Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics

Disastrous coalitions


The polls show the UK general election campaign stuck in an uncomfortable pattern. The three biggest parties seem clear to be the Conservatives and Labour, each with about 41.5% of the seats, and the SNP (Scottish Nationalists) with about 8.5%. That means that unless the two main parties form a coalition — which might happen if the Earth is invaded by bug-eyed monsters from Beta Centauri or Europe or someplace like that, but is extremely unlikely under any less circumstances less conducive to national unity — there is no majority without the SNP. In terms of policy the SNP is a natural ally of Labour —  but they have this one particular ambition to dismantle the country that makes them hard to accept as a coalition partner. They’re like the Bloc Québécois, who blocked majorities in the Canadian parliament for a decade or so until the most recent election.

The natural consequence would be a minority government, with informal concessions to the regional party that fall short of secession. But that’s naturally a worrying prospect for those who don’t want the country to be taken apart, or are worried about special benefits streaming north. So Cameron is beating that drum:

This would be the first time in our history that a group of nationalists from one part of our country would be involved in altering the direction of our country, and I think that is a frightening prospect.

But it’s logically a weird claim to make, because the same calculus suggests that there is no way for the Tories to govern at all, since they can’t make any arrangement with the SNP. His conclusion:

that is the prospect we face if we don’t get the majority Conservative government.

But if we can dream of a Conservative majority, we can just as well dream of a Labour majority. In fact, the best way to avoid this dread prospect would be for Conservative candidates to pull out of the running in Scottish constituencies and throw their support to Labour. Almost certainly, a modest Conservative gain — which would come from Labour, not from the SNP — would leave them still well short of a majority, with a minority Labour government even weaker relative to the SNP.

But, of course, he’s not really expecting a Conservative majority. What Cameron hopes for is to be enough seats ahead of Labour to be able to create constitutional chaos by denouncing a minority Labour government as illegitimate.

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