Gamson, revised (part 2)

Continuing a previous theme, the distribution of seats within the UK coalition deviates rather starkly from Gamson’s Law.

There are twenty three ministers in the cabinet, five of them Liberal Democrats. That’s 21.7% of the ministers for a party that contributes 16.1% of the coalition’s parliamentary basis. That’s an advantage ratio of 1.35. While I do not have comparative statistics, that must be unusually high in comparative terms.*

How did the LibDems get this good a deal?

* The LibDems contribute 39% of the coalition’s electoral basis, but as discussed in the previous thread, it is seats that are the currency of power in coalition bargaining.

9 thoughts on “Gamson, revised (part 2)

  1. Hi Matt,
    I think Clegg proposed that the proportion of LibDem seats in the cabinet should be halfway between their share of seats of the coalition (16%) and their share of votes of the coalition (39%). If that rule had been adopted, the LibDems would have had 6 cabinet ministers – which is what the media were expecting before the line up was announced. Maybe we now have a “Clegg’s Law” of cabinet seats?!

  2. That’s a lot closer to the LibDems’ percentage of the seats. Maybe this can be the pro-coalitionist answer to the “proportional tenure” case for winner-take-all (ie, “FPTP has given the UK 45 years of Conservative Prime Ministers and 40% years of Labour rule since 1945, which is very close to their respective proportions of the Big Two vote, whereas in Germany the Free Democrats have held the Foreign Ministry for all but [eight?] years since 1949…”).

  3. And speaking of exploiting inequality in one part of the constitutional system to “balance out” inequality in another part…

    ‘BRITISH Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg will create more than 100 peers to ensure controversial legislation gets through Parliament… The coalition government has agreed to reshape the House of Lords, which is currently dominated by Labour, to be “reflective of the vote” at the general election. That saw the Tories and the Liberal Democrats together get 59 per cent. None of Labour’s 211 existing peers can be removed, so the coalition must appoint dozens of its own to re-balance the upper chamber. Lib Dem estimates suggest that the number of Tory peers would need to rise from 186 to 263 and Lib Dem peers from 72 to 167…’

    Sam Coates, “David Cameron and Nick Clegg to make 100 peers in Lords deal,” The Times (17 May 2010).

  4. Is it really that good a deal?

    I think there are 23 cabinet posts. I did a quick calculation, and 16% of 23 posts works out to 3.7 cabinet positions. Since its difficult to appoint someone to 0.7 jobs, that rounds up to four. The Liberal Democrats got five posts, one over.

    However, they are only running three ministries (Environment, Business, and Scotland), the other two positions are non-departmental so I think the proportion works out when this is taken into account.

  5. The agreement is a mix of policy and portfolios. Clegg likely gets electoral reform, but not anything like PR. Taken together 5 (not very important) out of 23 ministers sounds about right, i.e. resonably “proportional”. Thus, LibDems seems not to have had any significant bargaining advantage. Furthermore, government formation only took a few days; LibDems staged some symbolic meetings with Labour (smoke and mirrors) to signal that they were costly, but they so wanted to advance from the back benches that they quicly gave in.

  6. > “… but… it is seats that are the currency of power in coalition bargaining.”

    Hmmm. Maybe. But suppose there were 330-340 Tory MPs, and no LibDems, because a week before polling day Nick Clegg went to David Cameron and struck a deal that all LibDem candidates would stand down, and would urge their supporters to tactically-vote Tory instead. In return, the incoming Tory majority govt would pledge to implement all the items in what’s now the Coalition Agreement.

    Okay, maybe not this Parliament, but it’s not so far-fetched and it would represent a situation where the third party had considerable leverage despite having fewer seats than it does now (indeed, because it has fewer seats – because many more of the largest party’s MPs would depend on the third party’s votes to hold their seats).

