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Has Labour lost moral mandate?

Brian Taylor | 12:06 UK time, Friday, 7 May 2010

UPDATE 1505 BST: And so Alex Salmond got his hung or balanced parliament.

But not the 20 seats he wanted to exert substantial influence in that situation - or, indeed, even any more than in 2005.

However, Mr Salmond may still be able to play a role.

The first minister has said that he will take up an already tabled offer of civil service back-up in the event that the SNP are involved in coalition negotiations. No more, no less.

Be clear that this is not participation in talks. It is a technical, governmental prelude to such potential talks.

The SNP would be willing, perhaps, to discuss a potential deal with Labour. That's down to arithmetic.

Nationalists calculate that an anti-Tory coalition is only possible if they are on board.

Labour plus LibDem plus, even, NI seats doesn't do it.

Is such a deal likely? Frankly, no. There are figures in Scottish Labour who would do anything other than talk to the SNP, far less form a government which relied upon them.

Secondly, the private perspective in SNP ranks is that such a deal presents huge obstacles: not least the previously billed point that Labour has palpably declined.

Would the SNP enter talks with the Tories? No. Why? For this reason. Just as Labour has demonstrably lost ground across Britain as a whole, so the Tories have been comprehensively rebuffed in their search for substantially enhanced Scottish support.

Yes, they're up in voting share - but only by a fraction. No seats gained.

The SNP say they take their "marching orders" on such matters from the people of Scotland.

However, that would not stop the SNP seeking to exert advantage in the event of a minority Tory government, a coalition or a "confidence and supply" deal between the Tories and the LibDems.

UPDATE 1206 BST: As prime minister, Gordon Brown is perfectly entitled to sound others out with regard to forming a new government.

Those others are perfectly entitled to tell him where to go.

This is about arithmetic: who can command a majority in Her Majesty's House of Commons, soon to be reassembled.

However, of course, it is also about momentum and, above all, voter tolerance. The "moral mandate", if you like.

Exasperated Labour MPs have now rediscovered a fond admiration for Britain's unwritten constitution.

There is much bold talk of advising the Queen, of waiting for the verdict from the palace.

Again, constitutionally, that is absolutely correct. Mr Brown was prime minister. Mr Brown is prime minister.

He remains so until he resigns, either because he gives up or because he suffers defeat in the Commons.

However, think. If and when Mr Brown phones Nick Clegg or a few other potential chums, he may find the line engaged.

They will be in touch with David Cameron. Or each other.

For myself, I do not believe that Gordon Brown or a Labour alternative stands much chance of being prime minister.

Firstly, Labour has evidently declined in the popular vote and in seats.

As at Holyrood in 2007, it is not yet absolutely clear who has won. It is, however, pretty clear who has lost ground: Labour.

Secondly, Labour plus Liberal Democrat does not a majority make.

Even if they were prepared to form a pact, they would not have the numbers on their own.

Thirdly, the Liberal Democrats are scarcely likely to go against the apparent tide in popular opinion by returning to power a party which has demonstrably lost ground.

The title of their party is a clue.

Fourthly, Gordon Brown is palpably diminished. He has not lost overall. His rivals did not quash him utterly or anything like it. But, again, he lost ground.

So could the Lib Dems strike a coalition with the Tories? I think a full-scale coalition unlikely. For two reasons.

One, in such circumstances, the Lib Dems would press for proportional representation.

The Tories would say no - and would then seek to govern as a minority, with or without sanction from rivals.

Two, the economy. The Lib Dems are not going to want to be merely the handmaiden to the potentate - when the kingdom's riches are vanishing.

So what happens? Most likely, I believe, is that the Conservatives form a minority government with, probably, the prospect of an agreement on key votes such as the budget with the Liberal Democrats.

It is even feasible that Labour in such circumstances might seek to exert influence, claiming credit for advances in preparation for another election in a couple of years' time.

I do not think the voters - or the economic markets - would wear a repeat election.

I think both would expect an effort to be made to secure stability from the uncertainties of the night.

Is there a role for the SNP? Yes. They can seek to exert influence in the hung or balanced parliament which they envisaged.

However, with only six MPs, that influence is constrained.


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