Unlike a less-formal Conservative-Lib arrangement, a Labour-Lib Dem coalition still wouldn’t command an overall majority in the House of Commons, and would have to include Scottish and Welsh separatists and other minority parties.
Such a pact would be poorly suited to delivering the deep cuts to public services needed to reduce the national debt, particularly with key Labour ministers neglecting their duties to campaign for the leadership. The favorite, Foreign Secretary and Blair clone David Miliband, is likely to face a bitter struggle against challengers from the left of the party.
A coalition of the losers would likely fall apart sooner rather than later, paving the way for a second election. If Cameron does indeed become PM with Lib Dem support, Britain is still likely to be heading back to the polling booths later this year. But Cameron’s behavior and tone since election night have been responsible and statesmanlike, and will stand him in good stead.
It shouldn’t, however, have come to this.
Even if Cameron is installed in 10 Downing Street by the end of the week, many in his party are far from happy. Cameron delivered big gains both in terms of vote share and MPs, but running against a government that had been in power for 13 years and was led by an unpopular prime minister in a dire economic climate? He should have done better.
The key charge against Cameron and his clique of advisers is that in the process of trying to make his party electable again they cast aside core Tory policies on immigration and Europe and lost touch with traditional Tory voters. Tellingly, analysis of the results shows that had the Tories not lost votes in key marginals to the anti-EU, tough-on-immigration United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), they would likely have won an overall majority.
Inevitably, pundits in the U.S. are analyzing the results in the context of the U.S. political scene and are trying to draw lessons for the November midterms. But comparisons are mostly useless. There’s no single UK issue which might generate mass opposition in the way health care has. Neither do we have the same conflicts over the size of government or over federalism versus states’ rights.
But that’s not stopping lefties like E.J. Dionne from making mischief by suggesting that Republicans need to embrace Cameronesque centrism to succeed in November. Democrats would love to see the Republicans, like the Tories, detached from their base but failing to win over enough independents. However the polls, and the success of the tea party movement, suggest neither will happen.
Republicans have woken up to the fact that moderation is not an option when you’re in a battle with extremists; it’s a lesson the Tories need to learn, and fast.
There is, however, one factor which Republicans might want to take note of: Labour, with the help of large amounts of cash from its union paymasters, was able to get out the working class (blue collar) vote in northern cites where the Conservatives were targeting seats.
The relationship between Labour and the white working class in particular (although fewer and fewer of them are actually working these days) is similar to that between U.S. Democrats and black voters: when they’re not ignoring or abusing them, they’re exploiting them. But come election time they’re cajoled and frightened into the voting booth by dire warnings of what the other side will do to them.
It’s entirely fitting that the abiding memory of Brown’s first and last election campaign as PM will be his calling an archetypal working-class voter a bigot. His remarks revealed his utter contempt for the ordinary men and women who have helped to keep Brown and his colleagues in power for 13 years — and still, they voted for him in droves.
There’s certainly a lesson for U.S. conservatives there: if the left stays in office for long enough, no matter how badly they govern they’re extremely hard to get rid of.