The Power Game

Here’s my first prediction – David Cameron will hold the keys to Number 10 on Friday morning. (It’s not hard, is it? Even I can predict that right.) But if you’re looking for clarity thereafter, you need Mystic Meg. The way things are going, we could be facing ‘the biggest constitutional crisis since the Abdication’, caused not by the SNP but by the Prime Minister himself. He has put out into the public domain the idea that he can continue in office if there is no outright winner as a means of preparing the voters for his next trick – using the parliamentary legislation and Civil Service rules to stay in power.

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And he has a point. The Cabinet Manual based on the Fixed Term Parliaments Act and British custom and practice has a number of passages that were designed for democratic stability which can be twisted by a cunning politician to his own ends. Prime among them is: ‘Prime Ministers stay in office until they resign.’ Right there Cameron has the control over his own destiny. ‘It remains a matter for the Prime Minister, as the Sovereign’s principal adviser, to judge the appropriate time at which to resign, either from their individual position as Prime Minister or on behalf of the government. Recent examples suggest that previous Prime Ministers have not offered their resignations until there was a situation in which clear advice could be given to the Sovereign on who should be asked to form a government.’ It adds ominously: ‘It remains to be seen whether or not these examples will be regarded in future as having established a constitutional convention.’

Furthering the case for a squatting David Cameron is this section: ‘Where an election does not result in an overall majority for a single party, the incumbent government remains in office unless and until the Prime Minister tenders his or her resignation and the Government’s resignation to the Sovereign. An incumbent government is entitled to wait until the new Parliament has met to see if it can command the confidence of the House of Commons.’

But, but…he can’t stay on forever if he hasn’t got a majority, surely. No, he can’t, but on the other hand he has no need to resign unless the other parties can trump him by cobbling together a potential majority. ‘Where a range of different administrations could potentially be formed, political parties may wish to hold discussions to establish who is best able to command the confidence of the House of Commons and should form the next government.’

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The trouble with this of course is that Miliband has already surrendered under Tory fire and promised not to talk to probably the only people who can deliver him to Downing Street – the unacceptable SNP. (At this point I digress to express personal feelings. What a plonker!!)

It means that at the very least, if Miliband is to cobble together a viable majority with the SNP, he will have to eat crow. Before has even opened the door to Number 10 he will have broken his promise and begun his term of office as a dissembler and opportunist. Which is why he is trying to win over the Lib Dems and pretending that if he has them on board it will somehow constitute a broad coalition with moral authority. Twaddle. He needs a majority not authority. Even if he and Clegg appeal jointly for Cameron to go, they have no legal or technical basis for saying so.

Meanwhile the SNP can look on and shake their heads at the old boys’ food throwing melee and smile. The public might not be smiling though because it’s not only Cameron who could carry on (albeit under certain limitations on public spending) as the Cabinet Secretary says the rules allow for his ministers to stay in post – even if they’ve lost their seats. This, remember, is British democracy. And even when they do have to surrender their posts they can stay in government by moving to the Lords. Rule Britannia!

The power vested in the sitting PM is spelled out by Colin Talbot, Professor of Government at Manchester University. ‘Under the FTPA the only circumstances in which a Government falls would be if (a) they resigned – unlikely but not impossible or (b) the following is passed by a majority in the House of Commons. That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government. Nothing else forces a Government out of office – not defeat on a Queen’s Speech, a Budget, a key piece of legislation, a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister, nothing.’

It all points to stalemate with Cameron refusing to leave and demanding Miliband show his hand while Labour come to terms with the probability of talking to the SNP – or claiming to have a majority and playing chicken with the Nationalists over a Queen’s Speech. My guess is a suitably anodyne speech will win SNP support and then Cameron’s out, warning as he goes of stitch-ups and enemies of the state as the Tories plan for a new leader.

I’m not sure any of this is of concern to Nationalists. Just having the clout to be there in numbers and enjoy influence over House activity and select committees and to point out at every turn the weakness of the Labour government, goading it to greater effort while backing it when appropriate and taking the credit for any good works – as well as coining in millions in Short funds – helps makes their case for next year’s Holyrood elections. They can also stick it to Miliband by backing his major works for Britain but abstaining on England-only legislation (it’s a point of principle!), leaving him twisting in the hands of the English Tory majority. In other words, you have two regimes, one Tory for England and one Labour for the UK…a House divided and another benefit to the SNP as the whole calamitous construction of Westminster collapses in on itself.

