The United Kingdom has a hung Parliament. The 2010 general election left the Conservatives as the largest party however they are 20 seats short of an overall majority. Therefore a coalition Government must be arranged.
The prospect of a government of national unity* – a coalition including both the Conservatives and Labour – is conspicuous by its absence. Instead both parties are courting the support of the third force in British politics – the Liberal Democrats – to make up the numbers they need to govern.
The situation has given the Lib Dems a rare opportunity to influence Government policy directly. Top of the Liberals’ wish-list is electoral reform – changing the first-past-the-post voting system to some kind of proportional representation. Unfortunately none of the options on the table offer them a realistic prospect of achieving this.
The Tories are opposed to electoral reform, as the current system favours them (disproportionately), while Labour’s death-bed conversion to the cause lacks both conviction and the requisite mandate to see it through. A Lib/Lab alliance would still fall short of a commons majority so it would require the support of a hodge-podge of minority-party MPs in order to get anything done. Such a rainbow coalition would be unlikely to provide stable government in the national interest, would exclude from government the party with the biggest share of the vote, and might disagree with itself so violently on other matters that it could even collapse before it managed to get anything done.
The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, has become the first for generations to catch a whiff of government yet he has been presented with an agonising dilemma: to share power with the Conservatives he would have to abandon the most cherished ambition of his party and set aside the reason he says he went into politics in the first place.
Much depends on the detail of the power-sharing offer being made by the Tories however, when it comes down to it, Clegg will have to decide whether he thinks working with the Tories or against them serves the Liberal agenda best. In other words, will he choose to join a Conservative-led Government and fight within it for that in which Liberals believe, or will he choose to sit opposite a minority Tory administration and fight against that in which they do not?
On that point I think my previous advice applies.
But oh! The irony…
* With Cameron as Prime Minister, Brown as Chancellor and Clegg as Home Secretary, what could possibly go wrong?