The expiry of the UK and English Parliament sees the announcement of the main Officers for the three main parties ahead of May’s General Election. Incumbent Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown announces Alistair Darling as prospective Chancellor, David Miliband as prospective First Secretary of State; and Yvette Cooper as ‘Lead Candidate’ – i.e. prospective Home Secretary and First Minister for England. The Conservatives’ David Cameron puts forward George Osborne, William Hague and Theresa May for the roles, much to the frustration of Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling. The Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg has Menzies Campbell, Danny Alexander and Vince Cable – a surprise move which sees Chris Huhne sidelined, something which he would come to be grateful for.
“Lib-mania” breaks out as Nick Clegg’s dominant performance in the UK-wide Prime Ministerial debate is followed by another win for Vince Cable in the Lead Candidates’ debate, shown only in England. The Liberal Democrats briefly lead the polls.
The outcome of the election is a Conservative overall majority of 40 in England; but they are short by 19 UK-wide – a “semi-cohabitation”. Gordon Brown refuses to resign, saying he may be able to lead at federal level. David Cameron says it is clear his party has won in England, and that he will make a comprehensive offer to the Liberal Democrats to back him on issues of confidence and supply across the UK. Nick Clegg names his price – income tax allowance to be progressively raised to £10,000, a referendum on the electoral system with fixed parliamentary terms, and Lords Reform. The Conservatives are not for messing around, however – Theresa May is invited to Buckingham Palace and invited to form an English Executive; four days later, having compromised on the first two of Mr Clegg’s demands but rejected the third, David Cameron enters Number 10.
An AV referendum is called, but heavily defeated. The Conservatives proceed to re-draw England’s electoral boundaries, easily able to do so with their majority there.
Having unsuccessfully sought a deal to manage a compromise across the UK, the Conservatives proceed to raise tuition fees to £9,000 for English universities – the star of the show, however, is Vince Cable, whose impassioned Commons speech in opposition to tuition fees of any sort (and case for their replacement by a “Graduate Tax”) wins near universal plaudits. The Liberal Democrats continue to dominate the air waves with their anger that full fiscal autonomy to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is not proceeding because it needs to be matched by Lords Reform.
The Conservatives’ plan to bomb Syria is rejected by a vote of the UK Parliament, showing it can continue to act on “federal” matters. Meanwhile, plans to resolve congestion at London’s airports hit gridlock as a meeting between Lord Chancellor Dominic Grieve with the four Transport Ministers arrives at no conclusion other than the desirability of an increase in capacity. Greater Manchester’s Council leaders express anger that they were not included at such a meeting, arguing that the aviation problem is a perfect reason to re-balance England’s regional economic policy towards the North West.
The year is taken over by the Scottish independence referendum, where polls show a potential majority in favour of independence just 10 days out. However, former PM Gordon Brown intervenes with a draft private member’s bill for greater fiscal autonomy, devolution of welfare and reform of the Lords – leaving it for the media to note that alongside the Liberal Democrats and some regional MPs he has a majority to put it through the UK Parliament even without the Conservatives by March. The polls swing back and independence is rejected 57-43. Greater Manchester’s Council leaders repeat their demand for greater autonomy of their own and, accepting they can do nothing to stop the Brown Plan, the Conservatives set up an English Constitutional Convention.
Lords Reform dominates the early part of 2015, but bores the electorate. It does mean, however, that the UK General Election is dominated again by the Liberal Democrats, whose effective and experienced front-bench team (Clegg, Teather, Danny Alexander, Cable) and anti-Westminster platform secures 80 seats in England. This means Ed Miliband’s Labour (running Miliband, Douglas Alexander, Balls, Cooper) has a majority across the UK, but falls short in England, hampered by the new boundaries. The Conservatives (Cameron, Hammond, Osborne, May) deny they have lost a mandate to govern in England, and suggest they may seek a coalition with the Liberal Democrats to continue to do so.
Nevertheless Ed Miliband, able to command a majority in the UK Parliament, is appointed Prime Minister and immediately seeks a way of securing a majority among English MPs too, in order to form an English Executive under Yvette Cooper before the Conservatives, UKIP and the Liberal Democrats can cobble anything together.
“You know my price,” says Mr Cable when Mr Miliband calls him about it, “I want tuition fees reduced back to where they were and a vow that sees graduate tax devolved”.
“No problem there,” says Mr Miliband, “Tell you what, if you form a coalition I have no doubt Yvette will look kindly upon pointing you Deputy First Minister and Secretary of State for Skills in England to make sure”.
“Well, I’m afraid I can’t accept that particular offer,” says Mr Cable, “You see, I’m about to announce my candidacy for another top job, part of which would involve sorting the airport issue”.
“I see. Well, between ourselves, looking at the polls, it looks like we’ll be getting to know each other rather well then”, says the new Prime Minister to the next London Mayor…