Still no government here, but the less news there is to report, the more news programming there seems to be, disrupting regular broadcast schedules. The airwaves have buzzed for the last five days so as to keep us up to date with the latest ways journalists have devised of telling us that nothing has happened yet.
The LibDem party leader, Nick Clegg, can lend his party’s support either to the Tories or to Labour; neither of the two larger parties is likely to be able to form a government without LibDem support; over the weekend, Clegg’s teams negotiated with both. In the meantime, Gordon Brown remains at Number 10 (the equivalent in the US would be to say that someone remains in the White House). According to the constitution—which is an interesting idea, since there is no written constitution here—it is Brown’s duty to keep the government going until a clear leader emerges.
This is giving the Tories great scope to whine. We’ve heard from the press for weeks about how the LibDems would be able to hold a bidding war if there was no clear majority, because any party wanting to form a government would need him. Now that we find ourselves in exactly this position, the Tories whine that Clegg is nasty and mean for talking to both sides rather than just taking what the Tories offer. Clegg’s doing exactly what everyone knew he would do, and in fact what he should do to put forward his party’s agenda, yet one politician said today that Clegg was acting like “a harlot”. Oh, dear.
And the Tories are really whining about Brown, saying he should admit he’s lost the election and get out. Now the truth is that, according to what one commentator has called “the little bit of the constitution that’s written down”, if an election results in a hung Parliament, the incumbent prime minister gets first chance at forming a government. Brown didn’t even get in the Tories’ way by doing all that he’s allowed to do, but accepted his lack of power and stepped back, telling the press that he certainly understood that Clegg would speak to the Tories first because the Tories got the most seats in the election.
In any case, Brown has said he’ll step down from his position as party leader, so even if there is a LibDem-Labour coalition, Brown will not be in charge of it, and he will not remain Prime Minister. That didn’t prevent a Tory politician from saying today that a “Lib-Lab pact” (to use the local abbreviation-speak) would be “Mugabe-style politics” in which you lose the election but manage to stay in power. So no lack of hyperbole from the Tory side, then.
Clegg can’t win (in more ways than one). Reports are full of complaints from voters who said they voted LibDem to keep the Tories out, and now Clegg may form a coalition with the Tories. Just as many people are complaining that they voted for Clegg to get Labour out of power, and they don’t want Clegg to support Labour.
Whatever happens, I think I’ll miss the intensity of the situation when it’s all gone. In Salisbury’s newspaper, instead of writing about big upsets on the national political stage, or the exploits of colourful figures such as King Arthur, they’ll be back to business as usual. On April 24th, the most-read story at the web site of the Salisbury Journal was “Dog Injures Nose”. The big story two days later was that “Dog Injures Nose” had been the biggest story on April 24, the headline reading “Dog Injures Nose: The Update You’ve All Been Waiting For”.
Now that’s a slow news day.
EDIT: While I was typing this, reports began to come in that Brown is about to concede, so by the time you read this, it may well be out of date. That’s the news business for you.