Gerry Adams resigned his seat from the British House of Commons on 26 January 2011, and in accordance with the rules and customs of Westminster was granted the position of Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead in order to facilitate this. This was wrongly reported as a barony by David Cameron; a baron is a member of the British nobility, while a steward and bailiff is more akin to a groundskeeper. Adams is no longer the bailiff, as the position was granted in April to Labour MP Peter Soulsby.
In any case, a point made on Twitter by mgconnor (of iCampaigned) was that Michelle Gildernew, should she be interested in standing for the Irish presidency, as is speculated, would similarly be expected to resign her seat. It was easy for Adams, as it was a near certainty both that he would succeed Arthur Morgan in Louth (he topped the poll) and that Sinn Féin would win the Belfast West bye-election (Paul Maskey won with 70%).
Neither would be true in the case of Gildernew, who is quite unlikely to win, while she won the Fermanagh–South Tyrone seat for Sinn Féin in 2010 by only 4 votes. Will anyone ask whether she should resign as Adams did, or would she respond that it’s equivalent to Gay Mitchell continuing as an MEP while standing? While that could be fair, it won’t always be as easy for Sinn Féin to transfer representatives across the border as between West Belfast and Louth.
A more pressing issue is how any Sinn Féin candidate would be nominated. With 14 TDs and 3 Senators, they are three short of the 20 Oireachtas members which would nominate a candidate. They could appeal to certain members of Fianna Fáil, particularly as they are not running a candidate, and that there are Fianna Fáil senators who owe their seats to Sinn Féin voters. I’m not sure what the relations are now between their former party colleague, Independent TD Thomas Pringle, but he would be a possibility.
Even at the 10% Sinn Féin achieved at the general election in February, it would be 10% more than Fianna Fáil will receive in this election. Add to that Socialist and People Before Profit voters who would be glad of a left-wing anti-bailout candidate, and they would probably reach around 15% at a first reasonable estimate.
Before the election, Liberal Democrat Voice, a blog site of LibDem supporters, compiled a ranking all members of the last Parliament by how libertarian they were based on their votes on a variety of votes relating to freedom of speech, trial without jury, ID cards, a national DNA database, and other similar civil liberties issues. The most authoritarian on these issues were ranked 100, those most libertarian ranked 0. It is by no means a precise rank, because of the difficulty in scoring votes missed by MPs, but with IDS ranked most authoritarian of the new cabinet, Huhne ranked most libertarian, it seems to be a reasonable guide. Particularly welcome are the low scores from Home Secretary Theresa May and from Attorney-General Dominic Grieve, in the most relevant positions to civil liberties.
|Prime Minister||David Cameron||12|
|Deputy Prime Minister and Lord President of the Council||Nick Clegg||9|
|Chancellor of the Exchequer||George Osborne||9|
|Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs||William Hague||6|
|Secretary of State for the Home Department||Theresa May||3|
|Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice||Kenneth Clarke||3|
|Secretary of State for Defence||Dr Liam Fox||12|
|Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills||Dr Vince Cable||3|
|Secretary of State for Work and Pensions||Iain Duncan Smith||15|
|Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change||Chris Huhne||0|
|Secretary of State for Health||Andrew Lansley||3|
|Secretary of State for Education||Michael Gove||9|
|Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government||Eric Pickles||9|
|Secretary of State for Transport||Phillip Hammond||6|
|Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs||Caroline Spelman||3|
|Secretary of State for International Development||Andrew Mitchell||3|
|Secretary of State for Northern Ireland||Owen Paterson||9|
|Secretary of State for Scotland||Danny Alexander||6|
|Secretary of State for Wales||Cheryl Gillan||3|
|Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport||Jeremy Hunt||6|
|Chief Secretary to the Treasury||David Laws||3|
|Paymaster General||Francis Maude||9|
|Minister of State in the Cabinet Office||Oliver Letwin||6|
|Minister of State for Universities and Science||David Willetts||9|
|Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons||Sir George Young, Bt||6|
|Chief Whip||Patrick McLoughlin||6|
This was a disappointing election for Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats. As David Schneider tweeted, “Was the whole LibDem thing something I dreamed in the shower?”. With 63 MPs at the dissolution of the Commons on 6 May, they returned with only 57. These included a few high-profile losses, such as Lembit Öpik in Montgomeryshire, one of the safest seats for Whigs and Liberals since the 17th century, and Dr Evan Harris in Oxford West and Abingdon, who was possibly my favourite MP, a strong voice for a clear scientific understanding of policy, a defender of free speech, and a clear advocate for of gay rights, beaten by Nicola Blackwood, a Tory who apparently has creationist beliefs.
