Nick Clegg and David Cameron at their first joint press conference following the formation of the coalition on 12 May 2010. Photograph: Getty Images.
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If Cameron rules out coalition, he rules out being in government after 2015

Any minority government would soon collapse as there would be no impetus for the Lib Dems to support the Queen's Speech.

Interesting news overnight from the Telegraph that David Cameron wants to rule out any coalition involving the Conservatives after the 2015 general election.

It would be very strange if the Tories did include such a clause in their manifesto. The average polling in recent months has them on 33 per cent with Labour on an average of 38 per cent. Even if these positions were reversed, the Tories would still likely fall short of a majority because of the quirky way blue and red seats are distributed under our current electoral system. And very few people think the Tories will go up by 5 per cent and Labour will fall by 5 per cent in the run-up to 2015. Far, far more likely is something that falls short of that.

So the absolute best the Conservatives can realistically hope for is that they will be the largest party in a hung parliament. If this good fortune were to befall them, and they then refused to form a coalition, the government would collapse shortly afterwards as there would be no impetus for the Lib Dems to support a Queen's Speech from a minority administration. Unable to command a majority for his programme, Cameron would have no choice but to seek a dissolution.

Were this to happen, it is even less likely that the Tories would gain seats in the subsequent election. The public will have just been through a general election and given its verdict. The Conservative Party will have stubbornly refused to compromise and the electorate does not like to be asked twice in quick succession. The party that will be seen to have caused the problem leading to this second election will be the one refusing any deal. In other words, Cameron would be effectively ruling the Tories out of being in government after 2015. Given how well he played the original hung parliament game, it seems unlikely he would paint himself into a corner like this.

Another reason why it seems unlikely is that refusing to do any deal after 2015 goes so strongly against what he told us in the early part of this government about "coming together in the national interest". Cameron would find it extremely difficult to reconcile the two positions and could easily be painted as unprincipled and being driven by the most extreme elements of the right of his party.

This story would seem bizarre in many other countries where coalitions are the norm. The idea that a party should dig its heels in and insist on all the power (or effectively none of it) would be very alien indeed. The only reason this seems even vaguely plausible in this country is because of the history of majority governments we have seen in recent decades (almost always on the back of a minority of votes, incidentally) under first-past-the-post. But with the breakdown in traditional voting patterns and more and more people willing to vote for smaller parties, many psephologists believe the days of regular majority governments are gone.

Cameron would be far better off reconciling his party to this new reality, rather than stamping his feet and insisting he wants all the power for himself.

It simply isn't going to happen.

Mark Thompson (@MarkReckons) is a political blogger and commentator who edits the award-winning Mark Thompson's Blog.

He is also co-host of the House of Commons podcast.

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Labour’s best general election bet is Keir Starmer

The shadow secretary for Brexit has the heart of a Remainer - but head of a pragmatic politician in Brexit Britain. 

In a different election, the shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer might have been written off as too quiet a man. Instead - as he set out his plans to scrap the Brexit white paper and offer EU citizens reassurance on “Day One” in the grand hall of the Institute of Civil Engineers - the audience burst into spontaneous applause. 

For voters now torn between their loyalty to Labour and Remain, Starmer is a reassuring figure. Although he says he respects the Brexit vote, the former director of public prosecutions is instinctively in favour of collaborating with Europe. He even wedges phrases like “regulatory alignment” into his speeches. When a journalist asked about the practicality of giving EU citizens right to remain before UK citizens abroad have received similar promises, he retorted: “The way you just described it is to use people as bargaining chips… We would not do that.”

He is also clear about the need for Parliament to vote on a Brexit deal in the autumn of 2018, for a transitional agreement to replace the cliff edge, and for membership of the single market and customs union to be back on the table. When pressed on the option of a second referendum, he said: “The whole point of trying to involve Parliament in the process is that when we get to the final vote, Parliament has had its say.” His main argument against a second referendum idea is that it doesn’t compare like with like, if a transitional deal is already in place. For Remainers, that doesn't sound like a blanket veto of #EUref2. 

Could Leave voters in the provinces warm to the London MP for Holborn and St Pancras? The answer seems to be no – The Daily Express, voice of the blue passport brigade, branded his speech “a plot”. But Starmer is at least respectful of the Brexit vote, as it stands. His speech was introduced by Jenny Chapman, MP for Darlington, who berated Westminster for their attitude to Leave voters, and declared: “I would not be standing here if the Labour Party were in anyway attempting to block Brexit.” Yes, Labour supporters who voted Leave may prefer a Brexiteer like Kate Hoey to Starmer,  but he's in the shadow Cabinet and she's on a boat with Nigel Farage. 

Then there’s the fact Starmer has done his homework. His argument is coherent. His speech was peppered with references to “businesses I spoke to”. He has travelled around the country. He accepts that Brexit means changing freedom of movement rules. Unlike Clive Lewis, often talked about as another leadership contender, he did not resign but voted for the Article 50 Bill. He is one of the rare shadow cabinet members before June 2016 who rejoined the front bench. This also matters as far as Labour members are concerned – a March poll found they disapproved of the way Labour has handled Brexit, but remain loyal to Jeremy Corbyn. 

Finally, for those voters who, like Brenda, reacted to news of a general election by complaining "Not ANOTHER one", Starmer has some of the same appeal as Theresa May - he seems competent and grown-up. While EU regulation may be intensely fascinating to Brexiteers and Brussels correspondents, I suspect that by 2019 most of the British public's overwhelming reaction to Brexit will be boredom. Starmer's willingness to step up to the job matters. 

Starmer may not have the grassroots touch of the Labour leader, nor the charisma of backbench dissidents like Chuka Umunna, but the party should make him the de facto face of the campaign.  In the hysterics of a Brexit election, a quiet man may be just what Labour needs.

What did Keir Starmer say? The key points of his speech

  • An immediate guarantee that all EU nationals currently living in the UK will see no change in their legal status as a result of Brexit, while seeking reciprocal measures for UK citizens in the EU. 
  • Replacing the Tories’ Great Repeal Bill with an EU Rights and Protections Bill which fully protects consumer, worker and environmental rights.
  • A replacement White Paper with a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the single market and the customs union. 
  • The devolution of any new powers that are transferred back from Brussels should go straight to the relevant devolved body, whether regional government in England or the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • Parliament should be fully involved in the Brexit deal, and MPs should be able to vote on the deal in autumn 2018.
  • A commitment to seek to negotiate strong transitional arrangements when leaving the EU and to ensure there is no cliff-edge for the UK economy. 
  • An acceptance that freedom of movement will end with leaving the EU, but a commitment to prioritise jobs and economy in the negotiations.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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