Only in England would the leader of a political party announce he plans a coup to overthrow the democratically-elected government, in the Daily Telegraph, two days in advance.
Just a month ago, Adam Ramsay warned on the OpenDemocracy site:
If they [the Tory press] can possibly get away with it, they will find any way they can to declare Cameron the winner, even if it’s going to be almost impossible for him to command a parliamentary majority. In doing so, they will seek to make it impossible for Miliband to govern. This circumstance would in effect be a coup by newspaper proprietors against the people of the country. Because our constitution is written not in statute, but headlines, this is perfectly possible.
It’s complicated by the fact that until a new government is formed, Cameron and the other Tory and LibDem Ministers remain in Downing Street as a caretaker government, even if they have lost their seats and aren’t MPs any longer. Just as Gordon Brown correctly remained in Downing Street as Prime Minister until Cameron and Clegg had finished their coalition deal, so must Cameron stay on as PM until the House of Commons decides how to form a democratically-elected government out of the results of the 7th May election.
If David Cameron stands up on Friday – as the Conservative Party have evidently told the Telegraph he plans to – and claims he has won the election and will form the next government because he is the leader of the single largest party, that is a coup.
The next democratically elected government of the UK is the government that has the votes to pass a Queen’s Speech setting out the legislative programme for the Parliament, and to pass a budget saying how that programme will be funded. If David Cameron has been paying attention to the polling results, he knows that largest party or not, he cannot form the next government: he does not have the confidence of the House of Commons and therefore he does not have the democratic support of the voters.
David Cameron is expected to claim that even if Ed Miliband can show he has the confidence of the elected House of Commons and get his legislative programme and his budget passed, Labour’s democratically-elected government would be “illegitimate” because it would have SNP support, and only the Conservatives should get to form a government even though they have a minority of the MPs.
I would like to say that the police would be around shortly after that attempted coup to arrest David Cameron for inciting insurrection against the democratically-elected government, but I have a horrid feeling that it will take days to complete the process of proving to Cameron and the Tories that they cannot win an election just by closing their eyes and screaming “I won! I won!” no matter how they did it when they were Bullingdon boys.
Bear in mind, of course, that the Murdoch-owned press and other media in the UK have been instructed to do everything they can to ensure a Conservative victory: and that in 2000, the Murdoch-owned Fox News “won” the election for George W. Bush by simply announcing, ahead of the results, that Bush had won and Gore had lost: Gore believed the announcement, rang Bush to formally offer his congratulations, and never made it back from that first false step. By October 2001, when an independent full count of all Florida ballots showed definitely that Gore had won, the US press didn’t want to mention that inconvenient fact. It would not surprise me at all if the Murdoch-owned press in the UK were to try a similar tactic on Friday 8th May.
Imagine the Tories, spurred on by their raucous press, trying to mobilise popular opinion against the legal constitutional result: that’s insurrection. They wrote the Fixed-term Parliaments Act and they must abide by it. If Cameron can’t command a Commons majority he hands over power, if Miliband has a left-of-centre Commons majority with SNP support. To proclaim Scotland’s representatives illegitimate is preposterous and dangerous. To claim public opinion is an appeal to the mob. – Polly Toynbee, 28th April 2015
Take a look at the numbers from the polling summaries that David Cameron has evidently been looking at: they give a Labour minority government or a Labour-led coalition the majority needed to pass the Queen’s Speech, or to vote down any such attempt by the Conservatives.
Electoral Calculus reckoning for tomorrow:
Predicted seats for the Tories: 282
Predicted seats for Labour: 275.
Tories could maybe muster UKIP (1), LibDem (18), and DUP (10). Total for the Tories: 311.
Labour can be confident in the support of SNP (52), Plaid Cymru (3), Green (1). Total for Labour: 331.
Electoral Forecast reckoning for tomorrow:
Predicted seats for the Tories: 281
Predicted seats for Labour: 266.
Tories could maybe muster UKIP (3), LibDem (20), and DUP (10). Total for the Tories: 314.
Labour can be confident in the support of SNP (52), Plaid Cymru (4), Green (1). Total for Labour: 323.
Of course Cameron would call that “illegitimate”: he’s a sore, sore loser. But no matter which way you look at it, the Conservatives have only the very shaky support of three hard-to-reconcile allies who together don’t look likely to be able to outvote Labour plus the three parties who are confidently opposed to another Conservative government.
Gus O’Donnell, the former Cabinet Secretary from 1st September 2005 to 31st December 2011, reminded David Cameron that this plan for a coup would be in contradiction to the Cabinet Manual which Cameron had signed up to:
“We live in a parliamentary democracy. The rules are very clear and they are laid out in the Cabinet Manual and that says the ability of government to command the confidence of the elected House of Commons is central to its authority to govern. ….. One thing I should say about the cabinet manual. People keep saying it is my cabinet manual. It is the government’s Cabinet Manual. It is the cabinet’s Cabinet Manual in particular, and the preface is there signed by the prime minister, David Cameron.”
It would be ironic indeed if David Cameron were to cite Scottish Labour’s claims that the largest party gets to form the government, in defense of his attempted coup. But no matter how he or the non-dom-owned press try to spin it, the only way to form a legitimate government in the UK is for a majority of democratically-elected MPs to support you: and I don’t see how Cameron can do that, and I don’t think he does either.