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Gordon Brown out, Labor in?

British Prime Minister Gordon’s Brown offer today to step down is good news for those who hoped that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats would form a coalition government with the Labor Party rather than with David Cameron’s Conservatives.

As I argued in my column this morning, Clegg would pay too high a price if he were seen as propping up Brown, a leader clearly rejected in last Thursday’s election. Now the way is open for a new government under new leadership.

Brown could be a difficult man, but he was a smart and effective leader, particularly in the midst of the economic crisis in 2008 and early 2009. He also cared more about people in the world’s poorest countries than did most other G-20 leaders. I hope he stays in public life – perhaps a new government could use him to help deal with the European economic mess created by Greece’s difficulties. But Brown has been under a lot of pressure from his own party to quit, and I suspect he does not want to be the main obstacle to Labor staying in power.

We’ll see how this all turns out, but Clegg may have been a cannier negotiator than many expected. While carrying on talks with Cameron over the possibility of a Conservative-Liberal Democrat government, he also kept his lines open to Labor. For a guy whose party did not meet the high expectations set by the polls of a few weeks ago, he seems to be playing his hand very well. He also has to be aware that many in his left-leaning party were horrified by the prospect of going into government with the Conservatives. But this bazaar is still is open and we await more news on who is willing to pay the price of power.

By E.J. Dionne  | May 10, 2010; 12:58 PM ET
Categories:  Dionne  | Tags:  E.J. Dionne  
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May be a trend of being more dependent on the left side with a view of real social responsibility and less illegal wars than the conservative views that have lead to the deregulatory mess we have exported around the world. It may be a clue that deregulated drilling means more spilling and more spilling could destroy the planet we plan to stay living on with prehistoric crud.

Posted by: Wildthing1 | May 10, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse

@wildthing - Huh?

Posted by: JakeD3 | May 10, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Even with the Lib-Dems, Labour will still fall about 11 seats short of the 326 needed to form a government. Are any of the other small parties expected to align with Labour as well?

Posted by: ToughChoices | May 10, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

The big issue for the Lib Dems is electoral reform. Clegg will not get his party to go along with any coalition that does not include a firm plan for a referendum on proportional representation. The LDs actually had a higher proportion of the vote this time than last but still ended up with fewer seats because of the way the current system works.

PS. There are enough small party votes to make sure a Labor-Lib Dem coalition has a majority.

Posted by: greenmountainboy | May 10, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

@ToughChoices - The short view answer is "yes." SDLP traditionally votes with Labour. They would also need to bring the SNP and PC - the Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties - into the coalition. Both tend toward being progressive and the SNP leader has already suggested this could work.

The "long" view answer is that, while possible, 1) getting everyone onboard, and 2) actually governing with such a diverse coalition, will require unimaginable political acrobatics. I'd expect a no-confidence vote to pass within a year and a half. And that estimate is small "c" conservative.

Posted by: dave_cny | May 10, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

A very tough decision for the Lib Dems, either way. They share little in common with the Conservatives, but the arithmetic is better, as the Tories, although only garnering 36 percent, are within 15 seats of a majority. Moreover, the Tories cannot agree to the Lib Dems chief priority: electoral reform. The Tories haven't taken more than 44 percent of the vote in decades, and yet the flawed electoral arithmetic has favored them. Lib Dem philosophical views are closer to Labour, but a Lib-Lab coalition would be very unstable, with at least 4-5 different parties, but most important, it would incur the undemocratic wrath of the Murdoch propaganda media machine, much like Fox does in the U.S. Either way, a very tough call. If I were the Lib Dems I'd let the Tories form a minority government. Tory economic policy will favor the wealthy at the expense of massive cuts in public services, much like our GOP. Lib Dems won't want to be associated with such polices, and with good reason. Once the Conservatives make their priorities clear, there will not doubt be a great deal of buyers remorse, particularly on the part of the 64 percent of the electorate who voted for other parties.

Posted by: osullivanc1 | May 11, 2010 12:54 AM | Report abuse

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