But they also have a great opportunity, as no government can be formed without their support. They have a choice now between supporting a government led by David Cameron, or one led by a probably David Miliband, also supported by the SDLP, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and Sylvia Hermon. Perhaps it should not come as a surprise that as someone who has in political allegiances has gone between the Progressive Democrats and Fine Gael that I would favour the former option. I see this as their best chance of affecting change in both policy and in the dynamics of party politics, as long as they ensure a place in cabinet rather than simply supporting the Conservatives in a confidence and supply arrangement.
The Conservatives are reluctant to move much at all on the question of electoral reform. This would be the best reason the Lib Dems would have to collapse negotiations, if they cannot secure a firm commitment on this. However, they should consider two things. The first is that a referendum proposed by a rag-tag slump coalition of Labour, the Lib Dems and a selection of regionalist parties would not be guaranteed to win. The second is that a successful and stable coalition agreement would seriously impair the Tories’ argument against proportional representation, whereas they could point to a Lab/LD/SNP/SDLP/Hermon coalition as exactly the kind of thing that would occur frequently under PR.
The change to the Tories
This leads onto the change they could affect in the party system. As referred to by Declan Harmon, Fianna Fáil eventually abandoned their core principle of opposition to coalitions. In 1989 the Progressive Democrats had had a poor election, falling from 14 to 6 seats. Its members were mostly composed of those who had a deep antipathy to the politics of Charles Haughey, who they were now supporting as Taoiseach. By doing so, they altered the presumptions everyone had about election outcomes and the formation of governments. The Tories know the importance of a stable government as a signal for the markets, and would likely not seek to collapse the arrangement over any frivolous matter. After a year of coalition, they would henceforth slowly begin to think less adamantly in favour of single-party government only.
I was talking to a friend this morning about the coalition who reminded me that they’re Tories, not conservatives. Of course there’s a difference, and there are many issues that I couldn’t trust Tory instincts on, be it Northern Ireland, their approach to families, or their commitment to gay rights (whatever about the optimism of Nick Herbert for his party and his likelihood of being a cabinet minister, there have been too many Lewises, Lardners and Strouds over the course of the election for my liking). But these tendencies would be less of a concern in coalition, and without them, the Tories would be in danger of regressing towards their
In government with the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats could ensure that they follow through with their claimed commitments to civil liberties. They could force them to confront more quickly questions like biometric ID cards, the national database, and the level of CCTV coverage in Britain. On immigration, they would propose the amnesty for long-standing residents proposed by the Lib Dems, but neither they pass the stringent caps proposed by the Tories. The Tories would continue for opt-outs on social provisions of the European Union, while not being as obstinate in practice as they might otherwise be. The social conservative wing of the Tories are pushing for a cabinet position for Iain Duncan Smith in return for agreeing to any deal with the Lib Dems. Fine, so long as in the next year or so he is whipped to go through the lobbies voting in favour of some measure on gay rights.
So yes, the Liberal Democrats will suffer some initial drop in support in they enter coalition with the Tories, just as the Green Party did here after 2007, both because of their government partner and the inevitable cuts to government spending. But in the long-term, because of the change they would make to British political culture, both by normalizing c0alition politics and making electoral reform easier to pass, and putting pressure on the civil-liberties-focused wing of the Tories, I think it would be the right thing for them to do.
Great news from East Belfast, where the Alliance Party’s Naomi Long has taken out First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson. Great to see an Alliance Party MP elected after 40 years, and 36 years after Stratton Mills, who had left after being elected from the Ulster Unionist Party, retired in 1974.
The Alliance are avowedly non-sectarian, though it has been difficult for them at times for them to maintain their identity. I look forward to seeing how they can shape themselves now on the Westminster stage. It is also a gain for the Liberal Democrats, with whom the Alliance are aligned.
Peter Robinson won his seat here in 1979, in a close three-way contest against the Ulster Unionist Party’s William Craig and the Alliance Party’s Oliver Napier, with less than a thousand votes separating the three candidates, and till tonight, it was considered a solidly safe seat for the DUP. As a hung parliament is likely, and the DUP will need someone to be able negotiate any arrangements, his leadership may well be on the line quite soon.
Well, ding dong, the witch is dead.
The Times/Ladbrokes seat predictor currently put the Conservatives six seats short of a majority. Suppose this prediction is accurate. It ignores a few details about Northern Ireland. They predict a seat for Sir Reg Empey, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, standing in alliance with the Conservative Party, which really puts the those elected as Conservatives at 321. South Antrim should really have been coloured as blue as any Conservative predictions in Britain. They also predict a seat for Rodney Connor in Fermanagh–South Tyrone, who has pledged to take the Tory whip under a loose arrangement. Add to that then the four predicted Sinn Féin seats. By their abstention, they bring the figure required for a majority to 324, rather than the standard figure given of 326.
