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May 06, 2007
It’s a strange quirk of the electoral system in Britain nowadays that the Lib Dems can do fairly poorly at an election and come out of it with so much power. In both Wales and Scotland, they hold the keys to power for Labour and the SNP respectively. The only difference this time round is that they’re considering rejecting the easy option in both cases.
In Wales, leader Mike German, under a great deal of pressure from his members (a leadership election is more than likely) has to decide, perhaps within a week, whether to prop up an unpopular Labour administration headed by Rhodri Morgan. He seems keen, but he could be deposed before he has a chance to sign off on it.
In Scotland, Nicol Stephen has a similar decision to make for the Lib Dems, although they would at least be propping up the SNP, who are on the up themselves. Even then, the SNP would still need the Greens to form a majority. The Greens support independence. The Lib Dems do not, and it could be a deal breaker.
Even in Westminster, it’s an open secret that the Lib Dems could have to do a similar job for Gordon Brown (or Cameron) after the next election.
It’s almost becoming the case that the Lib Dems are the bland, faceless party of coalition. They don’t seem to be threatening to lead any coalition in the near – perhaps even distant – future. And when elections become closer between the top two parties, their share of the vote often collapses.
There’s something to be said for coalition governments. But when the Lib Dems are so predictably the partner in any coalition, is there any value in voting for them?
My view is that there’ll be another election in Edinburgh within the year. The SNP’s majority is so flaky they’ll struggle to govern. Hold a new election and they’ll probably do even better. In Wales, Labour and the Lib Dems are going to struggle to come to a deal. Many in the Labour party are dead against joining with Plaid, and the Tories are of course a complete no-no. It’s going to be iffy here too.
I (honestly) wrote this before reading Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer. He makes the exact same point.