David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband walk through the Members' Lobby before the Queen's Speech at the State Opening of Parliament on June 4, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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As another hung parliament looms, the Tories and Labour are contemplating minority rule

Both of the main parties see political advantage in going it alone if they win in 2015. 

Not since 1910 have British voters returned two successive hung parliaments. After the events of recent months, few in Westminster expect this to remain case after the next general election. At no moment since 2010 have the Conservatives and Labour appeared less capable of achieving a Commons majority. The opposition’s poll lead has withered to a few points; some surveys suggest it has eroded entirely. But the Tories show no sign of the momentum required to win the victory that eluded them in 2010. Labour’s average vote share declined by 9 per cent between October 2012 and October 2014 but the Conservatives’ rose by just 1 per cent. Rather than defecting to the incumbent party, voters have scattered in multiple directions: to Ukip, to the SNP, to the Greens, to the “don’t knows”.

Labour aides maintain that they, unlike the Tories, can still hope to win a majority. On this, most agree with them. For all the derision directed at Ed Miliband’s alleged “35 per cent strategy”, few recall that Tony Blair achieved a majority of 66 seats in 2005 on an equivalent share of the vote. As one MP observed to me: “We could win on even less”. That the party continues to outperform its national poll ratings in the marginal constituencies it needs to secure for victory is a consistent source of optimism. But because of the narrowness of its present advantage, the threat posed to its 40 Scottish seats by the nationalist insurgency and the possibility of a swing back to the Tories from Ukip most MPs would settle for supplanting the Conservatives as the single largest party. Others fear a far worse fate. “We’re going over the cliff with him,” one former minister lamented in reference to the coup that never was against Miliband.

It is the Liberal Democrats who aspire to be the main beneficiaries of another hung parliament by re-entering government, even as a much depleted force. For the leadership, if not the activists, this would ideally take the form of a renewal of vows with the Conservatives. But such is the fragmentation of the electorate and the enfeebled state of the party that some question whether a partnership with the Lib Dems would offer a route to the 326 seats required for a Commons majority. In these circumstances, the possibility of a post-2015 minority government now inspires greater discussion than that of another coalition.

One senior Conservative backbencher told me that having promised Tory MPs a vote on a second deal with the Lib Dems, David Cameron would “struggle” to win their approval. The Prime Minister, he argued, should run a minority administration (an option many believe he should have pursued in 2010) and seek parliamentary support for populist measures such as an EU referendum on an individual basis. This would culminate in a snap election aimed at securing a majority.

Labour is even less amenable to the prospect of coalition than the Conservatives. Four years on from the election, most MPs maintain an undiminished tribal loathing of the Lib Dems. One shadow cabinet minister told me: “Clegg or no Clegg, I wouldn’t enter government with them.” The party membership and the trade unions are still more hostile. Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite, the country’s biggest union and Labour’s largest donor, has publicly warned of a cut in funding and even of disaffiliation if the party forms a coalition with the Lib Dems. His threats are unlikely to be casually dismissed. “Len’s not bluffing,” one left-winger told me.

Like the Tories, many in Labour see political advantage in a minority administration that could introduce the most popular items of its policy programme - an energy price freeze, a higher minimum wage, a cap on rent increases - and invite voters to provide it with a mandate for more at a second election. As one shadow minister noted: “We’ve done it before”. The example of Harold Wilson, who held two snap elections - in 1966 and October 1974 - and won a majority on both occasions is increasingly cited by MPs.

The common rejoinder is that this executive manoeuvre is no longer possible after the introduction of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, which requires a two-thirds majority for a dissolution. But this overlooks a crucial caveat: that an election will be held if no alternative government is formed 14 days after a vote of no confidence. This creates the potential for a minority administration to assemble a simple parliamentary majority for a second contest. Were opposition parties to resist this move or to seek to take power in the intervening two weeks, they would stand accused of defying the electorate.

Others in Labour, however, spooked by the cost of a second election and the Tories’ greater financial muscle, draw inspiration from the SNP, which governed for a full term as a minority administration before achieving outright victory in 2011.

The Lib Dems have long threatened to bring down any party that has the “arrogance” (in the words of one strategist) to try and rule without a majority. But some can see the advantage of a period outside of government that allows their war-weary party to convalesce. Significantly, Tim Farron, the Lib Dem president and the most likely successor to Clegg as leader, told me that his party "should not rule out” the option of tolerating a minority administration. He added, in reference to the surge in support for the SNP, that any coalition may need to be composed of “three parties, rather than two”.

