Implications of Clegg ruling out arrangements with either the SNP or UKIP

Stephen Fisher, 25th April 2015

Nick Clegg yesterday ruled out the Liberal Democrats going into coalition with Labour if it depended on “life support” from the SNP. The FT article quotes Clegg as saying:

“I totally rule out any arrangements with the SNP — in the same way I rule out any arrangements with Ukip — because there is no meeting point for me with one party that basically wants to pull our country to bits and another party that wants us to pull out of the EU,” Mr Clegg said. “I would never recommend to the Liberal Democrats that we help establish a government which is basically on a life support system, where Alex Salmond could pull the plug any time he wants. No, no, no.”

The phrase “rule out any arrangements with the SNP” is extremely strong.

The implications for government formation seems to be that the light pink section in our governing majorities pie chart, which currently has an 11% chance, should no longer be called “Con largest but Lab+LD+SNP maj” but should instead be called “Con largest but Lab+SNP+other left maj”, ie. Labour would have a majority with SNP, SDLP, Plaid Cymru, Green and Sylvia Hermon.

By ruling out any arrangement involving UKIP, the other implication of Clegg’s revelations yesterday is that the “Lib Dem Kingmakers” segment in our pie chart perhaps needs to be relabelled “Con largest but Lab+SNP+DUP+other left maj”.

Peter Robinson has said that the DUP would not support a Westminster government that is “captive to a separatist party.” But more recently Nigel Dodds said “We certainly would not be party to any kind of coalition or formal arrangement even short of a coalition which would involve the SNP.” This is weaker than Robinson’s earlier position and does not clearly rule out the vote-by-vote arrangement that the SNP have advocated.

But most importantly, in this scenario the DUP will only be needed to abstain for Lab+SNP+other-left to be able to have a majority over Con+LD+UKIP if they were to all vote together.

If the DUP cannot even be persuaded by Labour to abstain on key votes, then the only way to get a majority without the SNP in this segment would be for a grand coalition of Labour and the Conservatives.

So essentially if Con+LD+DUP do not have a majority (323, without SF seats) then Labour will have a majority with SNP, small parties of the left and perhaps requiring DUP acquiescence. Unless the Lib Dems massively exceed our forecast range of seats (e.g. 45 seats plus), Labour will not need the Liberal Democrats to get a majority.

On this basis – by turning the light pink and gold sections of the pie chart into Lab led governments without LD, the effect of Clegg’s statement is to substantially reduce the chances that the Liberal Democrats will be in government again.

To clarify, I have not changed the forecast numbers just the political assumptions. We have previously assumed Labour would seek and get Lib Dem support because of ideological proximity and fewer larger parties in government would be easier to manage than lots of small parties. The Greens and PC have agreed to negotiation with SNP as a group which should simplify things. It will perhaps be the challenge of negotiating with both unionists and nationalists from Northern Ireland that may end up being most difficult for Labour.

In the interview Clegg also suggested that any “coalition of the losers” formed by the second largest party would lack “legitimacy” and he declared his intention to speak exclusively to the largest party first and only negotiate with the second largest party if talks with the first failed. This seems to be a strengthening of his previous position and designed to make it harder for the Liberal Democrats to do a serious deal with Labour and so weaken their bargaining power with the Conservatives.

It will be interesting to see the reaction within the Liberal Democrats to Nick Clegg’s pronouncements. I wrote here about ideological tensions within the Liberal Democrats. Given that most Lib Dem MPs after the election will be on the social liberal side, and most of the members are too, and given the democratic nature of the party organisation it would not be surprising if they undermine their leader on these issues. Whether they will be able to do so efficiently and effectively in the context of a government formation negotiation process is hard to tell.

There is already some doubt as to how strong Nick Clegg’s claims are. The BBC’s Ben Wright is reported as saying that “Mr Clegg was not ruling out the possibility of both the Lib Dems and the SNP supporting a Labour government’s Queen’s Speech.” Given the SNP are unlikely to support a Queen’s Speech unless they are needed to, and if they are needed then both SNP and LD voting together is incompatible with Nick Clegg’s claim that, ” I would never recommend to the Liberal Democrats that we help establish a government which is basically on a life support system, where Alex Salmond could pull the plug any time he wants.” That is unless he is saying that someone else would have to recommend the arrangement to the party, which would presumably undermine his credibility so much he would need to resign the Lib Dem leadership.

My colleague, Jonathan Jones, is away today so no changes in the pie chart graphics just yet!

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17 thoughts on “Implications of Clegg ruling out arrangements with either the SNP or UKIP”

  1. The comment on Clegg’s capacity to deliver is the nub of this. Of course, there are scenarios where Clegg is decapitated in Sheffield, but the Conservatives are the largest party etc., yet the Liberals swing left. Assuming decapitation does not take place, there are then two cases: either Clegg remains in control, and the pale pink segment should be relabelled “C largest but Lab minority with SNP+G+PC support” or Clegg loses control and the Liberals swing to the Left, to allow for a left-rainbow arrangement.

