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The Impact of Hackgate on the Viability of the British Government

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The headline that ran yesterday for this article implied that the writing was on the wall for the Cameron government.  I thought then that this was overstated, and indeed this morning the headline has changed to the more muted “Opponents Seize on Cameron’s Ties to Suspects”.

Fresh polling evidence is consistent with my instinct that this has no existential implications for the Government:

So in conclusion – from the polling so far hackgate appears to have had only a small negative effect on the Conservatives in the polls, and one which may already be fading. While people think Cameron has handled it badly, it has had only a minor effect on his broader approval ratings. Ed Miliband meanwhile has seen a significant boost in how the public see him, though it remains to be seen if it lasts.

A cursory skim of UK political blogs doesn’t reveal much in the way of this level of analysis.  While it is possible that this scandal can only escalate, and indeed by essentially forcing the resignation of two of the Met’s top officers for relationships less toxic than Cameron’s hiring of Andy Coulson as his communications director the Tories are implying culpability, my sense is that it blows over.  This analysis is overly optimistic:

An overview of the Tory party shows leaks are being provided to right and left wing press criticising the PM, and once the party begins to divide in such a way, the papers, and the bookies, cannot avoid talk of an inevitable election.

My money is by the end of 2012 but o hasten to add, I don’t think Miliband has proved his mettle to the voters yet, and we would see another coalition. This time Labour-Lib Dem I suspect.

This scandal doesn’t last until the end of 2012.  The institutional arrangements of British government afford Cameron et al. too many advantages allowing them to ride out the storm.  There aren’t many ways to successfully bring down a sitting PM or Government: A) it would require the Conservative Party ousting Cameron as party leader, B) key Cabinet members to resign, or C) Parliament itself passing a resolution of no confidence in the sitting Government.  It’s not in the interests of the Conservative Party at present to consider A or B, and it’s clearly not in the interests of the Liberal Democrats to entertain their role in B or C.

Besides, I doubt that following a hypothetical election some time in the next 18 months, the Liberal Democrats will be in much of a position to shore up Labour in a new coalition (nor based on current polling data would Labour even require their services as a coalition partner.)

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