4 September 2013

Kick out the legs from under the Coalition


I believe there is an opportunity to bring the coalition government to an end if the Greens get a good result in next May's European Elections. I'll explain my thinking and then I urge all us Greens to put this theory to the test. I might not be proved right, but I think we have an absolute duty to do everything we can to bring this government to an end. We know that Labour have pledged to stick to coalition spending plans in the first year of any administration, so an early election means we could potentially end austerity economics in 2015 rather than waiting for a full term of the coalition, with Labour sticking to their plans until 2016.

It is important to start with a quick reminder of the largest survey so far on Euro Voting intention, commissioned by the Electoral Reform Commission in July. The results from a sample size of 8000 were:

Labour 30%
UKIP 25%
Conservatives 23%
Greens 12%
Lib Dems 10%

If this result was to be repeated, and we'd have to adjust down all five percentages to allow for the BNP and other smaller party votes, it would mean the Lib Dems reduced below 10% in a national election, behind the Greens with just one year left of the coalition. The Conservatives would finish behind UKIP and as expected, Labour would top the poll. So why would UKIP beating the Tories, combined with the Greens beating the Lib Dems, potentially collapse the coalition?

The rise of UKIP has come at the expense not just of the Tories, but also Labour and the Lib Dems, but it is clear that the purple perils are proportionally more damaging to the blues. All of this is going to be put to the test at a General Election. It seems very likely to me that the Tories will hoover back up many of the UKIP votes in a General Election, particularly where they have pledged an In/Out referendum. While the Greens, Lib Dems and UKIPs will make our case for votes under FPTP, the reality is that we will have either a Labour (led) government or a Tory (led) one. That is why our vote in Proportional Elections is so much higher than in General Elections. The main danger for Cameron and his party is that they fail to attract back those UKIP voters.

The first element of destabilisation happens if UKIP achieve second place in the European Elections, beating the Tories. This leaves Cameron with two options. He toughs out a final year as PM knowing that nervous Tories might orchestrate a leadership challenge, or he repeats his response to losing his government proposal on Syria, saying "he gets it" that the country wants a referendum on Europe. He brings forward his timescale for the referendum in 2016 and invites voters to make the choice between Labour and the Conservatives on this issue. In effect, he takes UKIP's success and uses it against them. It is a win-win for the Tories. If they lose the election through the loss of marginal seats, UKIP take the blame.

There are some things that need to happen to make this more likely. Merkel, who seems broadly in agreement with David Cameron about reforming Europe, would have to be re-elected in Germany. Labour would have to stick with their position of not offering a referendum. If they choose to offer one it becomes a non-issue in the election but a big headache for any incoming Labour administration. Finally, UKIP have to avoid completely screwing up in the next eight months, which is by no means certain.

So I'd argue that we have to hit at the weaker link in the coalition. The Lib Dems have been behind UKIP in most polls for the last four months. They seem to have taken that in their stride, reasoning that the "none of the above vote" is well and truly lost. The national leadership have also been able to ignore local Lib Dem councillors being nearly wiped out in a number of councils over a three election cycle, the last of which will coincide with these Euro elections. UKIP beating the Lib Dems in the Euro Elections isn't news, it is expected and it doesn't worry the Lib Dems. In fact, under the D'Hondt system in the 2009 Euros, the Lib Dems lost vote share but gained a seat, because in many ways they benefited from UKIP's increased vote.

However, if the Greens finish ahead of the Lib Dems nationally as the YouGov survey of 8000 voters suggest, they stand to lose more than half their Euro seats in just one election. In the North West, the effect of the Lib Dems losing their seat would be pretty devastating. Couple that with losing all of their remaining Manchester councillors and perhaps being down to just 3 seats in Liverpool, then you have the potential for revolt. The Lib Dems see the Greens as competitors. They see our commitment to Proportional Representation, Social Justice, anti-nuclear weapons stance and the Environment and consider what could have been. The Greens are a far bigger long term threat to their survival. In Australia, the previous centrist third party has been replaced by the Greens, and that is the fear of Liberal Democrats in the UK.

Finishing behind the Greens sets the scene for a leadership challenge in the Lib Dems. Nick Clegg has given up the liberal mantles of free speech (David Miranda) and the anti-war credentials that Charles Kennedy was perceived to stand for. The immediate period after the Euros is the only time for a leadership challenge to Clegg. Should Clegg win, he'll lead them to losses in the next General Election, but a new leader (Tim Farron) might just save some of those marginal seats. That will be a judgement for the remaining Lib Dem members to make.

Any change of leadership in the minority party, will make a return to coalition "business as usual" impossible. I'd expect the Lib Dems to decouple from coalition. This makes it very hard for Cameron to limp on for another year. Labour and the Conservatives together would both vote in Parliament for an election (neither party could afford to be "scared") following the September 2014 Conference season and we'd have an autumn election.

It doesn't change our political objective in the Greens, which is to make several Euro seat gains, starting here in the North West, but it does put our impact in a bigger political context. If you want to help us kick out the coalition starting up here, then support us by visiting Green Action. Elections don't come cheap, but we are determined to make a difference.

1 comment:

Howard Thorp said...

Peter

an interesting post. Two things occur to me; firstly I'm not sure why people focus on the LDs. Its voters that matter. If the LDs get into a row and implode all well and good but there is no guarantee they will come over to us. Secondly back to voters - at least 5 million voters have deserted Labour from the Blair heyday. That to me is more fertile ground for attracting votes - if we can get our policies ac cross to them

Howard