The possibility of a minority government is now very firmly on the table says Daran Hill.
Last night’s debates revealed with stark clarity that Labour will not work with the SNP in any way to create a government. It was the single most important statement Miliband or any of the other leaders made. This step is hugely significant especially when we couple it with the one thing in this election that the polls show is conclusive: that the election result will be inconclusive.
Despite slight moves in the polls, Labour and the Conservatives are still neck and neck, and never more than 3% apart. Perhaps the most famed pollster in the world, Nate Silver, told BBC’s Panorama this week that there would be no outright winner based on his polling analysis, thus supporting every single national opinion poll taken and also the patchwork of constituency polling helpfully shared by Lord Ashcroft for months. Indeed, for the record, Silver predicted only three seats to switch hands in Wales next week – Labour picking up Cardiff Central and Cardiff North, and Plaid gaining Ceredigion back from the Liberal Democrats.
Thus the attention of the media has, quite rightly, shifted to the shape of potential governments and potential coalition partners. This process of course has been fuelled by the parties themselves as some of them seek to rule in or out potential partners with the instant like or dislike tendencies of a political version of Tinder.
And in that context, Labour’s decision to rule out any sort of arrangement with the SNP, who are likely to be the third biggest party in Westminster, is a major step. Clearly both the SNP and Plaid Cymru are furious at this decision, but surely for Labour such a step is a no brainer. There is no way they can make any sort of deal with a resurgent SNP which will, in a week’s time, have taken scores of Labour seats north of the border and thus denied them any opportunity to form a government. Indeed, it’s only if the SNP do badly – which they won’t – that will allow Labour to make any sort of deal with them. When the SNP is this strong, Labour simply can’t work with them because that strength will have come from weakening Labour.
Thus the possibility of a minority government is now very firmly on the table, even if it has merited little attention so far. It is almost as if such a situation were not possible or workable, but on a number of occasions it has indeed been so.
Outside the UK such a government exists in New Zealand now, and was also present in Australia under Welsh-born Julia Gillard. And in the UK context we can draw on a number of examples too. The ones we keep forgetting to think about are the periods of Labour minority government in Wales 1999-2000 or 2005-07, or the SNP minority government in Scotland between 2007 and 2011 which was certainly stable enough to govern effectively. Further, Harold Wilson formed a minority government without partners in February 1974 and carried on for over six months before voluntarily calling an election on his own terms.
Therefore a minority government is a viable proposition and for my money I think that is where the country is heading, though I am not sure which party will comprise that government. I am also convinced that a second general election will follow well within five years in such circumstances. And in making such a prediction I am also aware that in the case of Wilson in 1974, and especially Salmond in 2011, a minority government went on to produce a majority one.
6 thoughts on “Minority Interest”
This is solid analysis but hardly news. Some of us have been predicting a ‘hung Parliament’ in 2015 since the last one in 2010, and the polls have been extraordinarily stable over the last few months in confirming that.
In Westminster, as in Cardiff Bay, tribal prejudice gives Labour an ace in the hole: they can treat the Nationalists and Greens with contempt knowing they are still committed to keep the Conservatives out.
The only hope is that a ‘Sheffield Moment’ will crystallize widespread public doubts about our probable next Prime Minister and break the election open at the last minute.
I may be doing Daran a disservice here as he has been a part of the Welsh political scene for some time but I can’t help feeling that comparisons are being grasped at rather than made. I’ll come back to his comment that the declaration of no deals with the SNP is a no-brainer in a minute. Labour’s position, that they will produce a Queen’s Speech and if other parties want to vote for it is up to them, strikes me as soomewhat imperious (not totally unexpected for a previously imperial parliament) and somewhat old-fashioned in a modern democracy. One of the purposes of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 is for the electorate to say to the politicians, you have the seats that we have given you, now get on with it. In most democracies, this forms the basis for discussions as to how government will function over the coming term. It has been extraordinary to hear Ed Miliband apparently say that he would rather see the Conservatives back in power than work with the SNP. It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence to hear a leader say that I will only govern if I get my own way on everything otherwise I’m walking away. It sounds neither mature nor responsible nor even good politics.
