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Editor’s blog Monday 10 May 2010: Continental drift, flying pork barrels and the volcano effect

First past the post electoral systems are great, apparently: they give you strong government. Not like those Continentals, what?


So. To recap.

Gordon Brown has recognised that he can't stay as Prime Minister if the Lib Dems are to consider a 'progressive coalition'.

The Conservatives have 'final'-offered the Lib Dems a referendum on Alternative Voting and fixed term parliaments.

And the Lib Dems have opened formal negotiations with Labour, after Brown's announcement that he will stand down by September.

Inversely proportional risks; disproportionate rewards
We are getting a view of how a more proportional government system would work. And all three parties are having to take risks - which appear inversely proportional to their share of Commons seats won.

The Tories' risk is that if their final offer is accepted and the Lib Dems can hold together in a coalition and win the referendum on AV, an AV system could make it difficult to avoid a future of a lot of centre-left UK governments. This is not a big risk if the modernised Conservative Party is really a thing of the political centre ground.

The Lib Dems' risks are the biggest of all. Much of their politics is simply not aligned with the Conservatives'. They must also decide fairly soon whether to do the deal with the Conservatives that could create a strong and stable coalition, as an impatient and predominantly right-wing national media already wants a result. They could alienate their natural supporters if they form official part of a government that is truly serious about what Clegg termed "savage" spending cuts. They could become perceived as unprincipled opportunists by the floating, swinging voters - those who will turn the next general election, which would soon follow the collapse of deals (or 'coalitions of the willing'). Perhaps a time-limited 'confidence and supply' deal with the Tories might not have been so bad ...

Labour risk being perceived as dogs in the manger, in seeking to form a coalition government after having lost the most seats. This risk is somewhat mitigated by Brown's bowing to reality and accepting that the ballot spells out his P45 as Labour leader. They also risk being  the biggest party in a coalition that requires most of the votes from the smaller parties to get a Commons majority. Such a coalition would be friable, to put it mildly. Popular appetite for another Prime Minister who has not fought a general election may not be vast -a point that the media of the Murdochites will certainly reinforce on the hour, every hour, forever. The impact of the debates has made party leaders seem more presidential than ever, which is quite an achievement after the Downing Street tenures of Mrs Thatcher and Mr Blair.

Pork barrels might fly
There is a significant problem with the 'progressive coalition' concept. The smaller parties have already set out that the price of their Westminster support (required to create a Commons majority, remember) would be the maintenance or even increase of higher funding a la Barnett Formula.

In US politics, this is termed "pork barrel politics", giving rise to the phrase 'bringing home the bacon'.

The problem is that the economy is not in a position to afford the pork. The volcano effect of the global banking collapse has thrown a lot of ash into clouds.

Pigs might fly in a clear sky - but where we are today, pork barrels are literally and metaphorically grounded.