Election Diary (2), 2 May 2015 — E-day minus 5

It begins to look as if Labour’s support is slipping away in England, which is serious, and probably still drifting away in Scotland, which may not affect Ed Miliband’s chances of forming a government provided that the direction of drift is to the Scottish National Party. (There’s even some evidence that Scottish Labour is gaining votes from Conservatives voting tactically to keep the SNP out, the ultimate irony!) But according to the well respected Lord Ashcroft’s polls, the UK national trend seems to favour the Tories:
23 March Con 33%, Lab 33%, Lib Dem 8%, UKIP 12%, Green 5%
30 March Con 36%, Lab 34%, Lib Dem 6%, UKIP 10%, Green 7%
13 April Con 33%, Lab 33%, Lib Dem 9%, UKIP 13%, Green 6%
20 April Con 34%, Lab 30%, Lib Dem 10%, UKIP 13%, Green 4%
27 April Con 36%, Lab 30%, Lib Dem 9%, UKIP 11%, Green 7%

But the polls can be read in any number of ways. The editor of LabourList, Mark Ferguson, sees them criss-crossing from day to day:
http://labourlist.org/2015/05/latest-polls-put-labour-marginally-ahead-and-suggest-miliband-has-won-over-voters-during-the-campaign/ (Mark Ferguson, 1 May)
http://labourlist.org/2015/04/what-do-the-polls-tell-us-its-still-tight-but-the-tories-may-have-a-small-lead/ (Mark Ferguson, 30 April)

* * * * *

The pundits are however beginning to realise that the question “Who goes into No 10?” will depend, not on whether the Tories win more seats than Labour, or vice versa, but on which of the two biggest parties can win the support of more MPs from the other parties than the others in the vote on a Conservative (or possibly Labour) Queen’s Speech or vote of confidence. The LibDems continue to insist that if they hold the balance of power, they will “talk first” to the biggest party, but depending on the arithmetic, it looks as if neither Labour nor the Conservatives will be able to count on an overall majority (326 seats) even with LibDem support: and since the SNP have effectively promised their support to Labour — unconditionally, by the way — SNP plus LibDem support would probably win the day for Miliband. On the other hand, Nick Clegg’s preference as LibDem leader seems clearly to be another coalition with Cameron, even though a solid bloc of his party members would sooner support Miliband. As matters stand, it looks as if even without the LibDems, Labour could probably rely on support from the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Greens, the SDLP and a handful of others, theoretically exceeding Tories’ supporters in UKIP, perhaps the DUP (who are keeping their options open), and a few others. Hence the bookies’ current (2 May) odds on Miliband for prime minister. But as the poll commentators love to say, it’s too close to call, it’s all to play for, it will go down to the wire — unless of course that slim but growing Tory lead over Labour swells even more in the final days and puts them too far ahead for even the all-conquering SNP to trump it; in which case it’s curtains for Ed.  And for the rest of us.

* * * * *

Labour’s Liam Byrne must rue the day in 2010 when he left that jokey note for his Treasury ministerial successor. Predictably enough, the Tories, who either have no sense of humour or correctly judge that the electorate has no collective sense of humour, have made hay with it. The Guardian’s columnist Gaby Hinsliff, writing in the May-Day issue, commented: “That ‘There’s no money left‘ note has played a bigger role in the Conservative campaign than many ministers”, while the same paper’s political gurus, Wintour, Watt and Clark, described in the same issue how in the final Question Time Leaders Debate Cameron had “produced a copy of the notorious note left by the former Labour chief secretary Liam Byrne in 2010 saying ‘there’s no money left‘.” Unfortunately for all of them, the Guardian itself reproduced, a couple of millimetres away from the Wintour-Watt-Clark article’s (mis)quotation of the note, a facsimile of the note itself. It says, “I’m afraid there is no money.” Presumably whoever designed the Guardian’s layout for that day had a sense of humour, unlike whichever sub-editor was on duty at the time.

