The wrangling between the parties in Britain seeking to form a stable government has taken an interesting turn today, as Prime Minister Gordon Brown decided to step down as the Labour Party leader and allow for a new leader to emerge at the Labour Party Conference later this year. This action was a prerequisite, clearly stated by Liberal Democrats’ Leader Nick Clegg during the election campaign, for a joint Lib-Lab coalition.
While this does open up a path for the Liberal Democrats to form a coalition with Labour and some of the regional parties, such as the Scottish National Party in a so-called “Progressive Coalition”, it still seems to me that a Tory-Lib Dem coalition is the most likely option. If anything, Brown’s resignation offers the Liberal Democrats a bit more leverage in forcing the necessary concessions from the Tories.
To be fair, the Liberal Democrats have a very difficult position and will likely face some sort of electoral consequence for whatever decision they make–though this will likely be offset to a large degree if they are able to get electoral reform through. And indeed that may be the sticking point in a Liberal Democrat deal with the Conservative Party. Conservatives are offering a referendum on the “alternative vote system”, another name for instant runoff voting, which the Lib Dems would doubtless prefer to the current system, it is only a marginal improvement.
One system that Liberal Democrats, for instance, would greatly prefer is the multimember voting system from which instant runoff voting is derived–single transferable vote, which is already established in the Anglosphere: it is used locally in Scotland, locally and regionally in Northern Ireland, and has broad use in Australia.
So far, it looks like the Liberal Democrats are taking advantage of their position as king maker and forcing a favorable deal. However, it remains to be seen what the final result will be and while the current negotiating victories are impressive, it is best not to prejudge the process.