The Conservatives would then be only two seats short of a majority, and could very reasonably expect to form a government. But to be secure, to sure of not losing any confidence motion, especially if the predictions are a little high for the party, they could turn then to the eight predicted seats of the Democratic Unionist Party. They would most likely guarantee some measure of relief from the expected public sector cuts to Northern Ireland. It would be a major turn around in Peter Robinson’s fortunes, whose position was in doubt only a few months ago. It would also consolidate the Conservative government’s Unionist stance on issues of disagreement in Northern Ireland, which could potentially have repercussions for any further negotiations.
The URL for this blog references the predecessors of the Liberal Democrats, but I am not supporting them on the basis that they are the political heirs of William Russell and John Locke, of Edmund Burke and Charles Grey. I do naturally find sympathy with those who espouse the liberal tradition, but such support should not be unquestioned.
That I would feel culturally closer to the Liberal Democrats than to either the trade unionist tradition of Labour or the socially conservative tradition of the Conservatives does matter to me. But it is simplistic to still reduce the contest to these terms, given the change both larger parties have undergone. Meanwhile, the most pressing issue facing the United Kingdom in the coming years is its budget deficit, and that cannot be ignored.
There are a few Lib Dem policy stances I disagree with. While I would favour tax decreases, I would not favour the approach in increasing the tax credit to £10,000. This would take some workers out of the tax net completely; cuts should rather be in the standard rate, so that as many workers as possible make some contribution. I also oppose taxpayers paying for third-level tuition fees, just as I oppose it in Ireland, but quite honestly, as the party has scaled back on its deadline for implementing such a policy, I don’t believe it would be a priority for them in government.
Here, copied from LabourList, is a summary of the endorsements Britain’s daily newspapers have given before each of the post-war elections.
Which party they’ll each case will not in most cases be a big surprise, though it will interest which endorsements the Lib Dems will manage to get. The Independent seems likely to endorse them, The Guardian may withhold that honour given Clegg’s recent talk of a post-election arrangement with the Tories, however ridiculous it would be to prop Labour up under such circumstances.
For those interested, here are the endorsements The Economist gave:
In 1992, The Economist endorsed John Major’s Conservative Party on the grounds that, “Mr Ashdown’s best long-term hope for a Liberal revival lies in overturning the past 92 years, so that the Labour Party and the Liberals rejoin each other. For that to happen, Labour must lose this election, and the bigger its loss the better. And that, given the depressing state of British politics, is the best reason for wanting the Conservatives to win next week.” I’m curious what extent the best long-term hopes for a Liberal revival will play in the endorsement they’ll offer in Friday’s issue.
The Liberal Democrats, and before them the Liberal Party, have long found themselves coming up against the difficulty of Britain’s highly disproportional first-past-the-post electoral system. The Tories have also suffered, because of the various spreads of the three parties across different constituencies. In 2005, the Tories won more votes than Labour in England, but less seats.
This time around, there is a serious prospect of Labour coming third in vote terms, but far ahead of the Lib Dems in seats. Electoral Calculus currently predict that Labour will be marginally behind in vote share, but will get 133 more seats than the Lib Dems. This will prove for the Lib Dems the best case for electoral reform. The best they are likely to get is the alternative vote, STV in single-member districts. This would still be far from proportional, but there is a strong affinity for many of having a single MP who they can call their own.
A Lib-Dem-leaning voter in a Conservative-Labour constituency would often have voted for whichever of the larger parties was their reluctant second choice. This year, there is a strong case for them to vote Lib Dem, as the greater the level of disproportionality, the stronger the case of the leadership of the party will be in any government negotiations for a more strongly proportional electoral system, which Chris Huhne is today raising against David Cameron.
Here’s John Cleese in 1997, on how voters’ perception of the Lib Dems’ chances is really their biggest obstacle.
Nick Clegg rightly said this morning that it would be preposterous if Labour were to lead the next government if it were the third party in share of votes. What hasn’t been given due focus is that mightn’t even have that theoretical option if the numbers from these polls hold out. To command a majority, a prime minister needs the support of 326 of the 650 MPs in the Commons. Electoral Calculus currently put the Conservatives at 297, Labour at 227 and the Liberal Democrats at 94, whereas Times/Ladbrokes give the Conservatives 315, Labour 224 and the Liberal Democrats 78. They differ significantly in how they predict seats to be shared between the Tories and Lib Dems, but both show that even with Lib Dem support, Labour would not pass 326. Unless they also added the various nationalists, but that really would be pushing it, and the Liberal Democrats would not be so foolish.
