What is to be done: or, ensuring the British people get what they vote for (and that we don't get into this mess again)

As the media prepares to declare Miliband an illegitimate PM, we must be ready to defend what we've voted for.

Adam Ramsay
Adam Ramsay
3 May 2015
Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 19.21.20.png seat predictor, 2 May

As the election looms into sight, five things which have long seemed probable now appear to be likely.

First, the odds are that Labour, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the SDLP, the Greens and Sylvia Hermon will between them have a small parliamentary majority. The polls have moved a little towards the Tories, and they may yet go even further. But they’d have to quicken their pace significantly, or be systemically wrong, for MPs from the remaining parties to have the 323 seats they’ll likely need. Of course either of those things is very possible. But the parties of the left go into polling week with an advantage.

Second, it seems probable that the Conservatives remain the biggest single party, both by vote share and by MP numbers. Even if they don’t overall, they are very likely to be the biggest party in England.

Third, the SNP will romp home, turning a huge chunk of the Scottish map yellow.

Fourth, Miliband won’t attempt any formal pact. Instead, he will try to form a minority government, proposing his programme bit by bit to the Commons, and winning where Labour’s ideas command the support of a majority of MPs.

Finally, the right wing press and the Conservatives will find any excuse they can to declare that Miliband isn’t a legitimate Prime Minister, as I wrote about a month ago, and my co-editor Olly Huitson has examined again since.

Among the likely reasons for this claim will be those which are nonsense: that his party depends on those who wish to break up the union (which will probably include half of the parties with MPs); that his party isn’t biggest, and that he suffers from lower approval ratings than David Cameron. None of these things is or ought to be particularly significant, though Miliband’s comments that he won’t do a deal with the SNP may be twisted into a consensus that he has said he won’t be willing to rely on them for votes of confidence, which in fact is a different matter.

Also among the ways that they will delegitimise Miliband, though, will be some claims which are more sensible. For example, if, as is likely, most people in England have voted Tory or Lib Dem, isn’t it as unreasonable that they are governed by Labour as it is that the Tories rule Scotland with no mandate there? Perhaps these are arbitrary lines in an archipelago, but they have meaning to people. They can’t just be dismissed, particularly when the West Lothian Question is in play.

Specifically, England will have voted for parties which promise to slash public spending and continue the privatisation of its NHS. Scotland will have stopped it from imposing these wounds on itself. No matter how we might approve of this, doesn’t democracy require the Scots to allow the English to dismember their own health service and sacrifice their economy on the alter of deficit obsessionism if that’s what they vote for? If anything, the mess of asymmetrical devolution means the English being ruled by a Westminster government they haven’t voted for is worse than it is for the Scots. They don't have a mitigating Holyrood.

Likewise, our First Past the Post system and as-yet unreviewed constituency boundaries will almost certainly deliver disproportionately for the left this time. The SNP could get more than fifty MPs on just over a million votes while UKIP get 2 MPs with three million. Labour will probably get more seats per vote in England than any other party.

There is a much simpler way to put all of the above. We’re going to end up with a right old mess.

If the five things listed above do happen, then there are two things which those on the left will need to do fast. The first is that the legitimacy of the win will need to be defended. If most MPs are elected promising to sack Cameron, scrap the bedroom tax, abandon or reduce the level of austerity, increase taxes on the wealthiest, reform in some way the banking system and reverse the Health and Social Care Act, then a government must be allowed to form which commits to these and other shared policies. The only viable leader of that government will be Ed Miliband, and having him as PM will be the appropriate democratic outcome. No matter how illegitimate he might seem, even worse would be Cameron governing after failing to win a second majority and when most MPs have been elected by voters who expect them to vote down his government.

Different campaign groups and individuals will have to do different things. The Occupy Democracy protest in Parliament Square may provide a focus for some if they haven't been moved on by the police, I've heard talk of a march through central London from others. Others still will unleash key messages across the internet. But since the right wing press will be doing all that they can to make out that their boy is the rightful Prime Minister, calls for him to stand down and a clear message that he has been rejected (if he has), will be vital. He can’t be allowed to cling on simply because those who voted to sack him expressed that sentiment through different parties and because Miliband said some silly things about SNP collaboration on the telly. The result will belong not to Ed or Dave, but to the people, and it will be our job to stop the Sun from smearing it.

In part, this is about the ability to govern. But in part, it's about being clear with Labour. Miliband may have said he would rather a Tory government than work with the SNP, but does he really have the right to let the Conservatives in if they've been rejected? I suspect that he won't do that - a deal isn't needed for him to become the leader of a minority government. But as red faced tabloids scream in his face, it'll be important that there are enough people standing behind him, stopping him from capitulating.

Secondly, though, it will be clear to all that the election has produced a mess. For Miliband simply to plough on for five years in that context, with constant jabbering about how he has no right to be there (remember how they treated Brown), seems unfeasible. Much better would be for Miliband to shift the attack from him (after all, it won’t all be his fault) onto the ludicrous system which got us into this situation. Labour has proposed a constitutional convention, and he could use this to ensure radical reform of the way that the UK is governed, fixing the many problems which allow the papers and their owners to define for the country what is or isn’t legitimate.

There’s another way to put this. Ed Miliband can respond to the mess he will find himself in in one of two ways. He can ignore it and try to muddle on. Or he can choose to be the great reforming Prime Minister, who turns the UK into a modern democracy at last. He’ll only do the latter with some encouragement. I guess that's going to be down to all of us.

*update: I've just seen the below in the Sunday Times. It seems clear that the Tories are lining up to claim victory if they get most seats, even if most MPs have been elected with a mandate to sack them.

"THE Tories have taken the lead in the race for Downing Street as senior Conservatives revealed that David Cameron is planning to continue as prime minister even if he lacks a Commons majority.

Today’s YouGov poll for The Sunday Times puts the Conservatives on 34%, one point ahead of Labour — a reversal of recent surveys. A second poll by Opinium also put the Tories one point in front, suggesting that the momentum is with Cameron.

Senior Tories say the prime minister is planning to declare victory if he gets the most seats and votes on Thursday. He is expected to give a statement in Downing Street on Friday if the Tories are “clearly the largest party” — forcing Ed Miliband to strike a deal with the Scottish National party (SNP) to bring him down."

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