Apparently Ed Balls imprudently pointed out recently that the Byrne note had been a joke, something that a few of us had spotted several years ago, although as jokes go, this one was in exceptionally poor taste. Balls’s revelation provided yet more ammunition for an allegedly ‘undecided’ voter in the Question Time debate to fire at the unfortunate Labour leader.  She told him angrily that it was no laughing matter that the Labour government had caused the country to run out of money. Two points on that unhappy episode: first, the angry ‘small business’-woman who excoriated Ed had apparently been invited to take part in the programme as one of the ‘undecided’ section of the carefully balanced audience, but turned out to be the business partner of a Tory MP, and a signatory of the notorious open letter from a raft of managers and owners of small businesses damning the Labour party and calling for another Conservative government. So her ‘undecided’ status may have been of rather recent origin. Secondly, as every economist and most business people ought to know, countries and governments don’t run out of money, because unlike households they can always raise what they need by printing it (“quantitative easing”), through additional taxation, or by borrowing, if necessary at costly rates of interest, although the Tory-led coalition government could and indeed does borrow at what must be historically among the lowest rates of interest on record — in fact a very good time to borrow.

* * * * *

I have mislaid the website address of a comment on a blog post somewhere pointing out that the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 has made ‘confidence and supply agreements’ superfluous. Under these agreements, a smaller party used to promise to support a minority government in votes of confidence and votes on its budget, while reserving its right to vote against the government in votes on other issues, deciding its position on these from issue to issue. The FTPA however lays it down that a government defeated in a vote other than a vote of confidence, even on a major issue, is not required to resign, and indeed may not do so: it must resign only if defeated in a vote of confidence. Not only does this make a change of government between fixed-date elections much more difficult, even when it’s plainly necessary: it also puts much greater power into the hands of small parties which want to influence the policies of a minority government without bringing that government down. It also enables the small parties to support a minority government in confidence and budget votes but not necessarily to support it on other issues without the need for a ‘confidence and supply agreement’. I bet the shrewd Ms Nicola Sturgeon has spotted this.

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act is increasingly, and rightly, seen as a serious nuisance. It contravenes a basic principle of the Westminster system under which a government that repeatedly fails to get parliamentary approval for its major policy proposals must resign, leaving the Monarch to exercise her personal prerogative by deciding whether to ask someone else to try to form a government capable of securing parliamentary approval for its programme, or to dissolve parliament and hold fresh elections. The Act lays down procedures that make it absurdly difficult for either course to be followed, even when there’s a general cross-party consensus that the only way to break a political deadlock is to hold fresh elections. Meanwhile, the new Cabinet Manual which has crept almost unnoticed into our constitution (see http://www.barder.com/4361) as effectively abolished that particular royal prerogative and transferred the rights and duties of the politically neutral and objective Monarch to the political party leaders — not, in my view anyway, at all a desirable change. And finally the introduction of the fixed term parliament has lumbered us with an interminably long election campaign period, boring most of the country half to death, exhausting our political leaders, and leading to bad tempers, personal abuse and eventually a brazenly open auction of electoral bribes by the end of the campaign. Among the first acts of the new government after next week should be to repeal the Act.

* * * * *

Like Odysseus getting himself tied to the ship’s mast to prevent him yielding to the temptation to answer the seductive call of the sexy Sirens, Mr Cameron has promised that if returned to office the Conservatives will pass a law preventing themselves from increasing any of the three taxes which produce most of the government’s revenues. Labour should query the efficacy of this ridiculous device and demand that the Tories should also promise (“pledge”) a second law, making it illegal for parliament to repeal the first one. I believe that it was Labour which started the ludicrous practice of trying to tie its own hands by putting its policy objectives into law. Fortunately these self-binding laws are unenforceable — otherwise half of the current government’s ministers and half of their Labour predecessors would have ended up in prison.

* * * * *

EU leaders are considering military action against human traffickers of migrants when they gather in Brussels later today“. (BBC Television News, midnight, 22-23 April 2015)
Air-raid shelters in Brussels must have been seriously overcrowded.

Pope Francis has conducted a raft of reforms whose importance cannot be understated.” (Financial Times editorial, 18 April 2015)
Oh, come on: they can’t have been all that unimportant, surely?