The only real question left is whether the Tories will manage to govern alone or whether they will be compelled to rely on Lib Dem support. Labour are as good as irrelevant on those figures.
David Cameron has proposed a law that would force a general election within six months of the party of the prime minister changing its leader. This isn’t really how parliamentary democracy works. Margaret Thatcher was quoted recently giving her reason for not having a prime ministerial debate, “We are not choosing a president, we are electing a government”. The election on 6 May is not an electoral college system with 650 constituencies voting for Brown, Cameron or Clegg. In Britain, the prime minister is chosen as whoever can command a majority of members of the House of Commons. For it to be defined otherwise would be a major departure, and out of step with traditions across Europe. Gordon Brown held his mandate subject to the MPs, as did Tony Blair and every prime minister before them. As the list of prime ministers shows, there have been several occasions over the centuries where a retiring prime minister, from the three parties, was succeeded by his successor as party leader without any general expectation of an impending general election.
Here in Ireland, Éamon de Valera was succeeded by Seán Lemass in 1959, Lemass by Jack Lynch in 1966, Lynch by Charles Haughey in 1979, Haughey by Albert Reynolds in 1992 and Bertie Ahern by Brian Cowen in 2008, on each occasion as part of the succession of the party leader. We would find similar patterns in parliamentary democracies across Europe.
As a Conservative, David Cameron should have a solid reason for proposing a departure from this constitutional convention, rather than merely sniping at Gordon Brown’s cowardice (and ultimately poor judgment) in not calling an election in the autumn of 2007 as he had strongly considered.
I had to laugh when I listened this morning to this week’s episode of The Bugle, recorded on Friday, where Andy and John had jokingly anticipated the reactionary end of the British tabloid press attacking Nick Clegg after his success at Thursday’s leaders’ debate for his international ties and family, in a similar fashion to some of the worst parts of the American press with Barack Obama. Well, right on form, The Sunday Mail today accused Nick Clegg of playing down his international background, “Revealed: The United Nations that make up Nick Clegg”, with a series of references to his family and those he has worked with, as if it were a case of MS that he had a duty to inform the British public of.
Mrs Clegg, 41, also described her husband as a ‘true internationalist’ – despite his repeated references during the leaders’ TV debate last week to the concerns of his constituents in Sheffield.
‘Nick has many international influences in his family and he has also worked in Hungary and Brussels, and he lived in the US,’ she said.
Indeed, Mr Clegg’s exotic lineage and cosmopolitan lifestyle is a world away from his gritty Yorkshire constituency.
The multilingual Lib Dem leader was born to a Dutch mother and a half-Russian father, and employs a German spin doctor. …
Mr Clegg, 43, plays down his international background. When it was pointed out that he was only a quarter English, he said: ‘Well, biologically…yeah. But I was born here, brought up here, went to school here, and I feel very proud to be British. I have been very fortunate to have different bits to my identity. That’s enriched me.’
Never disappoint, that crowd, do they? How long before they ask to see his birth cert?
Lady Sylvia Hermon, who has represented North Down as an MP for the Ulster Unionist Party since 2001, did not really surprise anyone by not seeking to be reselected as the party’s candidate for the upcoming election. She has been vocal in her opposition to the alliance between the Ulster Unionists and the Conservative Party, under the label Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force, from the start. Lady Hermon herself has been much more closely aligned with the Labour Party in the House of Commons, and had never considered herself to be a Tory.
Having now confirmed that she does not intend to stand down, it would make sense for her to officially stand as a candidate for the Labour Party. This would give a refreshing choice to the electorate of North Down, between two parties not primarily defined by their position on the national question. Of course, it would do no good for the long-term chances of a united Ireland for them to get used to thinking in terms of British political parties, but it should be welcome nonetheless.
Politics in North Down has long been exceptional, given that the population is so Unionist that it matters less to them than to others in Northern Ireland, such that they elected the only Green Party MLA in 2007, or that political mavericks have been consistently elected at Westminster. From 1970 to 1995, the constituency was represented by James Kilfedder, one-time auditor of the College Historical Society, and leader of the one-man Ulster Popular Unionist Party. He died in 1995, on the day that the Belfast Telegraph featured an article outing him as gay. He was succeeded by Robert McCartney, leader of the one-man United Kingdom Unionist Party, an anti-devolutionist party briefly supported by Conor Cruise O’Brien. Mr McCartney proved that he was no gentleman when he stepped in front of Lady Hermon to speak on the day of the count of the 2001 Westminster election, rather than allowing her give her victory speech.
So North Down politics is not really representative of Northern Ireland, but an election between Lady Hermon for Labour and Ian Parsley, who had stood for the Alliance in the 2009 European election, for the Conservatives, would definitely be one to watch.