So we have a hung Parliament according to the votes and unless the Lib Democrats hook up in coalition with the Conservatives, we’ll have a minority government for the first time since 1974 and/or longer depending on your definition. We might actually see some real politics right now and find out what the politicians are made of.
Nick Clegg is in a tough position. He has stated the biggest party must form the government and that is the Conservatives. But for important reasons, David Cameron cannot offer the same tasters as Gordon Brown. Labour will offer a referendum on electoral reform, essentially putting Propositional Representation on the table. While Labour would still be a smaller party than the Conservatives under PR, their position is far more aligned to the Liberal Democrats and accommodation would be simpler. Potentially this could keep a Labour-Lib Dem coalition in power forever. However Clegg knows he will be viewed as a hypocrite and making a farce of Lib Dems democratic principals if he gets into bed with the defeated Labour party to keep them in power.
Cameron knows all this and therefore couldn’t possibly offer it despite the present system of first-past-the-post actively discriminating against his party. Its a step he could never take. Also power sharing with Nick Clegg would entail offering some Cabinet seats to his party, an arrangement which pushes out Conservative ministers-to-be and could lead to policy divisions.
Gordon Brown actually comes out of this fairly well. He is keen to carry on, despite the voters decision. His party wasn’t third despite the tiredness, increasing corruption, terrible campaign gaffs and recession and he is still the PM until this is decided. I would recommend he smiles but its too hideous to think of.
So Brown can sit in the background, waiting it out. If Cameron enters as a minority government, the future could be perilous. We’ll see what he is made of, trying to hold together a party riven with divisions over Europe and immigration and with more convoluted ties and old school links to keep happy. His policy movement will be highly restricted. He will have to work with smaller parties just to get legislation through, though he does have policy allies in the Ulster Unionists and the Liberal Democrats on some issues. But passing this legislation would require bargaining and compromise. Big public sectors could trigger strikes and with a chaotic Parliament, an immediate sight of a failing government, unable to act would open up the floor to anyone with a view. Cameron has spent the last years trying to restrict open debate in the party. Any sign of crisis and the mic will be open to all comers. And they will come.