8 Responses

  1. Tom Berney says:

    Hi Brian,

    The SNP seems to be the big story of this election, so you might like to have a  Scottish (entirely objective of course) report of what has happened here.

    I expect many English people are puzzled about why the Scots seem to have to so decidedly turned against the Labour Party. Most of it springs from the extraordinary way that Labour so seamlessly allied themselves with the Conservatives during the Referendum campaign. It was fair enough to have a disagreement about the merits of independence, but doing so by defending the Conservative government’s record in office and denying the impact of their ‘austerity’ cuts on benefits and the NHS etc was astonishing.
    Even worse was the distinctly unpatriotic way that Scottish Labour, rather than saying that if the decision was for independence then they would work to achieve the best possible settlement for their country, did exactly the opposite, and said that they would go along with the English Tories to do everything they possibly could to undermine it financially, economically and diplomatically. In many ways their line was worse than Cameron’s.
    “Project Fear” (Labour’s name) threatening older people that they would lose their pensions and lining up capitalist companies to threaten job losses etc won the day for them, but threats of that kind are not forgotten nor forgiven even by the people who succumbed to them.
    The final straw was the appointment of the ineffable Jim Murphy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Murphy  as the leader of the Scottish Labour Party – an arch war- mongering Blairite, a policy member of the neocon Henry Jackson Society, former Chair of Labour Friends of Israel, a man revealed to have claimed more than a million pounds in the expenses scandal, and a self confessed liar on NHS statistics,  who fell over himself to denigrate the Unite Trade Union over a candidate selection . It was hard  to imagine  a more inappropriate replacement for the previous leader who had resigned saying Scottish Labour was treated as branch office by Westminster.  Murphy alone has persuaded thousands of former Labour activists to desert and even join SNP. Prior to the referendum the SNP Trade Union Group had about 800 members.  It now has 15,000.  More than Labour’s entire Scottish party membership.
    So Labour created the perfect storm for themselves and look like suffering the consequences.  Milliband’s latest declaration, that he would refuse to form a government, if it depends on accepting the support offered by SNP, is just …. well it is hard to think of a word. He is delegitimising the Scottish electorate. and confirming all of the arguments for independence.    It should be the final nail in Labour’s coffin here – and if he means it – it should provoke some fury amongst English Labour voters too. 

  2. Brian says:

    Brian writes in reply to Tom Berney’s comment:  Thank you for your interesting and illuminating comment, Tom: I have no doubt that it reflects widespread opinion in Scotland.  But I would argue that it’s based on a fundamental fallacy, all the same.

    First, though, I want to question the validity of your reference to “Mil[l]iband’s latest declaration, that he would refuse to form a government, if it depends on accepting the support offered by SNP“.  I’m 99 per cent sure that Miliband has never said this. He has said repeatedly that he will not do any kind of deal with the SNP, and in particular that there is no question of a Labour-SNP coalition.  But he has also said that Labour will put forward its own programme for government, based on the Labour manifesto; that he will not bargain any of it away in horse-trading with any other party; and that it will then be up to the other parties in the new house of commons to decide how to vote on it.  He has never, to the best of my knowledge, said he would “refuse to accept the SNP’s support” in the vote on a Labour Queen’s speech or in a vote of confidence on a minority (or majority) Labour government: indeed, it’s difficult to see how he could do so, since he would have no means of preventing the SNP from voting for a Labour government, even if (inconceivably) he wanted to. Anyway, in the processes leading up to a vote of confidence in either a Conservative or a Labour government there will be no need for any Labour deal, pact or agreement with the SNP, nor even for ‘talks’ between the two parties,  The SNP has repeatedly promised not to vote for a new Tory government, without setting any conditions for the implied promise to vote for a Labour government, so we can assume that that is what will happen.  The key question is thus whether Labour, the SNP, Plaid, the Greens and the SDLP will together have won a majority of seats in the new House:  and if they have not, what the LibDems will do.

    On the reasons for the spectacular collapse of support for Labour in Scotland and corresponding growth in support for the SNP, I fully understand everything you say, and sympathise with much of it.  But on two points I think the attitudes you describe do less than justice to Labour.  First, I still think it was right for the unionist UK parties — Labour, Conservatives and LibDems — to form a common front in opposition to Scottish independence, and I doubt whether a divided No campaign, with each of the three parties conducting separate campaigns based on different and conflicting arguments, would have produced the eventual victory that the united No campaign secured.  Nor do I believe that there’s any betrayal of fundamental principle involved in a party of the left collaborating with a party of the right, however reactionary, for a specific, limited purpose on which both basically agree.  So to desert Labour now because Labour committed the unpardonable sin of collaborating in a strictly limited way with the Tories over Scottish independence is to my mind politically unrealistic, and unjust.  (To stop supporting Labour on the grounds that the Scottish Labour party is basically a junior branch of the London-based UK-wide Labour party, and therefore unqualified to speak for Scotland in the way that the SNP can claim to do, is an entirely different argument, and raises complicated questions about the legitimacy and centrality of sectional nationalism in one part of the UK compared with a sentiment of commitment to the UK as a whole combined with support for promoting the interests of one’s own part of it.)

    Secondly, I can’t agree that it was illegitimate or “threatening” for the No campaign (including its Labour component) to set out in facts and figures the likely consequences for Scotland of independence on the terms sought by the SNP.  In particular it was plainly right to state unequivocally what the positions of all three major parties would be on the question of the continuing use of sterling by an independent Scotland.  The SNP chose to interpret these policy statements and economic forecasts as ‘threats’, and as being ‘negative’, but this was really their only defence against facts which were deeply damaging to the independence campaign.  The reality is that the No campaign had a clear responsibility to set out these facts and figures and policy statements with the concrete reasons for them, and it would have been a gross betrayal of the Scottish people to have failed to do so.

    In my view — as you will know from reading my blog posts over a long period that includes years before the independence referendum of 2014 — the main faults of the No campaign were (a) that it got going far too late, because of a culpable lack of foresight on the part of all the UK parties including Scottish Labour; and (b) that until the very last moment (when it panicked), it failed to offer Scotland full internal self-government, aka devo max, aka Home Rule, as an alternative to full independence.  The opinion polls suggested strongly that this was what a clear majority of Scots wanted; and there was no legitimater reason why they should not have it.  Cameron was to blame for refusing to allow devo max (however described) to appear as a third option on the referendum ballot papers, but Labour was also culpable for having failed to press for it.  Of course in the end the No campaign was forced (by Gordon Brown, more perceptive on this than the rest of them put together) to make the joint pledge of what amounts roughly to devo max, which probably turned the nationalist tide in the nick of time.  But what it will mean in practice should have been spelled out much earlier, instead of being left like a political time bomb, still ticking away eight months after the referendum and contributing to the poisonous and divisive attacks on the SNP (and by logical extension, on the many Scots who support it) to which an unprincipled and irresponsible Conservative party has resorted during the current UK election campaign.

    However, I hope discussion on this blog post will not be diverted into a re-run of the debate on Scottish independence, interesting and important though that is.  Let’s exchange views on the current election campaigns, on what’s likely to happen once the results are in on Friday, and what will be needed to maximise the chances of a government led by Ed Miliband taking office as soon as the conditions for that can be satisfied.

  3. Mark Stephens says:

    to add a few points to Tom’s comments on Scotland (but avoiding revisiting the referendum):

    * the decline of Scottish Labour goes back some way: the vote held up, at least in Westminster elections, but the membership and organisation declined.

    * the Scottish Parliament gave the SNP a base from which to advance (paid researchers as well as MSPs). Competent SNP government contrasted with the dismal quality of labour politicians.

    * Nicola Sturgeon is clearly a politician of exceptional quality (enjoying hugely positive general and trust ratings).

    * Murphy is another “shouty” man, who is running a campaign on a series of transparent lies. The latest of these is that we have to vote Labour to prevent another referendum.it follows the “largest (minority) party forms the government” lie, which has been reversed in the last few days.

    * labour’s belief that if would simply present its programme to parliament with no discussion with other parties appears arrogant and anti-democratic. I do not think Scots will take kindly to this.

    * Nonetheless I expect Scottish Labour to do better than the polls suggest: tactical voting, tactical campaigning (to save the high command of Murphy, Alexander and Curran), incumbency, and SNP resources spread too thinly.

  4. formula57 says:

    Your opening remarks on the Fixed-term Parliaments Act likely speak for everyone of us! Although you say that the Act “contravenes a basic principle of the Westminster system under which a government that repeatedly fails to get parliamentary approval for its major policy proposals must resign,…”, comment by Mark Elliott on his public law blog @ http://publiclawforeveryone.com/2015/04/28/the-fixed-term-parliaments-act-a-reply-to-colin-talbot/ gives us some comfort that the harm of the Act is mitigated in that it does not do away with pre-Act conventions about confidence motions, what he calls “non-statutory no-confidence motions”. He says: –

    “It [the FTPA] leaves open the possibility of an absence of confidence in the Government being manifested in other ways [than the confidence motion that Act specifies], including by means of a differently worded motion of no confidence. Such non-statutory no-confidence motions continue to produce effects that sound in constitutional convention rather than constitutional law. In particular, convention continues to require the resignation of a Government in which an absence of confidence is expressed. The difference under the Act is that a non-statutory no-confidence motion only requires resignation, and can no longer trigger an early election — constitutional law, in the form of the Act, having displaced the convention that used to facilitate the dissolution of Parliament whenever no confidence was expressed in the Government.”

    (Elliott’s whole article is quite short and there is a follow-up blog post in futher refutation of the approach taken by Talbot (that suggests that operation of the FTPA provisions is the only means of forcing a government from office.)




  5. Brian says:

    Brian writes in reply to formula57’s comment: Many thanks for your reference to and quotation from Mark Elliott’s two blog posts, which indeed provide essential clarification (especially valuable for non-lawyers like me) of the status of the Cabinet Manual, the limits to the operation of the regrettable Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, and the crucial difference between constitutional law and constitutional convention, with wide swathes of the latter unaffected by the FTPA. Both Dr Elliott’s posts are well worth reading (and I am totally uninfluenced in saying this by the fact that he is a Fellow of my old College and teaches law at it!).

  6. Brian says:

    Brian writes in reply to Mark Stephens’s comment: Thank you for these helpful additional points, Mark. On your penultimate point (“[L]abour’s belief that it would simply present its programme to parliament with no discussion with other parties appears arrogant and anti-democratic. I do not think Scots will take kindly to this”), I would just plead in mitigation that any indication of Labour willingness even to hold discussions with other parties including the SNP about its Queen’s Speech and its tactics for securing a majority for it is certain to be seized on by the ferociously anti-SNP Tories and LibDems as evidence of Labour’s secret intention, contrary to Ed Miliband’s repeated denials, to do a “deal” with the SNP, with the implication that any such deal will be the equivalent of Labour sharing power with the SNP, implying Labour being forced to make damaging concessions to the SNP in order to maintain SNP support that will be essential if Labour is to maintain its majority. A nonsensical collection of non-sequiturs, I know, but a good example of the way a party’s leaders’ ability to set out their positions and intentions candidly is inhibited by the certainty that every opportunity for malicious misinterpretation will be ruthlessly exploited by their political adversaries. In practice the workings of parliament depend all the time on discussions between the parties, formally between their respective Whips and less formally in contacts between ministers and their shadow opposite numbers (or their respective parliamentary private secretaries, political advisers and staffers), and between ordinary back-bench members of the different parties. Sooner or later we’ll need to get used to the absolute necessity of a degree of negotiation and often of compromise between and within parties in parliament in the new situation of political fragmentation in which no one party is likely ever to win an overall majority, and all governments will depend on some conditional support from other parties in order to govern at all. Of course the SNP experience at Holyrood demonstrates that even under a PR electoral system one party may occasionally defeat all expectations and win an overall majority!

    However, all this begins to look potentially academic, with the latest predictions tending to point to the right-wing parties (led by the Tories) collectively winning an overall majority in the new House, provided that they include the LibDems as well as UKIP and the DUP. I hope they are wrong.

  7. Tom Berney says:

    When I lived down your way, Brian, in a pool surrounded by Tory sharks, I probably also felt the need to defend almost every Labour action, but I doubt if you can appreciate the different climate up here. We have tried eliminating the Tories. That got us Blair then Cameron.  The Referendum campaign sparked off a remarkable period of debate about how things could be different and better.  The participation 97% registered and 85% voting was remarkable. Most of us expected that to dissipate after the NO, but it didn’t.  The feeling of civic empowerment carried on.  Iain McWhirter describes it well in this article

    “People are still coming out in their thousands all over Scotland to talk politics in pubs, town halls, theatres and book festivals. I’ve spoken to many of them myself and it is difficult not to be infected with their enthusiasm. Armed with the internet, seized by a sense of communal purpose, the people of Scotland refuse to believe that a better society is impossible. Scots are having fun too. They have taken to politics in the way people used to follow football. There is something of the Tartan Army in the legions of SNP followers on the internet, only a lot less male-dominated.”


    Scotland has been a Labour fiefdom for about half a century.They became complacent and politically invisible. The party’s interest was, and clearly still is, winning over middle England rather than addressing Scottish aspirations. You try to explain away Milliband’s arrogance and repudiation  of the party which is the government of Scotland, by saying he did not want to give ammunition to his enemies.  Instead he chose to alienate the Scottish electorate. In my opinion he created that situation through his own ineptitude. Right at the start he could easily have simply said he would wait to see the results of the election and then do what ever was necessary to progress his policies.  If the English are so hostile to Scottish influence that it would have driven voters to the Tories  is there any point in Scotland being in the Union?  What we see in Scotland is the SNP repeatedly offering responsible support and Milliband publicly and often offensively rejecting it.

    Yes, sure, we know that after the election parties will have to work together but during it you should try to take the public with you.  It begins to look to me that the happiest marriage would be Cameron and Milliband.  I’m pretty certain their parties would not allow it, but I don’t think it would trouble those two heroes a bit.  Milliband took more than a year to decide he was against the bedroom tax and now he tells us he will bar immigrants from benefits for two years.  I don’t see him in the same light you do. I would have thought that you yourself though would have welcomed a left grouping like SNP potentially allying with the Labour left to steer him away from that kind of thing.

    BTW on the fixed term/ minority government matter.  The SNP during their minority period had their budgets voted down twice. They simply took them away negotiated that the Tories could say they had inserted more police and Labour more apprenticeships and got them carried. Honour satisfied all round.

  8. Brian says:

    Brian writes in reply to comment of 4 May by Tom Berney: Tom, I agree with a lot more of what you say than you might perhaps have expected. If you were to look back through my blog posts here and on LabourList, and in comments on posts in other blogs, together with my many letters published in a range of newspapers and magazines (although I don’t seriously suggest that you should embark on such a sterile exercise), you would find far more criticism of Labour policies and utterances than support, and numerous recommendations and proposals that would have involved a radical change of course, very few if any of which have been adopted. Two or more years ago I was urging that Labour should start talking to the LibDems and other centre-left parties with a view to identifying common ground on which Labour might be able to build in putting together a loose alliance (not a coalition) if there was another hung parliament after the 2015 election (and got myself assailed on LabourList as an ignoramus, an idiot and a traitor for my pains: I still think I was right!)

    I voted for Ed Miliband for Labour party leader because I thought he was the only credible candidate likely to disown the worst features of Blairite New Labour’s legacy, and I was hugely heartened by his acceptance speech at the party conference in which he was elected, where he explicitly promised to take civil liberties more seriously and acknowledged that Iraq had been “wrong”. I have applauded many of Labour’s initiatives under Ed Miliband’s leadership, but I have repeatedly lamented (1) the continuing tendency to position Labour to the authoritarian right of the Conservative party (for craven fear of being accused of being soft on crime or terrorism) and (2) Miliband’s and Douglas Alexander’s continuing failure to commit Labour to the fundamental principle of international law that the use of force in international relations other than in self-defence is in breach of the Charter and indeed a war crime unless it has the explicit prior approval of the UN Security Council — a failure that presumably stems from reluctance to adopt a formal party policy that would be construed as labelling Tony Blair, Jack Straw and other Labour grandees of 2003 as war criminals. More recently I have deplored Labour’s craven policy on immigration, not much different from that of the Tories or indeed of UKIP except in degree, and in particular Labour’s failure to nail the Tory and LibDem lies about the Labour government’s responsibility for the global banking crash or its alleged mismanagement of the economy before that. Above all I believe that Labour should have dissociated itself much earlier from the coalition’s irrational obsession with the budget deficit and the Tories’ insistence on dismantling the welfare state and social security as virtually the sole means of promoting recovery from the recession, at the expense of the poorest and weakest in our society. Even now Miliband and Balls are promising yet more cuts if they are in office after this week’s election, including caps on some kinds of welfare spending — committing the cardinal political sin of allowing themselves to be dragged onto the enemy’s chosen battleground instead of insisting on their own priorities and long-run objectives. Of course there can be no possible doubt of the supreme importance of bringing the reign of Cameron and Clegg to an inglorious end on Thursday or of the immense relief that all decent thinking people will feel if Ed at last gets the keys to No. 10. But the prospects could have been so much better if Labour had shown a little more courage in charting a new radical course, ignoring the self-interested protests of the New Labour dinosaurs, many of them discredited. But remember that a sizeable majority of the parliamentary Labour party voted for the other Miliband brother, a committed Blairite, and there’s only so much that a radical Labour leader can do in the face of the united disapproval, even opposition, of a majority of his back-benchers. Maybe the 2015 intake will be different.

    You may guess from this that I shall be delighted if a Miliband government dependent for its majority in the house of commons on other parties including the SNP is forced to take account of some of their policy objectives, including the SNP’s fierce opposition to more cuts. Personally I would also ditch Trident and our pointless nuclear ‘deterrent’ tomorrow, but I recognise that this is not going to be endorsed by a majority in parliament for the foreseeable future and that for the duration of the next parliament the SNP’s opposition to Trident will be that of a small and isolated minority. Perhaps naively, I believe Nicola Sturgeon when she says that her party’s objectives at Westminster will be to promote the interests of Scotland and of the rest of the UK, and that the SNP is not asking for another independence referendum short of a major change of circumstances (such as a UK decision to leave the EU). But I would be more confident on all these matters if the SNP MPs’ group at Westminster were to be led by Ms Sturgeon and not, as it will be, by Alex Salmond, of whom I am much more suspicious.

    Finally, I absolutely agree that in the era of hung parliaments and fragmented political loyalties, plus the ambiguous rise of sub-UK nationalisms, any government is going to have to talk to other parties, to harmonise tactics, to identify common ground and where necessary to modify its policies and to compromise in other ways if it’s to get its programmes through parliament — although there may not need to be much of this in the initial processes leading to the formation of a new government if the anti-Tory parties together have a majority of the seats. But for Miliband to keep asserting that on no account will he have any dealings with the SNP simply reinforces public scepticism about the candour and credibility of our politicians. Once again, an understandable terror of saying anything that could be misrepresented by the Tories as demonstrating Labour weakness or incompetence has been allowed to outweigh the merits of candour and common sense.

    Finally, I fully accept your account of the way the independence referendum has energised politcs in Scotland and caused the huge expansion of the SNP’s membership and support. What you say sorresponds closely to what I hear from Scottish friends, and is perfectly credible.

    PS: My unfounded guess is that Ed Miliband, a child of Labour to the marrow of his bones, would resign from parliament and possibly from the party rather than go into any kind of alliance, least of all a coalition, with the Tories, other than in circumstances of total war or complete economic collapse. My belief is that in this as in other matters he’s squarely in the honourable tradition of Neil Kinnock, Michael Foot and Nye Bevan. I hope we shall never know whether I’m right.

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