Well it certainly hasn’t got any less tense. The negotiating teams from what we now are all 3 main parties must really be starting to feel the pressure. The stake are high – for the Tories this is their best chance to govern in over a decade and they are not going to give it up lightly; for Labour, and Gordon Brown in particular, this is about short-term survival. For the Lib-Dems however the stakes are even higher… the opportunity to usher in electoral reform and with it the birth of a 3-party system in the UK or the return to 2-party politics and the end of the Lib-Dems as any kind of significant force.
So here we are, 4 days after the election and what are likely outcomes? Although it feels that not much has changed since Friday, it does feel that some of the alternatives are working themselves either in or out of the equation.
Let’s look at the possibility of a Lib-Dem/Tory pact first – It is highly unlikely that Cameron will (or indeed can) offer an explicit promise of a referendum on voting reform. In turn, this means that Clegg will not (or be able to) agree to a formal coalition between the two parties – if he did the Lib-Dems membership would go into meltdown. So at best the Tories get to run a minority government with a supply and confidence arrangement with the Lib-Dems.
Where would this leave electoral reform I hear you ask? Good point… Well it seems fair to assume that Nick Clegg could not enter into any agreement without the Tories giving at least something away on this issue. My bet would be the all-party inquiry on electoral reform that was promised by Cameron, but with a formalised and relatively short time-line attached to it. This would be followed by a free-vote in the Commons and, if the Lib-Dems could get the votes, a possible referendum after that.
Now for Lib-Dem/Labour – From a negotiating position this feels more simple. Most Lib-Dems have more in common with Labour and they have already been promised both a referendum and a number of seats in cabinet, they agree broadly on economic reform and I imagine Labour could be forced into burying the ID card scheme and giving way on asylum. The issue here is purely political and revolved around one major issue… Leadership. No-one, not even Labour people want Gordon Brown to stay… that much is clear. But when should he leave and, once that is sorted, who should replace him and how do you respond to the inevitable claims that the new leader will have no mandate from the public. That said, if (and I appreciate it is a big ‘if’) this could be sufficiently dealt with I think both Plaid and the SNP would jump aboard this train and a stable, fixed-term, government would emerge.
Regardless of my views, with the Lib-Dems meeting now and the Tories meeting at 2pm it looks like we are going to see at least some movement today. My heart still suggests a Lib-Lab pact is possible but my head thinks that Clegg will find it hard to reconcile the issues around leadership and will ultimately plump to prop-up a Tory government.
What that will do for electoral reform in this country and the future of the Lib-Dem is something for us all to think about.