The hung parliament of 2010 was one that few foresaw until the final stages of the election. Most went on to predict that the resultant coalition would collapse long before the five-year term had elapsed. Having failed to anticipate the constitutional innovations of the past, it would be careless to dismiss those that may lie in the future.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 20 November 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The deep roots of Isis

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No, the battle in Momentum isn't about young against old

Jon Lansman and his allies' narrative doesn't add up, argues Rida Vaquas.

If you examined the recent coverage around Momentum, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was headed towards an acrimonious split, judging by the vitriol, paranoia and lurid accusations that have appeared online in the last couple days. You’d also be forgiven for thinking that this divide was between a Trotskyist old guard who can’t countenance new ways of working, and hip youngsters who are filled with idealism and better at memes. You might then be incredibly bemused as to how the Trotskyists Momentum was keen to deny existed over the summer have suddenly come to the brink of launching a ‘takeover bid’.

However these accounts, whatever intentions or frustrations that they are driven by, largely misrepresent the dispute within Momentum and what transpired at the now infamous National Committee meeting last Saturday.

In the first instance, ‘young people’ are by no means universally on the side of e-democracy as embodied by the MxV online platform, nor did all young people at the National Committee vote for Jon Lansman’s proposal which would make this platform the essential method of deciding Momentum policy.

Being on National Committee as the representative from Red Labour, I spoke in favour of a conference with delegates from local groups, believing this is the best way to ensure local groups are at the forefront of what we do as an organisation.

I was nineteen years old then. Unfortunately speaking and voting in favour of a delegates based conference has morphed me into a Trotskyist sectarian from the 1970s, aging me by over thirty years.

Moreover I was by no means the only young person in favour of this, Josie Runswick (LGBT+ representative) and the Scottish delegates Martyn Cook and Lauren Gilmour are all under thirty and all voted for a delegates based national conference. I say this to highlight that the caricature of an intergenerational war between the old and the new is precisely that: a caricature bearing little relation to a much more nuanced reality.

Furthermore, I believe that many people who voted for a delegates-based conference would be rather astounded to find themselves described as Trotskyists. I do not deny that there are Trotskyists on National Committee, nor do I deny that Trotskyists supported a delegates-based conference – that is an open position of theirs. What I do object is a characterisation of the 32 delegates who voted for a delegates-based conference as Trotskyists, or at best, gullible fools who’ve been taken in.  Many regional delegates were mandated by the people to whom they are accountable to support a national conference based on this democratic model, following broad and free political discussion within their regions. As thrilling as it might be to fantasise about a sinister plot driven by the shadow emperors of the hard Left against all that it is sensible and moderate in Momentum, the truth is rather more mundane. Jon Lansman and his supporters failed to convince people in local groups of the merits of his e-democracy proposal, and as a result lost the vote.

I do not think that Momentum is doomed to fail on account of the particular details of our internal structures, providing that there is democracy, accountability and grassroots participation embedded into it. I do not think Momentum is doomed to fail the moment Jon Lansman, however much respect I have for him, loses a vote. I do not even think Momentum is doomed to fail if Trotskyists are involved, or even win sometimes, if they make their case openly and convince others of their ideas in the structures available.

The existential threat that Momentum faces is none of these things, it is the propagation of a toxic and polarised political culture based on cliques and personal loyalties as opposed to genuine political discussion on how we can transform labour movement and transform society. It is a political culture in which those opposed to you in the organisation are treated as alien invaders hell-bent on destroying it, even when we’ve worked together to build it up, and we worked together before the Corbyn moment even happened. It is a political culture where members drag others through the mud, using the rhetoric of the Right that’s been used to attack all of us, on social and national media and lend their tacit support to witch hunts that saw thousands of Labour members and supporters barred from voting in the summer. It is ultimately a political culture in which our trust in each other and capacity to work together on is irreparably eroded.

We have a tremendous task facing us: to fight for a socialist alternative in a global context where far right populism is rapidly accruing victories; to fight for the Labour Party to win governmental power; to fight for a world in which working class people have the power to collectively change their lives and change the societies we live in. In short: there is an urgent need to get our act together. This will not be accomplished by sniping about ‘saboteurs’ but by debating the kind of politics we want clearly and openly, and then coming together to campaign from a grassroots level upwards.

Rida Vaquas is Red Labour Representative on Momentum National Committee.