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