267: the number for Constitutional Crisis

The Conservatives have placed far too much store in Lynton Crosby’s abilities – his basic strategy, of splitting the opposition party on a core issue, doesn’t make any difference in a campaign completely devoid of serious policy propositions and where, in any case, there is more than one opposition party. As a result, Ed Miliband may now expect to hold the keys to Number 10 within the next month.

The numbers are fairly obvious – Labour can get to a majority, at least on Confidence and Supply, more easily than the Conservatives even if it is behind in seats. This in itself will cause an issue – if the Conservatives have more votes there will be an issue of democratic legitimacy of a Labour takeover of power based on Nationalist preferences; if they also have more seats, there will be serious questions asked.

However, for me, the key number is 267. If the Conservatives get to around 275 seats overall, the chances are they will have 267 in England. Why is that relevant? 267 would be enough for an overall majority in England.

Given that Parliament legislates predominantly only for England (albeit typically with financial consequences elsewhere), and most Cabinet Ministers (Health, Transport, Education) have responsibilities which apply directly almost exclusively in England, many would view it as democratically illegitimate for England as a country then to be governed by a Labour Government it did not vote for propped up by Scottish MPs – even less so if those Scottish MPs came from a separatist party in government in Scotland!

To be clear, what would then be happening would be that Labour would be passing policies and laws for England based absolutely on votes cast from Scotland and Wales, quite often by SNP MPs. To many in England, that would be outrageous when Scotland and Wales are themselves self-governing on those issues.

We may be left with a situation where Wales has elected a majority Labour Government and got a majority Labour Government; Scotland has elected a majority Nationalist Government and got a majority Nationalist Government; and England has elected a majority Conservative Government and got, er, a minority Labour Govenrment propped up by a party the English themselves couldn’t even vote for… Labour and Nationalists would be in power across Great Britain even though 86% of the people of Great Britain live in a jurisdiction where another party received most votes and attained a majority of seats. This would be even more laughable if in fact the Conservatives had most votes and most seats in Parliament.

Externally, it would be hard to feel too sorry for the Conservatives in such a situation – after all, they rejected the changes to the electoral system which would have clarified the legitimacy of each seat’s winner. Since most people in England would not, in fact, have voted for them, it is unlikely the Cavaliers and Roundheads would be making a comeback to overthrow the system immediately. However, throughout the Parliament, as Labour began to pass controversial policies and laws in England which most people in England reject, an obvious constitutional problem would emerge.

To make the obvious point, it is time for English devolution of some kind – before the oil under Sussex strengthens demands for English independence…

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