    If, in other words, the LibDems were less a British FDP and more a British DLP…

    PS: And on that note – Pre-Clegg, the Lib Dems tried both Kennedy and Menzies. – Two names that are linked by November 1963…

  7. ‘… Furthermore, if a referendum on AV was successful it actually makes the next election simpler, not more complicated. AV would allow the coalition to urge voters to vote the coalition 1, 2 across the country without compromising their principles (or prejudices!) in any way.

    Again, you might think it cynical to suggest that a government’s first duty is to secure its re-election but there’s a place for cynicism in politics. For the Conservatives, that means keeping Nick Clegg away from Labour come what may. Which means that there’s an excellent case for some kind of pre-election arrangement confirming that the coalition seeks re-election as a coalition, package deal.

    Under FPTP this would be more awkward than it would be under AV. I can’t see the parties dividing up the country and running just one candidate per constituency, so a deal will require some nodding and winking about the strenuousness of local campaigning. In Labour-Lib Dem seats, for instance, the Tory election effort might be considered rather feeble. And so on…’

    – Alex Massie, “A Tory Case for Electoral Reform,” The Spectator (1 July 2010).

    A-Mass links to a very interesting sounding column by David Aaronovitch,, but unfortunately it’s locked behind The Wall at the Times.

  8. Alex Massie makes an excellent point. Its worth thinking about how a coalition could run for reelection as a coalition under single member plurality.

    Before 1945, there were in fact several coalition governments in the UK. However, most of these arrangements came about through splits in the Liberal or Labour Party, with MPs defecting or being expelled from their party and supporting a Conservative government (though one sometimes led by one of the Liberal or Labour renegades). These generally ran for reelection in their own constituencies with no opposition from the Tories, and were eventually just absorbed into the Conservative Party, the big exception being 1922.

    There were also the two wartime all-party “National” Governments, that ended either acrimoniously, in 1916, or amicably, in 1945, but in any case before the election.

    The Liberal Democrats seem ot have had a nudge-nudge-wink-wink arrangement with Labour in 1997, where the leadership hinted that their party’s supporters should vote for the other party in constituencies where it was ahead. Something similar seems to have happened with the Conservatives and the Liberals in 1951. But both these arrangements were made between opposition parties, if they were made.

    So this is a new situation. If the Liberals and Conservatives run for re-election on the basis that the coalition was successful and they would like to continue it, it seems that either AV or an electoral deal where they don’t run candidates against each other would be necessary.

    There is also the example of the four elections in Canada at the end of the NDP supported Liberal minority government, but these were not coalitions and in the most recent case the arrangement had collapsed before the election, so I’m not sure if this is relevant. The same is true of the three brief Liberal supported Labour minority governments in the UK.

  9. Following Australian practice, I would assume both coalition partners would insist that at least their leaders and Ministers be given immunity from a “three-cornered contest”.

    The fact that, in Australia, this privilege is particularly insisted upon for party leaders – and to a lesser degree for sitting MPs, so that three-cornered contests most often (but not only) occur either when an incumbent retires or in a Labor-held seat – suggests that the motivating factor, at least under IRV-AV, is not that Labor will win but that one of the party’s great statespersons will lose to their so-called “allies”.

    Because the logic behind a single coalition candidate is political (save face, avoid friction) rather than electoral (Duverger’s Law), the case for immunity from challenge is strongest for candidates who’ve served in cabinet. It will be politically tricky for Cameron and the Tories to say “Vote for the Conservative candidate in Nick Clegg’s constituency” while still defending the record of a government in which Clegg was No #2 and signed off on all the big decisions. (If a multi-party system emerged in the US, one would picture equivalent comity being granted to congressional committee chairs within the Democrat/ Green Alliance or the Republican/ Libertarian Coalition). And FPTP of course means that a three-cornered contest means almost certain defeat for both coalition partners.

    India may offer a better model for handling pre-election coalitions under FPTP, although unlike Britain it has (a) many highly regionalised minor parties and (b) some reserved seats.

    (Dare I mention the SDP-Liberal Alliance, 1982-93?)

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