Well, the British people have spoken, and as expected they have delivered a hung parliament. Despite the protests of the print publications disappointed that the shameless political shilling they delivered has not translated into an absolute majority for their respective party, this is a perfectly legitimate result, and reflects the complete disillusionment with the political classes engendered over the last decade or so by scandals, opportunism and plutocracy. The Tories, presented by the media as the only true alternative to Labour government, were hit hard by some of the worst cases of expenses fraud. The Lib Dems were confident that the positive response they received from first-time voters and through the social networks would translate into a massive gain in the House of Commons - instead, although their share of the popular vote increased, they actually lost seats due to the diffuse nature of their support (something the Lib Dems have always suffered from, and which has informed their long-standing support for the implementation of voting reform). The tabloids have been quick to blame this on the unrepresentative nature of digital media, which they charge has once again proved far less influential than the print press. However, I suspect what will be revealed when more detailed statistics come to light will be that the Lib Dem demographic has dramatically shifted, skewing younger and more idealistic due to 'Cleggmania', whilst the media blitz by the Tory-supporting press has scared off much of the Liberals' older and professional base. In other words, the groundswell of support the Lib Dems gained after the first debate, propagated and sustained by the social networks and the blogosphere, cushioned them against a storm of negative publicity that would otherwise have killed them off altogether. The only party that seem to have come out ahead in this debacle are the Greens, who have gained their first MP. Even UKIP and the BNP, the parties many feared would gain from an increased protest vote, had a terrible night, with the latter losing even the measure of influence in local government they had despite fielding over 300 candidates across the country."
From the beginning of the campaign a hung Parliament has been on the cards, and I've been fairly consistent in supporting a Lib-Con alliance as the best option for a possible coalition government. Ideally the Liberal Democrats would have also taken more seats from Labour, giving them a greater voice in negotiations. However, the fact that the Liberals have come to the table, as one publication puts it, as a 'party humiliated', means that perhaps they are more willing to compromise for the sake of the country than would otherwise be likely - at present Clegg seems to be (quite rightly) holding off on making outright demands for proportional representation given that they did not receive an unambiguous mandate from the voting public. The possibility still remains that talks will fall through and the Lib Dems will turn to Labour, which to my mind would be disastrous - being seen to prop up a monstrously unpopular incumbent government, whether Gordon Brown remains at the helm or not, would forever taint the Lib Dem brand by association, and furthermore establish the precedent that the party may be called upon at any time to act as a spare tire for a discredited progressive government. The Lib Dems stood on the platform of 'change that works for you' - they are now honour-bound to implement that pledge by supporting the party that offered the most popular brand of change. To prop up a sitting government because they could offer more concessions from a manifesto voted for by only 23% of the public would be an undignified and undemocratic end to Liberal independence.
So, a LibCon coalition proving the most democratically - if by no means the most ideologically - trenchant, how best could it be employed to gain political advantage for both partners? A mere formal alliance may seem tempting to the Lib Dems, who could keep their distance from Tory politics whilst still supporting them in the (surprisingly numerous) areas where the parties share common ground: civil liberties, budget cuts, etc. However, to do so would severely weaken their hand at the negotiating table. My humble suggestion regarding the formation of a LibCon coalition is as follows:
- That it shall be a formal partnership between the parties. As the representative of the party with the greatest number of seats and the greatest share of the popular vote, David Cameron shall become Prime Minister. The role of Deputy Prime Minister shall be reserved for Nick Clegg.
- As regards the composition of the Cabinet, the Conservatives gained 306 seats whilst the Lib Dems secured 57. Accordingly, 17 of the 22 cabinet posts will be filled by Conservative shadow ministers (their true proportionate share is 18, but one of these positions will be claimed by Nick Clegg). The remaining four - to be chosen by Nick Clegg (excluding the Leader of the House of Commons, the First Secretary of State and the Chancellor of the Exchequer) - will be determined by the share of the vote received by the corresponding shadow ministers. Which of the parties' shadow ministers gets the corresponding Cabinet job will be decided by the share of the vote: for example, William Hague could get the Foreign Secretary job, but only if he got a higher percentage of the popular vote in his constituency than did Edward Davey, his Liberal Democrat counterpart.
- That the parties undertake to maintain a formal coalition for the next two terms of government, and no longer. The result of this proposition will be to render the next election essentially unwinnable by Labour. However, with the knowledge that the term after that will see the parties back on antagonistic terms, it's likely that a large proportion of Labour progressives will desert to the Lib Dems, putting them comfortably into second place, seats-wise, and certainly putting them in opposition after the next election cycle. However, overall the number of seats held by progressives will likely decline due to the diluting effect this would have- an outcome immensely favourable to the Conservatives. If this suggestion were to be adopted, a LibCon coalition could effectively put Labour out of power for a generation.