One of Jim Murphy’s favourite lines is “The Largest Party forms the Government”. Its a lie, thats not how the British parliamentary system works, but then Labour and the truth aren’t exactly best mates at the moment. But the truth, you see, is what you make it. At the moment, this is being taken as election hype in Scotland, but what if Labour aren’t stating a fact, but an intention.
The North British Labour Party are heavily promoting the idea that the party with the most seats gets to form the government. That simply has no basis in fact, nor is it historically true. In 1924, Ramsey MacDonald formed a Labour government despite the Conservatives holding more seats. The government needs to be able to “command the confidence of the elected House of Commons“, either through holding a majority of the seats, or an agreement with others to not vote against them in a motion of no confidence.
But what if “The Largest Party forms the Government” wasn’t an election slogan of the Labour Party, but a political declaration. A statement of intention: that if they were the largest party, they would form the government, but if they were not, then they would follow their stated doctrine and ensure that “The Largest Party forms the Government”. In the event of a hung parliament, the incumbent government – in this case the Conservatives under Cameron – stays in Government. It would be expected that if it were clear that they would not get majority support in the event of a no confidence motion, that they would resign, however there is no requirement for them to do until after a motion of no confidence has been passed in the House of Commons.
Reading up on the rules around motions of no confidence, it seems like only a motion which comes from the official opposition can be considered a confidence motion. The official opposition in the event of a hung parliament would remain the Labour Party. What if they chose not to put forward such a confidence motion – on the basis of their “Largest Party forms the Government” line? It would require no formal coalition, nor even any particular highlight. Miliband could cite his pre-election statement that he would not enter into coalition with the SNP (who had already rejected such a suggestion in any case) to avoid putting a confidence motion and Cameron continues on his merry way.
On the Scottish leaders debate, Sturgeon pressed Jim Murphy on whether the Labour Party would join with the SNP to lock David Cameron out of Downing Street, Murphy dithered and evaded until pressure from the audience forced a definative statement, where he stated that they would vote against the Queen Speech.
Voting against the Queens Speech has historically been seen as a vote of no confidence, however in the event of a hung parliament, with a majority against the incumbent government, there should be no opportunity for the incumbent government to present the Queens speech. A motion of no confidence can be introduced immediately, which ousts Cameron from government. Voting against a Queens Speech has historically been seen as a confidence measure, however with the introduction of the Fixed Terms Parliament Act in 2011, only an explicit no confidence vote can force the dissolution of parliament, the ultimate sanction for a government which refuses to resign.
If they initially voted against a Queens Speech introduced by a Conservative government, rather than seeking to oust the government, they may choose instead to work with the Conservatives to gain concessions to establish a programme which they would not vote agains:, spinning it as a victory snatched from the jaws of defeat and blaming the SNP for continuing Conservative government.
Labour could, of course, put a no confidence motion forward at any time, in the knowledge that it would be carried, which gives them a level of ultimate power that they could not obtain with a minority government propped up by the SNP. They are faced with a choice between propping up a Conservative minority administration with the option to “go nuclear” at any time and introduce a vote of no confidence, or lead an enfeebled government reliant on acquiescence from the SNP for any legislative changes that they may wish to introduce. Miliband – a weak leader at the best of times – may decide that influencing the Conservatives and diluting their programme is a more palatable option than dealing with a fractious and popular SNP group.
Rebellious Scots are in need of crushing and Her Majesty’s government are expected to comply. Until Cameron offers his resignation to the Monarch, he remains Prime Minister and his government remains in power. Until the Official Opposition pass a motion of no confidence, Cameron need not resign.
In 1979, the Scottish electorate was bold enough to vote for Home Rule. It was denied under the arbitrary introduction of the 40% rule. Vengence followed. Scottish industry was systematically destroyed, our land was sold off to foreign investors, and our resources, particularly our oil was used to fund the quelling of discontent. In 2014, 45% of Scots were bold enough to demand full independence, the vengeance is yet to come.
With the Labour Party losing its Scottish base, which is hemorraging members and support by the day, there is no political need for them to defend Scottish interests; their political future now lies in obtaining a majority from the 591 rUK seats. Anti-Scottish sentiment in rUK has been growing, fueled by tabloid frothing. With neither of the main three UK political parties having a strong base in Scotland any longer, Scotland can be used as a cash cow to fund the interests of the potential party donors, against the interests of the people of the UK.
I have sympathy with people in rUK who are voting Labour as an alternative to the Conservatives, but Labour is merely Tory-lite. The Conservatives, the Labour Party, the LibDems and UKIP differ not in ideology, but in how aggressively they pursue that ideology, and the lack of a feasible alternative to this neoliberal realism in rUK, particularly in England, might well be our downfall.
For people in Wales, serious consideration must be given to supporting Plaid Cymru, as an ally in opposing an austerity based National Government, while in England – despite being small, the Green Party is the only realistic alternative with the opportunity to challenge the neoliberal consensus.