putney Debater: I don’t know; I kind of recognise Mandy described here: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MagnificentBastard


Chris Brooke 05.04.10 at 8:55 pm

I generally loathe Mandelson, but he was magnificent at a press conference the other day.

He began by repeating the campaign cliché, that voters should be careful that “if they flirt with Clegg, they might wake up with Cameron”. And then he continued with the train of thought (and this is paraphrase) — they wouldn’t just wake up with Cameron, “but with George Osborne, William Hague and – heaven forbid – Eric Pickles, too”. And then he added, as an afterthought, “That would be a night to remember”.


LFC 05.04.10 at 9:04 pm

chris y @ 9:
Point taken. When I wrote “bills to abolish the monarchy have been introduced before” I was thinking “in the 20th cent.” But thanks for the historical reminder.


Harry 05.04.10 at 9:06 pm

Pub Editor — yeah, but he was effeminate.
No, sorry, I was still thinking about the present day when I wrote that….


Alex 05.05.10 at 12:14 am

Who gives a shit if the monarchy does benefit the tourism industry or not? Such a claim is not an argument for keeping the monarchy – not unless you think the best way to order society is that which benefits the tourism industry the most.

If you abolished Parliament, and gave the Queen the powers her ancestors used to have, would tourism rise or fall? If it would rise, is that an argument for sending the troops into the House of Commons?

And of course, what would really benefit the tourism industry would be if the government bussed people into the country as tourists. Why not offer, say, £1,000 to most American adults to come to Britain on a visit?


Natilo Paennim 05.05.10 at 1:17 am

This thread is making me feel like the proverbial stupid American 11th grader who thinks that Austria is a continent and puts Mexico to the north of Germany on standardized tests. Do you realize that I didn’t even know who Eric Pickles was until, prompted by this discussion, I looked him up on Wikipedia? Oh, the calumny.

Anyway, the thing I wanted to get out there is that if the monarchy’s only worth 115 billion pounds per year (I’m assuming we mean 115,000,000 pounds, and not 115,000,000,000 pounds), couldn’t you just convince a few software barons to move there instead? 115 billion pounds just isn’t that much money. Every time I see one of those shows on PBS about stately homes of England, they’re always kvetching about how much money it costs to keep them up, paying costumers to research Victorion soot so actors can dress up as bootblacks or whatever. The whole thing smacks of earning a precarious living taking in one another’s washing. Maybe you all should try industry instead: coal mines, railroads, that sort of thing. It’s worked well in other countries.


PHB 05.05.10 at 1:30 am

Ok, so why on earth would Cameron want to get involved with a maneuver that would at best be unnecessary and at worst turn him into a laughingstock as the shortest tenured PM in history?

Passing a vote of no confidence does not automatically result in a general election. If the opposition parties have the votes in the house to form a government they have the right to be given the chance to do so.

If Cameron managed to get himself installed as PM while Labour and the Liberals were still engaged in negotiations, he could be made PM on Monday, appoint a cabinet Tuesday, parliament would assemble Wednesday, face a vote of no confidence on the Thursday and tender his resignation on Friday.

Cameron would become a perpetual figure of fun, the least successful premiere in British history whose government didn’t last a week, losing office before the state opening of parliament.

And this is the real benefit of the parliamentary system because unlike in the US where one corrupt secretary of state and five corrupt judges can stop the votes being counted and appoint a President, in a parliamentary system there are gradations of power.


Harry 05.05.10 at 2:45 am

I never understood why Mrs Thatcher didn’t privatize the monarchy. Disney does that sort of thing well.

I do feel a bit guilty at having inadvertantly prompted Natilo Paennim to learn who Eric Pickles is. Sorry.

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