Sunday 18 February 2018

Politics of a hung parliament, or how to spin a defeat into a victory

A Conservative party supporter wears a rosette in support of Prime Minister and local member of Parliament David Cameron at the counting centre, as votes are counted in Britain's general election, in Witney, May 8, 2015. REUTERS/Toby Melville
A Conservative party supporter wears a rosette in support of Prime Minister and local member of Parliament David Cameron at the counting centre, as votes are counted in Britain's general election, in Witney, May 8, 2015. REUTERS/Toby Melville

James Kirkup

Political professionals call it "framing", though real people might prefer the term "spin". Whatever you call it, it's the art of making sure a conversation is conducted on your terms and in a way that advances your agenda - and undermines your opponent's. Quite how the Conservatives and Labour frame the UK general election results could well be crucial to who gets to govern in the event of a hung parliament.

Here are the challenges likely to face the two big parties in framing the results, and how they should go about the task.

CONSERVATIVES The Tories look to have finished with most seats but short of a majority. But as the incumbent, David Cameron gets the first chance to form a government and then put a Queen's Speech to Parliament on May 27. His problem would be the Cabinet Manual, which says that if it is "clear" that he would not command the confidence of the House, and if there is a "clear alternative" government, he would be expected to resign before bringing that speech to the Commons.

His objective, therefore, would be to remain in office until May 27, then dare Labour and parties like the SNP to vote him down, betting that they would not do so. So David Cameron should make this argument:

"I am very grateful that the British people have made the Conservatives the biggest party in the House of Commons. I am very proud that my party has finished in first place in this election. I am pleased that my party has received more votes than any other in this general election.

"This was a battle of ideas, between the Conservatives' vision of a hard-working Britain that rewards enterprise, and an old-fashioned Labour Party that hates wealth and refuses to admit to its historic mistakes. I am delighted to say that the Conservatives have clearly won that battle. That is a decisive statement from the British people and all politicians of all parties should take heed.

"As the biggest party in Parliament, the Conservatives will now build a government in the national interest. We will, as we did in 2010, seek to work with partners to have the strongest possible administration that governs for the whole of the United Kingdom, not any one group or nation.

"As the independent Civil Service Cabinet Manual makes clear we should, we will now put our plan for legislation before the House of Commons on May 27.

"I am aware that the defeated Labour Opposition and its partners in the Scottish National Party are preparing to challenge Britain's new government, twisting the rules to get into power even though the British people have clearly rejected them." LABOUR Labour seems set to finish second, but could potentially assemble enough votes for a majority if it gets enough support. But first, Ed Miliband would have to get David Cameron out of Downing Street, at which point Labour would have the chance to assemble its own government.

Mr Miliband has given repeated promises that he would not do a deal with the SNP, which might complicate his attempts to argue that Mr Cameron should quit before bringing his Queen's Speech to the House.

But the argument can still be made:

"Britain is great because it is a country of rules, a country where we all play by the rules and abide by them, no matter how rich or powerful you are. And the rules are clear here. The prime minister is the leader who can command the confidence of the House of Commons, and it's important to understand why. Commanding that majority means having the support of the MPs who represent the majority of people in this the country. That is something that I can do and only I can do.

"David Cameron and his Conservatives have now been rejected by the British people not once but twice.

"They failed to win the general election in 2010, and they failed to win the general election this year. David Cameron is a serial loser who is trying to cling to power even though the British people have made it crystal clear they reject him and his party's cruel failed austerity agenda.

"He lost the general election and yet he refuses to listen to the people, desperately trying to keep his career alive even though it is quite clear the British have seen through him. There is clearly a majority in the House of Commons that rejects the Tories and their austerity agenda. That is because there is a majority in the UK that rejects the Tories.

As the independent Civil Service Cabinet Manual makes clear, it is now right and proper that the Tories listen to that majority and for David Cameron to resign.

"When David Cameron has done the decent thing and resigned, I will begin to build a government that will govern in the national interest, representing all parts of British society, not just the privileged few.

"Let me be clear, there will be no place for the Scottish National Party in that government. I utterly reject the SNP's attempt to tear Britain apart.

"Nor will I discuss my plans with the SNP. I will put those plans before the Commons on May 27 and the SNP can vote how they wish: their choice will be to support a Labour programme that benefits the whole nation and brings social justice to all, or to walk hand-in-hand with the defeated Conservative Party that brought so much misery to Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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