Comment: Cameron might never get into No 10

Who'd have thought it? We might never have to live under a Cameron government.

By Jane Fae

Is it possible - is it really just possible - that David Cameron will never see the inside of No. 10? At least, not as anything other than a very distinguished guest at one of the prime minister's soirées?

You might think that all is now over bar the shouting. The Tories are the largest party in the new Commons. Not even the combined might of Labour and Lib Dems can put together a majority. But yet.


The first inklings of how it might play out were evident yesterday in a question-and-answer session with Peter Mandelson. He was explicit, claiming that a minority government would be bad for Britain.

Wouldn't any government put together now be a minority? Not exactly. There is a world of difference between a coalition government, which unites sufficient votes in the House of Commons to provide someone with an overall majority - and a minority government, which exists until such time as the other parties unite to overthrow it.

Remember, the question that the Queen will ask of whichever dodgy geezer turns up at the palace next week will be very simple: can you command the support of the House of Commons? That is achieved either by getting enough MPs on side to ensure you aren't voted down when you appoint yourself as PM. Or alternatively, by enough MP's sitting on their hands and not voting against you when the question is put.

In this instance, two previous results are instructive. The Labour administration of October 1974 survived for a couple of years by cobbling together a pact with the then Liberal party. Not a formal coalition. But it stuck until death and by-elections eroded its slender majority.

The Labour administration of 1923/24 was always a minority. It had fewer seats than Labour hold now, but as the Tories - then, too, the largest party - could not put forward anyone who would not be voted down by the combined opposition parties, they were allowed a chance to govern.

How does the political arithmetic stack up? On present trends, Labour plus Lib Dem look capable of putting together around 314 MPs. Add in a Green. Maybe add in the SNP, for whom Labour are a lesser enemy than the Tories. Add Plaid and an Ulster party or two. Remember that Sinn Fein don't take their seats and also that the death of one candidate means just 649 members were elected yesterday. Subtract the Speaker.

Suddenly a slender majority emerges.

No use David Cameron huffing and puffing about the 'will' of the electorate. Such a coalition would represent the combined voting intentions of over 50% of the electorate - the first government to do so in decades.

Yet would this not be electoral suicide for Clegg and the Lib Dems?

A short-lived pact, followed by electoral annihilation? Maybe. Or maybe not. Labour is already committed to the Alternative Vote (AV) system of elections. Whilst the Lib Dems prefer proportional representation, AV is not bad for them. In fact, it probably gives them more seats than they deserve, just as 'first-past-the-post' gives them fewer.

So introduce AV. Weather the storm. Back to the country in the autumn - or early 2011 - at which point the new system delivers around 190 Labour MP's, 200 Lib Dems - and not that many more Tories.

Cameron for PM? Ii might never happen.

Of course, it is just possible that the price for Lib Dem support will be the eviction of Brown. In which case, our second incredible prediction of the day is: get ready for the anointment of prime minister Harriet Harman some time late next week.

Impossible? Nope.

Jane Fae is an independent writer with a strong interest in topics of political and sexual liberty. She has been a Liberal parliamentary candidate, IT and marketing consultant, and founder and editor of two academic journals on the use and analysis of personal data.

The views expressed in politics.co.uk's comment pages are not necessarily those of the website or its owners.

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