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!