Some of you may have heard of Sam Freedman, an excellent chap behind interesting Conservative ideas on education, and top Twitterer .  He has asked me and another defender of interparty horsetrading “how long would this have to go for before you decided it wasn’t a good idea?”

Well, let’s distinguish a few things:

  • What we are used to and what is normal in other countries

Let’s return to those excellent slides from the Institute for Government, hattipping the peerless Nick Timmins of the FT and Westminster Blog along the way.  Here is slide 11:

I’ve just done some quick research on the vital question: “of those countries taking over a week to form a government, how many have descended into social chaos, bond default, wolves roaming the streets and the only valid currency, snout?”  Totting up my numbers quickly, I get zero. The Germans take weeks, and still their trains work.  Calm down, dears

  • Let’s distinguish how it is for Westminster Political Nerds and Normal People

For those of us plying our trade in Westminster, for whom the decision about the make up of the next government is rather crucial, this may feel like hell, like watching World Cup penalty shootouts for days on end.  But for the rest of the world it looms less large.  Yeah, of course we need a government soon, but business is still continuing – I mean, check out the massive Euro bailout, which seemed to happen with some UK input.

  • Distinguish what is happening now and normal horse trading in ‘majority’ rule

Can you remember the rows about ID cards (2004-8), VAT on Fuel (1994), Maastricht, and so on?  We are always having to do negotiations with groups with radically different interests.  Just this time, the groups stood, honestly, on different manifestos at the election

So, SamFr, my answer is: from the country’s point of view, this could go on for a while – and under future voting systems, might well do so.  Whether it is in anyone’s political interest is another matter.


10 thoughts on “Answering the question of @samfr: how long can this go on before it’s a bad idea?

  1. Calm down, dears

    For a moment I thought Michael Winner had been let loose on the blog!

    Seriously, this is a very good post. Life goes on quite well without a government (or to be more accurate, with a caretaker one). It’s better to get a good, solid agreement that allows the new government to take action against the deficit without worrying about losing Commons votes left, right and centre. If that takes time, so be it. It beats a headlong rush into an ill-considered alliance with some points not cleared up.

    1. Yes, I’m quite enjoying having a zombie government. Nothing too controversial, just keeping things ticking over. No Home Secretaries trying to impose yet more infringements of freedom, no Health Secretaries telling us what to do, no Agriculture Secretaries messing around with farms or Business Secretaries strangling firms at birth… can we have a hung parliament again, please?

  2. I think we’ve been concentrating too much on how politicians gain power and not enough on how they exercise it once they attain it..

    The problem is that there is no distinct UK presidential role with veto powers etc etc, and the PM actually rules rather like the particularly egregious version of a UK Plc Chairman/CEO that shareholders get exercised about.

    But the open-ness of the UK constitution does in fact lend itself to additional – consensual – agreements being overlaid upon our fusty conventions and precedents.

    So as I said in the Disraeli Room it is possible to Manage Change with a transitional arrangement.

    Moreover, I agree – Time for a Change with Will Hutton that the really smart move for Labour would be to invite Nick Clegg to be a transitional PM – in a sort of ‘non-executive chairman/ ‘custodian’ role, which is not, of course.a role that either Brown or Cameron (or replacements) could take, since they would not be a ‘Trusted Third Party’.

    Clegg’s role as PM should be to insist upon, and lead, the hacking back of the PM post, and to consensually introduce new checks and balances, alongside a Cabinet which has power as well as responsibility.

    1. “the really smart move for Labour”. Heh. That says it all.

      The “transitional PM” idea is the only conceivable way a LibLab coalition could work – but it won’t be allowed to because the Labour party wouldn’t agree. It looks to be much as I thought – they just don’t want the “progressive coalition” all their pet commentators think they do, or they’d have made a more serious attempt to get it than just deadheading a leader who was going to be deadheaded anyway. Why would they? This way they get to destroy us in the north and Celtic fringes. And anyway, they think Clegg is Satan’s spawn for even talking to the Tories. It’s always been about the tribe.

  3. A number of Conservatives who said the Lib/Cons needed to put a government together in 24 hours to stop the markets collapsing are now saying the Libs are wrong, after 4 days, to start looking at their options.

    I am sure the Cons could still get it if they matched Labour’s promise of a PR referendum.

  4. Also, the Tory landslide that I’m sure the Institute of Directors lust after wouldn’t have done a budget for 50 days.

    Plus, Nick Robinson has reminded me that US Presidents go through a (over 2 months) lame duck phase while waiting for their replacement. And it took Obama a month after he became President to pass the ARRA.

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