Monday, 25 October 2010

Tiny crack appears in coalition

Oops, a hairline fracture has just appeared in the wonderful edifice that is our 6-month old coalition government. Simon Hughes, deputy leader of the junior partner, the Lib Dems, has failed to toe the party line and given an indication that he may not be supporting the comprehensive spending review. He doesn't like the £18bn cut in the welfare budget.

Simon Hughes, MP: Concerned about the poor

This tiny act of defiance has caused consternation in government ranks with ministers flocking to Hughes to "explain" their policies better.

Does this rebellion stand a chance of success? Let's look at the numbers: there are 650 MPs in the House of Commons. The Speaker doesn't vote so 325 constitutes an absolute majority. The Tories have 307 MPs so they need an extra 18 votes to govern. The Lib Dems have 57 MPs. Guess how many are ministers? Yes, it's 18. So provided those 18 MPs are now so addicted to their ministerial salaries, cars, country houses and flunkies they won't vote for Christmas the government is safe. (The Lib Dems also have five ministers in the Lords, but they don't figure in Westminster calculus.)

My feeling is this foot stamping is not going to succeed. But it is a nightmare scenario. The government has successfully dragged the country out of the PIIGS group of EU members - the UK is regarded by the financial markers as in a safe pair of hands. If the government falls all that confidence will vanish overnight. There would have to be another general election and if there's anything the markets like less than the wrong person's hand on the tiller, it's nobody's hand on the tiller.

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