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If all this sounds a little unedifying for you high-minded consensus-seekers, just remember it was Ed who rejected the Nationalist overtures, told us he didn’t want our support, wouldn’t negotiate, consult or work with us. ‘No thanks, Nicola. Won’t happen.’ That’s what the bold Ed declared. Hell, yes. He did.

Consider the alternative, one in which he scorned the Tory Press and Cameron. He could have announced not a coalition of government but a coalition of interests by bringing together Labour, SNP, Plaid, the Greens and SDLP, giving a clear Commons majority on key votes. He could have declared the age of two party politics dead and the voting system too. He could have argued for PR and Lords abolition. He could have made the case that the nationalists represent the views of all three non-English nations in a true demonstration of Union solidarity. It would be Miliband and Labour leading a Progressive Front with Step One the establishment of a constitutional convention to see how all four nations can benefit from devolution of powers and redistribution from London. He could have taken command of the Liberal federalist agenda and their voters with it. He could have renewed respect for Labour in Scotland. He would have faced down the class-ridden right wing lobby of Establishment Britain and appeared radical yet uniting, edgy yet sensible – a totally new kind of leader for a new country.

Instead he is the same dreary, risk-averse elitist we have come to detest…and his disrespect guarantees the continuing loss of Scotland.

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31 thoughts on “The Power Game

  1. That’s pretty much how I saw it as soon as Ed uttered his two minutes of madness speech in the debate you covered. There is a multi layered constitutional bear trap waiting to snap shut and all because Ed allowed the press to dictate his and our future (oh the irony).

    • Miliband has been dancing to the tune of the Tories (and not Salmond) and has been fighting the election entirely on their ground – the need for more austerity, cutting the deficit, balancing the books (nicely disposed of by Paul Krugman the other day), immigration, cutting benefits, renewing Trident etc. He is too weak to stand up for any kind of socialism, even if he knew what that meant.

      • Basically a party in need of a spine.

        They’ve spent so much time attempting to win power by courting the votes of the few and to what purpose?

        Just grim broadbield. Whether he knows it or not he needs our FM for more than just votes in the Commons.

    • Derek

      A good informative article, thank you. The one thing you left out and the thing I believe is possible is for the Conservatives and Labour to form a coalition. They are both on the way out as nationalism, that ugly word, is not just gripping Scotland. Interesting next couple of weeks and the SNP if they have the seats should sit back and enjoy the ride.

  2. brilliant commentary.

  3. When Miliband metaphorically drew his political gun and shot himself in the foot, with his petty-minded declaration that he would not consider going into government if he had to be supported by the SNP, you could almost hear the whoops of delight and popping of champagne corks in Tory HQ.

  4. It does make you wonder if Ed actually has anyone giving him advice in this election. Or maybe he’s just to dumb to take it in. Either way, I can’t help thinking that one of us should do the decent thing and phone him up to spell it out to him! What a Dilbert! Is he even aware of his own ongoing political suicide?!

  5. This is what he could’ve done. But he’s Ed. This is who we’re stuck with. I hope sense prevails. In the meantime #popcorntime

  6. David Comerford

    Why is Mike Danson interview not available on the Bateman Broadcasting channel? Can only stream, not download from Newsnet Radio…

  7. Very informative once again, Derek. My own take on the likely situation at Westminster if the polls turn out as expected is this. Because Cameron, for a second time, has failed to win an overall majority for his party, he will resign, and be replaced by Boris Johnson. As for Miliband, because of the statements he has made re the S.N.P, he will be forced out and replaced by either Burnham or Harman, both of whom, along with other leading lights in the Labour party, have recently made statements contradicting their leader’s position. Ergo, we will have a Labour government in place supported on a vote by vote basis by the S.N.P.

  8. Derek all of what you say about Cameron could well come to pass. Nothing will surprise me anymore.

    As you say about Miliband, there a re a lot of things he could have done. Unfortunately, he lacks a back bone. Total and utter coward. He is not Prime Minister material, as leader of the labour party he is piss poor. He should also have remembered Dennis Healey’s advice, when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

    Sit back SNP and watch the fun on Friday as they twist and turn and disappear up their own backsides.

