Now that Brown’s promised to step down, it’s looking increasingly plausible that our next government will be a centre-left coalition of some kind. No doubt if this actually happens the rightwing press will go into a frenzy about how illegitimate and unfair it is for the Tories not to get into Government, but they can safely be ignored. Despite what many, including Salman on this very blog, have been claiming, a party which got 36% of the vote and 46% of the seats is not entitled to run the country if there’s a majority coalition who are willing and able to give it a shot instead. The Tories tried and failed to get majority support, so they should stop whinging and get used to the fact that nearly two thirds of the country made it very clear that we don’t want them in office.
But the problem, as so many have pointed out, is getting enough support in the Commons for an anti-Tory alliance. There are 650 Commons seats in total, but what everyone seems to have forgotten is that Sinn Féin (who have 5 MPs) don’t take up theirs. This means that a coalition would need 323 MPs or more to have an effective majority, not 325 as some people have been claiming. The breakdown in seats for the left of centre and liberal parties is as follows:
Labour and the Lib Dems have 315 seats combined, so they need 8 more for a majority. The SNP and one party out of Plaid and the SDLP would do fine. This shows that it’s doable, at least in principle. But a coalition – or even an informal agreement – between four parties like this probably wouldn’t hold together for long, especially given how rude Labour were when Alex Salmond suggested precisely this. So my solution? Form the coalition, but for as short a time as possible. Try and hold it together for just long enough to bring in the change our political system’s been crying out for. Just long enough to ensure the Tories never get to impose their bastard rightwing policies on the left-leaning majority of us again. Just long enough, in short, to bring in electoral reform. As I’ve said before, I’m agnostic as to which version of electoral reform we should favour (though Reuben’s arguments against AV are pretty convincing), but it needs to happen and needs to happen soon. And once it’s in place? Call another election. Yes, I know it’ll be difficult to get people out on the streets campaigning so soon after this one, but at least with some kind of PR in place everyone’s vote would actually matter at last. And how much better would it be for an uneasy four(or more)-party coalition like the one I’m proposing to split at a time of its own choosing rather than to disintergrate from petty infighting? It’s a long shot, I know. But I think it’s our best hope.