Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Preparing for coalition talks in the UK and other election notes


Some notes from the UK election again this morning. It's tomorrow and the outcome will be, it appears, historic. Heck, Peter Mansbridge is there, it must be big.

First up, what's this we're reading? "Whitehall gears up for coalition talks." Wha? Let's have a look at this in some detail. A bit of insight into how mature democracies go about approaching the prospect of a coalition government, a legitimate option in the Westminster parliamentary system, unless a Stephen Harper is involved of course:
Senior civil servants are scouting secret venues for coalition talks and preparing to offer impartial support to all parties, as Whitehall prepares to “hold the ring” through hung parliament negotiations that could last for several weeks.

Drawing lessons from abroad and Britain’s last coalition talks in 1974, Sir Gus O’Donnell, cabinet secretary, is reshaping Whitehall practice to facilitate discussion while protecting the monarch, the integrity of the civil service, and continuity of government.
...
Whitehall preparations, meanwhile, have ranged from clarifying constitutional conventions to arranging more parliamentary passes to allow officials to spend more time with ministers in the Commons. “We’re not short of imaginative scenarios,” said one senior official.
...
One of the most difficult issues for the civil service would be the mechanics of any cross-party co-operation – including how ministers or partners from different parties were consulted and resolving disputes. “It will require a big cultural shift, not just for politicians but the civil service as a whole,” said one senior MP who would be involved in negotiations.

But above all, officials will be determined to avoid a constitutional crisis by ensuring the Queen is not “dragged into politics”.

“She’s very loathe to be put on the spot,” said one person familiar with the conventions. “The strength of the system is that Her Majesty never has to use any of her latent powers.”
No such qualms over here about dragging the Queen's representative into politics.

We'll see what the outcome holds, whether it will be a coalition or minority government, but the above is just so refreshing, hello? It almost makes you want to scream, where is our Whitehall? A great departure from the nonsense we hear from Conservatives in Canada. Heard a reference to the three "coalition" parties, on PowerPlay just yesterday, tossed off in the typical Conservative condescending branding effort.

The foregoing is assuming everyone makes nice. But Tory Cameron is already making noise about challenging constitutional conventions. The "Hansard Society" is here to help:
The Hansard Society, the independent parliamentary authority, say what happens on Friday will depend on a combination of the electoral arithmetic, the constitutional conventions, the pressures of the media cycle and the blogosphere, the reaction of the markets and the direction of public opinion.
The blogosphere! Way to be inclusive Hansard Society. That article lays out a few of the scenarios we might see which are worth looking at.

The polls show a bit of a fade for the Lib Dems:
The YouGov figures are: Con 35%, Lab 30% and the Lib Dems down four points on 24%. The ComRes poll has the Tories on 37%, Lab 29% and Lib Dems 26%.
Is our boy Gordo making a bit of a comeback after his barn burner speech? Here's Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's former top aide, albeit with the pro-Labour perspective:
Heaven knows he has his faults - everyone does. But my God you have to admire the resilience and the depth of a man who just will not stop fighting for what he believes in.

The speech to Citizens UK, now one of the most viewed events of the campaign, and last night's to a party event in Manchester, were streets ahead of anything Cameron or Clegg have delivered. The recital of Labour achievements alone - not to mention the role the Tories played in trying to stop them from happening - should be enough to give people pause for thought.
And here are a few front pages. This one, to show how significant the issue of electoral reform has become:

And one other, for a comic selection, what say you, Simon Cowell, eminent British celebrity? We must know. Out on a limb with that one. He's a Tory, of course he is.