  9. George Young

    Why does AFNeil not get Derek Bateman on his shows. Brilliant analysis great work Del.

  10. The people of Scotland can only watch this farce and feel the union is bust. Now thanks to Labour our votes count little.

    Clean sweep SNP and depending on who’s down in WM. We might see another referendum after all. I would want one a month after the Scottish Elections. We don;t need years to debate we’ve done that.

    This system of govt is utterly out of touch and the apathy of the voting public in rUK will ensure the two party system struggles on regardless .

    I doubt even Independence for Scotland would change things that much over the border but…… you never know.

  11. Watch Chuka Umunna very carefully. His naked ambition is not hard to spot and he ticks a good few boxes. I wouldn’t rule him out as leader by next week.

  12. Just put this up on Wings but relevant here too.

    Seriously worth a listen – Ian Dunn, who runs the politics.co.uk website speaking to Kaye Adams this morning and making it very clear he is speaking as a unionist (from 02:47:20)

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05syb6t

    He talks about ” a defining moment in the relationship between England and Scotland and the continuation of Britain itself”

    “We’ve seen the Tories’ response to the democratic surge in Scotland saying we need to block this party from power”

    “The Libdems said almost entirely the same thing” and Milliband “said something tantamount to the same thing”

    “according to anyone who knows anything about how even the basics of Parliament work he [Milliband] will have to deal with her [Nicola] every day if he’s head of a minority Government”

    “Most of the arguments about Westminster not respecting the views of Scottish voters will feel largely vindicated by the way the main parties have behaved during this campaign”

    “the Tories have thrown in their lot as a borderline English Nationalist party…stoking the resentment of the English for the Scots…and Labour has capitulated [to that] completely”

  13. robert graham

    oh i am sorry regarding kaye adams phone in i listened to a full 30 minutes of this guff all the evidence is on u/tube four left wing nuts who follow jimbo around shouting at him shouting at them they were tipped off by jimbos lot who in turn tipped off the media a non story promoted by her as being linked to the SNP she made the link to the SNP and she never corrected the callers that they were not involved we all know jimbo seeks attention thats why the SNP ignore him hes not worth the trouble as it only gets him publicity also the stupid tweet by her other impartial colleague James Cook that it was chaos in glasgow he made it sound like a riot the same one who persisted with the other non story re-french gate the BBC at its best

  14. Many great points Derek and an engaging read as always. Thanks.

    Re what happens starting on Friday, I think much of what you’re saying will happen.

    What I’m really uncertain of is the Lib Dems – Cleggy has been pretty vehemently against the SNP. On one hand, they may try to use that as a bargaining tool against Labour – “the price for our support is going to be high of you’re working with THEM”. On the other hand, what do they have to lose by going along with the SNP? They probably won’t have any more seats in Scotland to lose.

    Oh, its going to be interesting.

  15. Quem deus vult perdere prius dementat

  16. fermerfaefife

    pretty spot on – The one thing I would point out is that SNP just need to wink, nod sagely, go along with a Labour queens speech that
    1) Locks out the Tories but more importantly
    2) Locks IN labour in Government which can then be at the beck and call of SNP demands on the issue by issue basis or they get no legislation passed – the Real Politik of stating that there would be no up front deals with SNP.

    Now correct me if i,m wrong but that vote of no confidence mentioned in the article as the only way to bring down a government has to be passed by 66% of the MPs . The ONLY way labour could get OUT of government that effectively is being controlled by SNP is their OWN labour MPs passing the motion of no confidence. (given that SNP would vote against the motion)
    Oh happy days – what a bunch of muppets – the turkeys would have to vote for xmas if they wanted rid of SNP !

    • You are wrong. 66 per cent of MPs are needed to force a general election straight away. A simple majority of MPs in a confidence motion can force the government to resign. If the government which replaces it cannot win a confidence vote (on a simple majority) within a couple of weeks then Parliament is dissolved and there is another election. Or the Fixed-Terms Parliament Act can itself be scrapped by simple majority vote. But either way, MPs are unlikely to vote to put their jobs and salaries on the line any sooner than they have to.

  17. marion smith

    Agree Miliband is at best shortsighted if he thinks he won’t have to deal with the SNP, but could it be that he doesn’t want the top job – seeing it ass a poisoned chalice?

