As a child I learned that a mixture of red, orange, green and other colours gives a dirty brown mess. Now it is beginning to look as if a mixture of parties with these colours (but not blue) will lead to a messy Brown government, at least for a few months. Gordon Brown has announced that he will go by the autumn, after a successor has been elected. So it looks as if he will not so much resign as fade away, like an old soldier, and his successor as Prime Minister is more likely to be a Miliband than a Cameron.
But will this messy government last? I don’t see why not. The pro-Conservative press has been repeating the opposite so often that people (such as Phil Ruse in a comment at Clayboy) are starting to believe it, but it is not true: a parliamentary alliance between Labour and the Liberal Democrats will not be hopelessly unstable.
Let’s look at the figures. Here is the new composition of the House of Commons:
|Social Democratic & Labour||3|
|To be decided (probable Conservative)||1|
Is there is a new pact between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, it will have 315 seats. Then include its Northern Ireland allies SDLP and Alliance which give it 319, or 320 with the likely support, at least tacitly, of the Green MP.
To defeat it requires an alliance of Conservatives, DUP and SNP for a total of 321, or 324 with Plaid Cymru, assuming Sinn Fein and the Speaker stay neutral. SNP at least will be terrified of supporting the Conservatives and precipitating a Cameron minority government or a new election. But without nationalist support the Tories have only 315 votes and so no chance of defeating the “progressive alliance”.
So it seems to me that, as long as their own MPs don’t break ranks, a coalition of Labour and Lib Dems is likely to be quite stable. It should certainly be stable enough to do what needs to be done to stabilise the economy, as presumably the Conservatives would not want to precipitate an election on such matters. It might not be able to get through Parliament some of its more radical ideas, but perhaps what we need now is stability rather than radical change.
As for the argument that this government would lack legitimacy, that is nonsense. Under the current electoral system as supported by the Conservatives (they are now offering a referendum on a kind of change but would campaign against it) the winner is the grouping which can command a majority for the Queen’s Speech. It looks like Cameron cannot. Brown may be able to, and that looks like making him the winner.