Election 2010: Gordon Brown CAN’T resign immediately

From the BBC News website:

a YouGov poll for the Sunday Times suggests more than two-thirds of people want Mr Brown to leave Downing Street immediately.

The poll of more than 1,400 voters found people think he should have conceded defeat on Friday, rather than hanging on in case the Conservatives cannot come to a deal with the Liberal Democrats.

I understand the frustration being expressed by those polled, but the fact is Brown can’t resign until Cameron signals that he is in a position to form a government – i.e., that his talks with the Lib Dems have reached a successful conclusion, or that he thinks he can achieve a sustainable majority without them.

Constitutionally, the UK cannot be without a PM for an extended period of time (i.e. more than a few minutes), because this would mean that executive power was resting directly in the hands of the monarch.  If Brown had seen the Queen on Friday and tendered his resignation, she would have either had to decline it, or have invited someone else to take over the role on a caretaker basis.  I’m no fan of the monarchy, but this isn’t a Queen-specific problem.  If the monarch’s constitutional role were taken by a directly-elected President, she would be in exactly the same position as the Queen – unable to take power herself, but unable to identify for certain who has majority support in the Commons, and hence should be invited to form a government.

It’s true that Gordon Brown could, theoretically, have announced on Friday that he had no intention of entering negotiations to lead a government, and that he was remaining as caretaker PM only until such time as his replacement had been identified.  The problem with this is that it remains possible that the talks between the Lib Dems and the Conservatives will break down.  If that were to happen, the next step would involve negotiations between the Lib Dems and Labour.  If Brown had signalled his intention to stand down regardless, those talks would have been thrown into confusion before they even began, because the Labour party would have had no clear leader.  The fact that Brown has said he’s available for talks should any of the other party leaders wish it doesn’t mean he is plotting to remain as PM, just that he is prepared to act as figurehead of his party during any negotiations.  Gordon Brown knows perfectly well that the price of any Lib-Lab pact (which wouldn’t have the votes to govern anyway) would be his political head on a spike.

In fact, I think he’s done all he can to make this abundantly clear.  When he spoke outside No 10 on Friday afternoon he explicitly stated that his role – the only role he claimed for himself – was to give Cameron and Clegg as much time as they needed to conduct their negotiations, and to offer all possible help in facilitating the formation of the next government.  I don’t know how much clearer he could have been that his political career is over.

The BBC also report that Billy Bragg was at a protest intended to encourage the Lib Dems to stand firm, and insist that proportional representation was a non-negotiable part of the price for their collaboration in any government.  The protest took place outside Lib Dem headquarters, where the party executive were meeting to discuss their strategy in negotiations with the Conservatives.  The BBC quote him as saying

We don’t like these negotiations going on behind closed doors. The votes that people cast on Thursday should have given us a coalition government.

I’m a big fan of Billy Bragg, so I really hope those words have been taken out of context.  I mean, how can you have a coalition government without coalition talks taking place first?  That’s what the Lib Dems were meeting to specifically discuss – whether or not to form a coalition government with the Conservatives, and on what terms.

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4 Responses to Election 2010: Gordon Brown CAN’T resign immediately

  1. Kapitano says:

    I imagine Mr Bragg is objecting to the discussions taking place “behind closed doors” – without public scrutiny and accountability – rather than to them taking place at all.

    But then, I’m not sure where Bragg is nowadays politically. He seems to slide around – which is certainly understandable, given that he’s a musician with politics, not a politician with music.

  2. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Hi Kapitano, and thanks for commenting.

    I imagine Mr Bragg is objecting to the discussions taking place “behind closed doors” – without public scrutiny and accountability – rather than to them taking place at all.

    In terms of public accountability, i guess that will come at the next election, when people decide whether to reward or punish the Lib Dems for their actions. (If they do enter a formal coalition with the Conservatives, i imagine the many people who voted for the Lib Dems on the ‘anyone but a Tory’ principle will abandon them in droves – which is why i why, personally, i think they’d be mad to join a formal coalition.) On the public scrutiny point – i can’t think of a single country where coalition talks take place in public. They’re always held behind closed doors, so far as i’m aware, and it seems slightly naive to expect anything else.

    But, as you say, he’s a musician first and foremost, and i think does sometimes have a tendency to blurt out what he thinks without all the filters that a politician puts in place – which is, of course, a good thing. :o)

  3. ZCH says:

    One possible interpretation of Billy Bragg’s comments is that we should have a coalition govt organised between the three parties, seeing as all three failed to secure a majority. It doesn’t need to be just two. A coalition would represent the whole country (radical idea) instead of half. I hope it’s up for discussion at some point.

  4. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Hi ZCH, and thanks for commenting.

    We have had these kind of across-the-board coalitions (which tend to be called National Governments because, as you say, they represent the whole country) before, of course – most notably during the 1st and 2nd world wars, but also at other points. There’s one very good reason why such a government might work out at the moment, which is that all the parties are in agreement that tacking the debt problem is the key issue facing whoever governs. But there are also a couple of reasons why it might not work out.

    Firstly, there are genuine ideological differences about how to tackle the debt – Labour are more confident about the prospect of a growing economy eroding the problem, while the Conservatives and Lib Dems tend to think more radical action is required. Secondly, even though the parties are closer together than they were in, say, the mid 80s, there’s still very little love lost, especially between Labour and the Conservatives. That starts right at the top – Gordon Brown and David Cameron genuinely despise each other in a way that the two leaders haven’t always (William Hague and Tony Blair were quite good friends, for example) – but the bigger problem is likely to be the way the rank and file feel. Basically, i can’t see either grassroots Conservatives or Labourites wearing a coalition with the party they regard as their sworn enemies. It’s a shame, because National Governments can sometimes do some good work.

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