  18. Dave Albiston

    “Now correct me if i,m wrong but that vote of no confidence mentioned in the article as the only way to bring down a government has to be passed by 66% of the MPs .

    I’ll correct you. A vote of no confidence is passed by 50% +1 of those present and voting. The 66% rule is to allow the house to vote for a general election before the 5 year term is ended. (The Cabinet Office Manual)

  19. Iain Ferguson

    Thank you for a really good read and very possitive response indeed.

  20. John Dobbins

    Many in the extreme right of the Tory Party are egging-on “Maggie” Cameron to hang on just long enough to “poison the well” for an incoming, minority, New Labour government; to “expose” the “illegitimacy” of such an un- English – sorry, “British” government that had to rely on the support of “separatist”, “foreign” parties that wanted to “break-up” the UK – i.e. the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Greens and the SDLP in Northern Ireland. Strangely, and stupidly, “Red” Ed & Co. agree with this Tory assessment – with the exception of the SDLP which has, unstintingly, followed the Labour whip for decades; so that explains that glaring “anomaly” eh?!
    I am glad that Nicola has, at last, come out and stated there ARE occasions when a bloc of SNP MP’s would vote against New Labour proposals e.g. more of the Tory austerity measures that “The Twa Eds” promised would follow their election to government – otherwise, what would be the sense of sending an SNP equivalent of Labour’s “Feeble-Fifty” to merely rubber-stamp the continuance of neo-liberal economics at Westminster?
    But, on a more poignant note – the photograph in the WoS article showing the wee lassie in Greenock waving her Saltire as she stood near to a proven Neo-Nazi thug, as he and his “pal” waved their Union Jacks, is as symbolic and potent an image as the photo of the Vietcong soldier being shot in the head by the pro-American S. Vietnamese Army Colonel/General, all those years ago (you can find this horrific photo/video on You-Tube, if you can handle it?). However, everybody then knew, for certain, that the US had not only “lost the plot”, they had also lost the war. I believe the image of this wee lassie is every bit as significant, and exemplifies a sea-change in attitudes: the “Empire” and the Unionists are “the past” who have “lost the plot” – with the wee lassie wi’ the Saltire as the symbol of Scotland’s future! Anyhoo, legs and everything else crossed for an SNP victory tomorrow.

    http://wingsoverscotland.com/waiting-for-nicola/

  21. bob mccracken

    LABOUR GIVING UP THEIR PRINCIPLES TO WIN MIDDLE ENGLAND,WILL MAKE THE PUBLIC MORE AWARE OF POWER HUNGRY POLITCIANS WILLING TO SACRIFICE EVERYTHING FOR POWER
    I AM STILL AFRAID THE POSTAL VOTE WILL BE FIDDLED TO KEEP CERTAIN PEOPLE IN POWER,HAVE WE TAKEN STEPS TO STOP THIS OR ARE WE STILL NAIVE TO THINK THEY WILL ACT FAIRLY,,,,,,,,,,,,,I DONT

  22. I can remember being in Manchester in 1974 at a weekend and having run out of fags (those were the days) went round to the local shop to buy some more.
    Unfortunately,I only had Scottish bank notes and was told in no uncertain tones where I could go with them….foreign currency.
    No fags for a day….severe withdrawal symptoms!
    Scots have always been regarded in many parts of England as being “foreign” and not “English”.
    That incident,along with many others confirmed in my mind that we Scots had no place in England’s country and that we needed to establish our identity as an equal country within the family of nations which presently constitute the UK state.
    Tomorrow is a chance to put Scotland on an equal footing with England and have our voice listened to and more importantly respected as an equal partner in this union (along with our “dodgy” bank notes).
    Fingers crossed that sufficient numbers of Scots see the light.

  23. Election again in September .

  24. Good wins tomorrow for SNP , will be good for all the people of these islands. Damn the three party love-afair, in Westminster .

  25. Maybe Ed Milliband only made a’VOW’ not to work with the SNP!

    Nicola should make the first demand to guaranteed co-operation the removal of one Ed Milliband.

  26. Barry Davies

    Well you can’t be wrong with that prediction because number 10 doesn’t have any keys, the door can only be opened from the inside, and doesn’t have a lock requiring a key, in fact the Prime minister her opens the door himself.

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