But let’s return to the ‘no brainer’ description and start with the so-called precedents close to home. The February 1974 election did produce a minority Labour government but not a stable one; it lasted barely seven months. Labour was the largest party over the Conservatives by four seats and managed to stagger on until Wilson judged that a second election could provide them with further seats and in October 1974, Labour won the election by a majority of 3.
We should take a step back here and remind ourselves that, at the time it was the Prime Minister’s prerogative as to when an election is held. That option no longer exists. There are only two ways in which a general election can be called now:
by a simple majority resolving that the House has no confidence in the Government; or
by a two thirds majority resolving that there should be an early election.
Which of these options Ed Miliband would pursue is not evident in the article but it throws up all manner of scenarios as to how that would be achieved and how disruptive the other parties could be in such scenarios.
Daran is right to say that the resulting election in October 1974 did produce a majority Labour government, but with a majority of 3. Within two and a half years, that majority had disappeared. The disarray of trying to soldier on for a full 5-year term led to the winter of discontent and in 1979, 18 years of Conservative rule. I’m not sure why Daran finds that example reassuring.
With regard the SNP minority government, it was certainly the case that it was stable. But that is in large part due to the fact the SNP recognised that they would have to work with other parties in order to get their programme through and that they would not always achieve everything they wanted. Because of the level-headed way they handled themselves as a minority government, the electorate rewarded them with a majority government (maj. 5) which remains in power to this day. The point here is that it was not the numbers so much that made the difference but the culture adopted by the Government in getting its programme through.
Ed Miliband has set his face firmly against that; let’s see what he has to say about it on May 8th.
“Clearly both the SNP and Plaid Cymru are furious at this decision,”
I can’t see why the SNP especially would be furious. Labour ignore the voice of the Scottish voters in Westminster and this is bad for the advancement of Scottish Nationalism, how?
” but surely for Labour such a step is a no brainer”
It’s a no brainer in the sense that they have no other option but to try and appeal to the British/English nationalism of voters in England in the hope that it will get them the best result they can realistically hope for, enough seats to form a minority government.
“And in making such a prediction I am also aware that in the case of Wilson in 1974, and especially Salmond in 2011, a minority government went on to produce a majority one.”
I notice that the prediction doesn’t extend to a minority government actually going on to produce a majority one.
Personally I think that if the minority government were Tory it could well return as a majority one.
If the minority government were Labour them returning as the majority would depend on them winning back the votes of those Scottish voters whose voice they chose to ignore while Labour were in government.
I don’t think this will end well for Labour and I don’t mean just the result next week.
CapM is right. If he does form a minority administration, Miliband will need to be a politician of genius to get out of it with his party not wrecked.
John said: “This is solid analysis but hardly news. Some of us have been predicting a ‘hung Parliament’ in 2015 since the last one in 2010, and the polls have been extraordinarily stable over the last few months in confirming that,” It’s the minority government element which I think is more interesting than the hung parliament.
CapM – re appealing to English voters. Yes, but also to reinforce the message to Scottish voters in the hope of avoiding total meltdown.
I’m not saying that minority government is best form of government, just that it is viable. I agree it would be hugely challenging and might wreck the Labour Party. But making an arrangement with the SNP is more challenging still and would definitely wreck Labour.
” re appealing to English voters. Yes, but also to reinforce the message to Scottish voters in the hope of avoiding total meltdown.
The Labour party know that they have total meltdown in Scotland. That’s why appealing to anti Scottish sentiment in England was undertaken.
“But making an arrangement with the SNP is more challenging still and would definitely wreck Labour.”
Re any arrangements from the first opinion polls the SNP were in a in win-win situation built on the back of the Scottish referendum.
To me it looks like the Labour party have managed to position themselves in a lose-lose situation unless the “win” is to duck under the covers for the next five years and hope for the best (worst).
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