James Forsyth

The coming battle for legitimacy

The coming battle for legitimacy
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Jonathan Freedland has written a compelling column on the challenge that Ed Miliband will face to establish his legitimacy if he becomes Prime Minister despite Labour not having won the most seats or votes.

But I suspect that whoever becomes the government after May the 8


will have difficulty in persuading everyone that they have a right to govern. The Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition could claim that 59 per cent of voters had backed its constituent parts. It also had a comfortable majority in the House of Commons with 364 out of 650 seats.

Now, unless something dramatic happens, no governing combination is likely to have anything like that kind of support this time round. The latest forecast from the respected Oxford academic Stephen Fisher has the Tories, Lib Dems and DUP having precisely 323 seats which would be just enough to pass a Queen’s Speech if every one of their MPs voted for it because Sinn Fein don’t take their seats in the Commons.

But governing with 323 MPs would be a nightmare, no government MP would be able to leave the country when the Commons was sitting. This government would also have a legitimacy problem in Scotland — having considerably fewer MPs there than the current coalition has.

If the SNP win a majority of Scottish seats, as now seems almost certain, then they will challenge the legitimacy of any government policy on a reserved matter that doesn’t command their support. In short, the era of stable government in Britain is coming to an end.