No party wants to admit that it will go into coalition with any other party – because they want to maintain the fiction that they will win in May. On the other hand they are being a little coy about ruling out possible coalition partners – because pragmatically they know they may have to “do a deal”.
So what can we work out for ourselves?
Both the old two elitist parties will be tempted to form a minority government if they are a little short of a majority. But if that looks too unworkable, possible coalitions or confidence and supply agreements would include:
|Conservative Coalitions||Labour Coalitions|
- We can probably exclude formal coalitions with Nationalist Parties (or the various Ulster parties) because it will probably be unacceptable to the majority of the (UK) population for a perceived parochial interest to be seen to hold the (UK) national interest to ransom. A case of the tail wagging the dog. (An SNP majority in Scotland gives us a totally different set of problems that probably should be tackled at a Parliamentary rather than a Coalition Government level.)
- This unacceptability does not apply to the same extent to coalitions involving the “minor national” parties.
- UKIP (with enough seats) would be unlikely to form a coalition with anyone other than the Conservatives.
- The Greens (with enough seats) would be unlikely to form a coalition with anyone other than the Labour Party.
- The Liberal Democrats (again with enough seats) could form a coalition with either the Conservatives or the Labour Party.
- A coalition with the Conservatives is more likely as they know how to work together and even if the two parliamentary parties seem to have a mutual loathing, within the cabinet relationships seem slightly less poisonous.
- A coalition with Labour is less likely as the Liberals would be wary of being seen to “swap partners”. If they did so they risk paying a very high price from an electorate who has not yet developed a “European” understanding of coalition politics. Within the Labour Party, the level of hatred of the Liberals might also make it difficult.
- This then leaves a variety of confidence and supply agreements.
- For the Conservatives this is likely to involve permutations of Ulster Unionists (in the table above I have only shown the “traditional two” and not the full gamut that may be elected).
- For Labour it may well involve agreements with permutations of the (Great Britain) Nationalist parties with or without the Greens.
- Even though I could see the SNP or Plaid Cymru in a formal confidence and supply agreement, I very much doubt the SDLP or Sinn Fein would get involved in a public agreement.
- I am not sure about the Alliance; it would be a risk for them and given that they are unlikely to have more than one seat it is equally unlikely that they could negotiate anything from such an agreement.
- Finally a “Grand Coalition” of the two old elitist parties is a possibility if they decide to hang together to keep out minor parties that they find less palatable than each other.
So why can’t the parties admit these possibilities and then move on? The numbers in the end will determine what will happen.