"I agree with Nick." Why Ed brought it back

The old pre-election refrain gets an airing.

It appears to be May 2010 all over again.

A Labour leader is throwing come hither looks at Nick Clegg. And after celebrating what looked like a victory in the small hours of a Friday morning, one long weekend later and Tory MPs are realising that there may be an orange obstacle preventing them doing anything and everything they want.

Meanwhile, a quirk in the coalition agreement -- that everyone bar Ed Miliband seems to have missed -- is about to take effect.

Let's deal with the Tories first. A certain amount of self-indulgent giggling on Friday at Cameron's "coup" has turned into sorrowful headshaking now that the Lib Dems have (belatedly) called foul.

"Do they understand the concept of collective responsibility?" was the question 18 months ago and is being asked again now. To which the answer is yes, it's a two way street, it applies to governments who have won an outright majority (the Tories didn't), and anyway withdrawing to the margins of Europe isn't in the coalition agreement. This last point gives the Lib Dems carte blanche on the issue of Europe.

For any Tory Eurosceptics reading this, "carte blanche" is a French phrase, which roughly translates as "stuff you".

So what does Cameron do about this? Tories keen to push on from Friday's, ahem, "victory", think he should dissolve the coalition, ditch us pesky coalition non-partners (how quickly they forget) and start repatriating powers from Brussels pronto. They are happy for Cameron to call a general election if he needs to -- no British politician has ever lost out by sticking up two fingers to the French, have they?

Unfortunately for those Eurosceptics, David Cameron can't do that. And what's stopping him? Well, amusingly, it's the Queen. For on 15 September 2011, Her Majesty graciously gave royal assent to the Parliament Act (sponsor: N. Clegg).

This means there can only be a General Election before May 2015 under two circumstances. Either at least two thirds of the entire House of Commons have to agree that it's a jolly good idea, which is unlikely. Or the government has to lose a vote of no confidence.

Now, that could happen. I'm not sure David Cameron would want to call such a vote and end up having to vote against himself in order to bring down his own government, but the option is there for him. Or for Labour.

But that doesn't trigger an election. First Parliament must examine if an alternative government can be formed from the existing make up of the House...

Hence we hear the clarion call of "I agree with Nick".

There will be plenty who say that won't happen. That it would make the Lib Dems look duplicitous to turn on their Tory partners and the electorate would never forgive them. Ah well, Plus ca change (translation - see above).

Ed Miliband knows that a vote of no confidence from Labour, Lib Dems, Green SNP and Alliance would end with him being Prime Minister without the need for a general election. Support of Plaid and others would make him more secure. The maths couldn't be made to work 18 months ago. But now the Tories have had time to annoy everyone - suddenly it looks a little more likely.

Like I said. It feels like May 2010 all over again...

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue