Can a Rainbow Coalition work?

Conservative 307 [1]
100 3 97 10706647 36.1 3.8
Labour 258 3 94 -91 8604358 29 -6.2
Liberal Democrat 57 8 13 -5 6827938 23 1
Democratic Unionist Party 8 0 1 -1 168216 0.6 -0.3
Scottish National Party 6 0 0 0 491386 1.7 0.1
Sinn Fein 5 0 0 0 171942 0.6 -0.1
Plaid Cymru 3 1 0 1 165394 0.6 -0.1
Social Democratic & Labour Party 3 0 0 0 110970 0.4 -0.1
Green 1 1 0 1 285616 1 -0.1
Alliance Party 1 1 0 1 42762 0.1 0
Sylvia Hermon 1 1 1 0 21181 1.1 0
Total Turnout 29653638 65.1 4

Gordon Brown has offered his resignation, as you will have all heard by now.

As you will all also know, as you are all so politically astute, there was no chance of a Lib-Lab pact while Brown was still Labour Leader.

Another thing you will all know, as Mat Bowles makes completely clear, is that any Lib-Con pact or accommodation is unlikely to get through the Liberal Democrat Triple-Lock.

So here are the potentials.

Lib-Con coalition government. This would command 367 MPs, easily enough to govern with but unlikely given that many of the Lib Dem membership, Parliamentary Party and probably Federal committee are opposed to.

Conservative minority. 307 seats here but an entirely viable option. For example, Canada has had a Conservative minority administration for some time.

A Rainbow [2] Alliance. Here things get interesting and this is what I want to talk about.

Nominally, with all 650 seats a majority would require 326 MPs. However, Sinn Féin do not take up their seats [3] so a majority in this house requires 323 seats.

Labour and the Lib Dems together command 315 seats between them. This leaves them either 11 or 8 seats short. The Alliance Party take the Lib Dem Whip in the Lords so I think it is safe to add their MP to the total. 10 or 7 to go. The SDLP are probably a safe bet too so we can add their three. 7 or 4 MPs to go.

As Splinty describes Sylvia Hermon “has functioned as a de facto Labour MP” since 2005. Likewise, it is safe to assume that the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas would not want to challenge a Government that keeps out the Tories, especially one so uninterested/hostile to environmental matters. However, it is unclear if they would want to enter a formal coalition, but could probably be relied on for Confidence and Supply votes.

Where does that leave us? Well 5 MPs short of the 326 needed for a de jure majority and 2 MPs short of a de facto majority.

Option one is that the nationalists abstain, with 14 MPs abstaining from all votes a de facto majority becomes 319 which a Rainbow Coalition can muster.

258 Labour + 57 Lib Dems + 3 SDLP + 1 Alliance = 319

Now this relies on Caroline Lucas, Sylvia Hermon and the Nationalists not voting down what I expect to be a formal coalition, possibly binded by a Coalition Contract as they use in Germany.

I began writing my conclusion before I’d worked through the electoral maths and I was ready to conclude it would be a “bloody mess” but I’m not so sure now and have revised my opinion accordingly.

This would be enough to get a Queen’s Speech through Parliament [4] in my opinion. No one has a War Chest anywhere near the size of the Conservative’s to afford another election, so most would be loathe to vote down a Lib-Lab coalition.

If that nationalists are needed then the SNP can be bought, they’ve made that quite clear, I also suspect that Plaid Cymru will be equally as pliant were the price right, but as I’ve shown above abstention might be enough, and would certainly be cheaper and more acceptable to the English electorate.

Of course the Queen’s Speech is just the first hurdle. A Rainbow Coalition must achieve Proportional Representation, almost certainly Single Transferable Vote, but this will be a tall order. MPs in the Labour party as ideologically different as Tom Harris and Jeremy Corbyn stand firm against it so there is no guarantee it could overcome this hurdle.

A short lived Lib-Lab coalition would be bad for all involved, as it seems likely that a flight to the Tories would take place. This makes securing some sort of PR utterly imperative to a coalition lasting more than a few months.

Although this may be a good election to lose I’m with Hopi and Paul, this dreadful situation makes it all the more important that the Tories are kept out.

As Tony Benn just said on BBC News “all solutions are interim” – how long this interim lasts is anyone’s guess but it is a real viable, option.

Update: Caroline’s in for Confidence and Supply.


[1] Thirsk & Malton is included in this seat tally as they are going to elect a Tory.

[2] I refuse to use “progressive” as I don’t believe in it and I don’t think it creates a particularly useful narrative in any case.

[3] Although I’m informed they do take the pay cheques but I would be happy to be proved wrong.

[4] A majority of those voting is enough I assume. I’m not completely fluent in the constitution but I assume 326 votes are not actually required for this vote.

Norman Tebbit on Climate Change

How about something that has nothing to do with the election?

Scourge of the Left and “Britain’s most outspoken conservative” Norman Tebbit started a blog earlier this year to much cheer and chagrin.

Earlier this year Lord Tebbit provoked ire from the left when he pondered aloud on why Cameron chose the “trivialities of dress sense or political asylum for African homosexuals” over dealing with the deficit or the EU. On the other hand, Tim Montgomerie was more pleased with his increased visibility.

Last week he turned his attention to Climate Change. He surmised “in short, I am unconvinced by man-made global warming but not dogmatically sure that it is all nonsense, a racket or a conspiracy.”

However, Lord Tebbit is clear that he is not beyond convincing otherwise. In his own disparaging way he implores climate change sceptics to not be “dogmatic about climate change – unlike the warmists.”

In a succinct passage in the middle of his post he explains why he finds it difficult to dismiss the idea that humans are causing climate change.

I do not think it impossible that to burn in the space of a couple of centuries or so stocks of hydrocarbons which took tens if not hundreds of millions of years to lay down, and to release the carbon back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, may have some measurable effects upon our environment.

Luckily for us Lord Tebbit also explains why he is unsure whether this effect is “huge, large, small or insignificant” and this gives us an opportunity to explain why the effect is likely to be, with luck, merely large but quite possibly huge for life on earth.

There are a number of reservations which he explains temper any enthusiasm he has for the theory of man made climate change.

  • As is commonly accepted he explains that the climate has changed before. For example, he explains that “we know that within comparatively recent times wheat was grown in Greenland.” Likewise he discusses the cultivation of vines as far north as Scotland [1] under Roman occupation.
  • Lord Tebbit is also concerned that the scale of mankind’s emissions are small compared with “the variability of the sun to meteor impacts, or great volcanic eruptions.”
  • In particular, the effects of the sun are likely to be larger than the effects of man.
  • On top of these empirical concerns Tebbit is also worried on the fallibility of all too human scientists.

However, when it comes to past climate change, the observed data should actually convince us of the dangers of our carbon emissions rather than inoculate us against concern about them.

Data from past climates show us that the the earth is sensitive to energy imbalances such as those produced by the introduction of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The extra energy put into the system by the carbon we emit is reflected in higher temperatures.

And of course, while it is true that wheat was once cultivated in Greenland the Greenland ice sheet itself is at least 400,000 years old. Rather than be a source of solace, its past resilience and recent precipitous loss in mass should concern us all the more.

The changes in past climates have been the result of various natural forcings, things which effect the climate. For example the orbit of the earth is not completely circular and we can pass closer to the sun. Similarly our axis can tilt leading to more sunlight hitting certain parts of the earth altering the balance in the climate system. Atmospheric carbon dioxide represents another forcing.

Energy reaches us from the sun so an increase in solar activity can have significant effect on our climate. In fact this may be what allowed an agrarian polity to survive on Greenland albeit briefly. However, contrary to Lord Tebbit’s instincts the sun is not causing our current warming.

Below is a graph that illustrates that the sun simply is not causing the current warming trend which has seen “winters…  become notably warmer” in Lord Tebbit’s lifetime.

Global Temperature vs Solar Activity (Total Solar Irradiance)As you can see the significant warming we have recorded since 1960 has not been caused by increase solar irradiance. In some ways I take an awkward pride in the awesome power of man compared to the sun, which is, remember, a star, and something which is creating out of sheer heat and pressure most of the elements which are the building blocks of life and our planet.

Of course Lord Tebbit is not just concerned about solar activity. He is correct that Volcanoes and other natural processes put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere but I think he will be surprised by the degree to which human emissions outstrip those emitted by volcanoes. The below graph illustrates the small effect volcanic eruptions have on our climate.

One matter on which Lord Tebbit and I differ on a more philosophical level is on the certainty with which we should treat these scientific findings now that we have established that the current evidence strongly suggests that mankind is causing climate change.

Lord Tebbit argues that he has “every respect for scientists, but they are human, they make mistakes, they are prone to follow fashions in ideas and they are reluctant to admit error.”

I cannot answer on behalf of scientists as I do not number among them, however 255 members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences may have serendipitously addressed this point in a recent letter. I hope you will permit me a somewhat lengthy extract:

There is always some uncertainty associated with scientific conclusions; science never absolutely proves anything. When someone says that society should wait until scientists are absolutely certain before taking any action, it is the same as saying society should never take action. For a problem as potentially catastrophic as climate change, taking no action poses a dangerous risk for our planet…

… The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other scientific assessments of climate change, which involve thousands of scientists producing massive and comprehensive reports, have, quite expectedly and normally, made some mistakes. When errors are pointed out, they are corrected. But there is nothing remotely identified in the recent events that changes the fundamental conclusions about climate change:

  1. The planet is warming due to increased concentrations of heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere. A snowy winter in Washington does not alter this fact.
  2. Most of the increase in the concentration of these gases over the last century is due to human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.
  3. Natural causes always play a role in changing Earth’s climate, but are now being overwhelmed by human-induced changes.
  4. Warming the planet will cause many other climatic patterns to change at speeds unprecedented in modern times, including increasing rates of sea-level rise and alterations in the hydrologic cycle. Rising concentrations of carbon dioxide are making the oceans more acidic.
  5. The combination of these complex climate changes threatens coastal communities and cities, our food and water supplies, marine and freshwater ecosystems, forests, high mountain environments, and far more.

Much more can be, and has been, said by the world’s scientific societies, national academies, and individuals, but these conclusions should be enough to indicate why scientists are concerned about what future generations will face from business-as-usual practices. We urge our policy-makers and the public to move forward immediately to address the causes of climate change, including the un restrained burning of fossil fuels.

There is a lot of evidence out there which is easily accessible that resolve many of the reservations he expresses with regard to the likelihood of mankind causing climate change. I do hope that Lord Tebbit reads this post and reconsiders his opinion on the subject.

Reaching across the aisle on matters as important as this is important and Lord Tebbit can do fifty fold what I can do to convince those to the right of centre still doubtful that we are changing the climate.

[1] Actually, there are two vineyards currently in operation in Scotland today and the south east of England is quietly cultivating a reputation for sparkling wines. On another wine related note, makers and drinkers of German wine – a country on the edge of where you can grow grapes – will have noticed that a country which once had 2 or 3 good vintages a decade is now consistently producing great wines thanks to the slightly warming we have seen. I love German wine so AGW offers quite the moral quandary to me.

Do I want the BNP in Parliament?

It seems that the answer is yes.

There are many good reasons for supporting Proportional Representation but one bad but democratic result may be the election of the BNP to Parliament.

But, democracy is often looked upon as a panacea for all our problems. If only Britain were given a true Democratic choice all sorts of good things would happen.

For UKIP a referendum would see the anti-EU majority force the country out of the EU. For Hobhouse democracy will give him the #progressivemajority [1] which will keep out the Tories, protect public services and deliver electoral reform. For the Lib Dems a fairer form of democracy would deliver them a number of seats which reflects the current 23% of the population which cast their ballots for them.

Of course the opposite may be true. Most people don’t care about the EU and any referendum on it would be attended poorly and results possibly inconclusive. The EU elections handed first and second to the Tories and UKIP which rather quashes the idea that the right are not popular. Likewise, proportional representation might not help the Lib Dems, it might kill them and split them into warring Orange Bookers and Social Liberal Forum factions.

Paul Sagar says that there is a worrying tendency for everyone to assume that greater democracy will deliver whatever they want. The people are always in tune with that person’s ego.

Of course the people often (mostly?) disagree with my views and often use democracy to do deeply unpleasant things.

For example Arizona has recently passed a law which requires police officers to stop any one who they think may be an illegal immigrant and check their papers. It also empowers citizens to sue the local police if they think they are not enforcing the law strongly enough. It is mandating racist policing and it is democratic.

Likewise in the 2009 EU elections Britain announced to Europe that we had two Fascists to send their way, and we’d really love them to be paid generous salaries and expenses to represent us. In 2009 nearly a million people voted BNP. A vote for hate and it was democratic

Lord Tebbit says we must resist electoral reform because “Nick Clegg’s electoral reform could give the BNP over 60 seats in the House of Commons.” Tom Harris calls Proportional Representation the “BNP’s ally.” They are clear that more democracy will not deliver more of what they want so they are happy to sacrifice it.

But I think they are being short-termist in their outlook, in the light of this weekend’s results.

Jim Jepps says the average MP needed 42,554 votes for their seat. The worst case scenario involving carrying over votes from the 2009 elections would deliver23 seats into the hands of the BNP. The system that the Liberal Democrats and I favour is Single Transferable Vote which delivers less proportionality than some systems but retains the constituency link so the BNP’s peak performance would perhaps deliver half that number.

But look what happened this election.

In the midst of the worst financial crisis of a generation, a derisory job market and a decade of large scale immigration how did the BNP do? Well, once people had a glimpse of the way the Fascists actually governed they kicked them out on their arse.

In 2006 they posted a performance that had them crowing that the BNP was “on its way.” In 2010 Counterfire reports “BNP wiped out in key areas.” On top of the removal of all their councillors in Barking and Dagenham, Nick Griffin came an embarrassing forth place in what was meant to be a “winnable” seat.

It is not a commitment to democracy that delivered these results but the inevitable massive incompetence, corruption, unpleasantness and violence that characterises racists and Fascists. So it appears that while democracy is turbulent and often delivers results we do not like it often reaches an acceptable equilibrium.

I hope I am not falling into Paul’s trap. Democracy and the electoral reform that I want may well hand some parliamentary seats to the BNP. I do not want the BNP in parliament but I am happy to tolerate them so the can convince the nation what they have convinced the people of Barking, that they are moronic, incompetent, self-indulgent, violent buffoons.


[1] Progressive? Really what does it mean? Call it anti-Tory if that’s what you mean, because I find it hard to believe there is a label which really accurately describes both Tom Harris and Giles Wilkes.