The election result is not as bad for Labour as it might seem. For all kinds of reasons it is very hard to win a fourth successive term, and after the financial crisis would have been pretty miraculous. Despite predictions, Labour did not come third in the popular vote as - to my surprise - the Liberal-Democrat balloon deflated (they finished only 1% up on their share of the popular vote and with fewer seats). Above all, despite Cameron's and Osborne's champage-popping celebratory rhetoric and their Bullingdon-type attempt to jemmy the door of No. 10, they do not have a Commons majority. The Tories argue that the voters have rejected Brown. They talk of "the
" voters as if the millions who voted were a single personality with a unified (Rousseau-like) General Will. In fact different voters wanted different outcomes. Labour had 29% of the vote - I assume these voters at least prefer Brown to Cameron. Indeed, one might equally argue that the voters rejected Cameron - since although the Tories got more votes than any other single party the Liberal-Democrats and Labour between them got 52% which is 16% more than the Tories. I can't for the life of me see why two parties which between them have 52% have less of a mandate than one party with 36%.
Currently the Liberal-Democrats are talking with the Tories. It is hard to believe that Clegg will be fobbed off with a committee of inquiry into electoral reform. Does Clegg really go so giddy at the prospect of a Cabinet seat? Yet the fact that they are talking again today suggests either Clegg has settled for this or Cameron will concede - in a Disraeli-like "leap in the dark" - a referendum. (He doesn't have to say he favours
electoral reform, merely concede a referendum. Even if they form a coalition the Conservatives could argue for "No" to change in the referendum, even as the Liberal-Democrats argued "Yes" - there is the 1975 precedent when Wilson suspended collective responsibility). Of course, it is also quite possible that talks will break down and the Conservatives form a minority government; or that agreement will be reached on Liberal-Democrat support a Conservative minority government (which seems to be the outcome most expected).
Labour should do this and do it quickly: (1) communicate to Clegg that Brown is, within days, going to resign as Prime Minister but will stay on as Labour Leader until a new one is elected (there cannot be another "coronation"). If Brown is reluctant the "men in suits" must force Brown to do this. Clegg cannot make a deal with Labour as long as Brown remains, and he certainly cannot enter a coalition with Brown as PM. It is just impossible. (2) Offer a referendum on the Additional Member System (with 40% elected by the regional list system: better than Jenkins). (3) Offer the post of Prime Minister to Nick Clegg (with Vince Cable as Chief Secretary to the Treasury), and Darling staying as Chancellor. Clegg would lead a Cabinet in which Labour had the majority of posts. (Ramsay MacDonald was Prime Minister after 1931 although National Labour had only a handful of MP's).
The numbers are there. Together Labour and Liberal-Democrats have 315 to the Conservatives 306. There is no guarantee the DUP wll back the Conservatives (money is more important than ideology, Cameron supported a rival party in Northern Ireland, and Cameron in his capacity as leader of the South-East of England Nationalist Party identified Northern Ireland as a priority area for public spending cuts). In any case the promise of electoral reform should be enough to get the SNP and Plaid Cymru to support Labour/Liberal Democrats in a confidence vote (they need not be in the coalition) and there are 3 SDLP and 1 Green MP's who presumably prefer Labour/Liberal-Democrats to the Conservatives (and possibly 1 Alliance MP also).
So Clegg for PM? No, I suppose not. It would be Labour's smartest move, but I can't see it. Too many egos. I suspect Clegg is not so stupid as to go into coalition with Cameron without a referedum on electoral reform. It looks like a Cameron minority government, with the Liberal-Democrats thrown a few bones in return for their support.
One problem is that Labour may not be able to deliver a referendum on electoral reform; that is, depending on how many Labour MP's will vote against it (even if whipped). A referendum on AV was in the Manifesto; but not a referendum on PR.
I read in the Observer that some Labour MP's are saying a period of regrouping in Opposition might not be a bad thing. I think myself it is better to keep possession of the ball.
It does look as if Brown is determined not to step aside to make it easier for the Lib-Dems to deal with Labour. What on earth he hopes to gain from that I don't know. It simply means that Cameron will be PM in a day or so.