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.
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.’
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.
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.by