  2. This will harm the Lib Dems in Scotland where they stand to lose 10 of their 11 seats. Two things from what Clegg is saying – he will talk to the Tories first if they are the largest party. Message Tories first, whatever the ‘possible’ democratic argument. If the democratically elected centre left is a larger block then talking to biggest party first ignores the way people have voted. The SNP are not campaigning for Independence in this election, they are campaigning for a social democrat outcome that will change the right wing direction of the last 5 years. Willie Rennie, the leader of the Lib Dems in Scotland, has said he would work, even be part of a coalition with the SNP in Scotland after 2016. But he also is against cooperating with the SNP at Westminster. Inconsistent.

    Secondly what Clegg is saying – and he may not be an MP never mind leader in two weeks time – I will not walk into the lobby with DNP Mps whether I agree with them on individual issues or not. What Clegg is in effect saying – bring back the days of the national liberals and conservative liberals.

    1. The only worry the Lib Dems have left in Scotland is Carmichael, and he seems safe due to Orkney being different to the mainland politically

  3. More importantly, how much impetus will Clegg’s comments give to tactical voting for Libs by Cons where the battle is between Lib and Lab, such as Sheffield Hallam? Cons will now know that a Lib win is effectively one more seat for them. Presumably that’s what motivated Clegg to show a bit of leg now. It might even persuade a few Cleggite Libs to back their putative Tory partners in tight LAb-Con battles.

  4. I would be more interested in what Vince Cable says, as he is likely to be there in two weeks time and may even be acting or caretaker leader of the parliamentary Liberal Democrats in 2 to 3 weeks if Mr Clegg loses his seat.

  5. The Lib Dems are carefully choosing their words here.
    Has anyone asked them about a DUP arrangement, and has anyone got Sylvia Herman’s views.

    The way I see it is as follows (Sinn Fein not included)

    Hard left nationalist parties
    Sinn Fein (Abstain)

    Left nationalist parties:
    SNP, PC, SDLP, Greens (Believe in abolition of the monarchy)

    Centre-left unionist parties
    Labour

    Centrist unionist party:
    Lib Dem, North Down.

    Centre-right unionist parties
    Conservative

    Right unionist parties:
    UKIP; DUP.

    If Con + UKIP + DUP + ND + Lib Dem only gets to 323 will the Lib Dems go for that ?

    Past 330 I think it is (Just about) viable. But 323 – 330 seats on those numbers are a real goldilocks zone for the Lib Dems…

  6. Is there an argument now to define a slice of the pie as “???”

    We’re approaching a point, if we take party leaders’ statements at their word, where there’s a twilight zone in which all of the routes to 323 have been ruled out one way or another.

    In the current forecast, Con+LD+DUP = 321, Con+LD+DUP+UKIP = 325, and Lab+SNP+PC+SDLP+Green+Hermon = 320. That’s as close to the knife-edge as the model has been during the campaign.

    I think that russellbruce is right that Clegg’s statements set up the chance that the remaining Lib Dems splinter in that scenario — in the grand tradition of Liberal splinters — but that’s clearly beyond the domain of this model.

  7. Ashcroft’s poll this afternoon now puts the Conservatives 6% ahead of Labour. So, think about that for a moment.

    I still (more than ever) believe that the number of seats won by the Conservatives and LibDems will be substantially more than the seats won by Labour and the SNP. The idea that the Labour can (or will) lose 40 seats or so to the SNP and still have virtually the same number (of seats) as the Tories does not make sense.

    I noticed that the bookies’ odds on a LibDem/Conservative coalition firmed from around 6-1 to 4-1 within a couple of hours of Clegg’s speech. This is still a good bet. Of course he would like to carry on exactly where he left off, and I think there is a good chance he will be doing.

    We could speculate forever about Sylvia Herman, Sinn Fein, Salmond and Sturgeon, etc etc….. In 2 weeks time I am certain that those who were so certain that the arithmetic pointed to a Miliband occupancy of No.10 will have so much egg on their faces they will resemble walking omelettes!

    1. This could well be the case. SN P seats are likely to be around 20 higher than Lib Dem though if not more.

  8. David, I think you have misunderstood the LibDem’s position here. What I understand them to mean is that they won’t enter a *formal* coalition with either UKIP or the SNP. Given that the SNP have pleged to bring down a Conservative government, there is scope for a Labour minority with confidence and supply from the LibDems (and possibly the DUP), knowing that the SNP would have to vote with the Conservatives to bring down parliament.

  9. Stephen, I think you have misunderstood the LibDem’s position here. What I understand them to mean is that they won’t enter a *formal* coalition with either UKIP or the SNP. Given that the SNP have pleged to bring down a Conservative government, there is scope for a Labour minority with confidence and supply from the LibDems (and possibly the DUP), knowing that the SNP would have to vote with the Conservatives to bring down parliament.

  10. Surely LibDems cannot resume coalition with the Conservatives when they are hell bent on a referendum which could lead to leaving the EU. A red line for many of us.
    I believe that the SNP is engaging in UK politics and should not be shunned – they are much more acceptable bedfellows than DUP

  11. Is there any possibility that Sinn Fein would make a major policy reversal and take their seats in Westminster just to make it that much more difficult to form a government? If their object is to obfuscate HM’s government at every pass, this would be one of their best opportunities to do so.

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