He’s quitting as Labour leader in the fall, which means he’ll be out as prime minister, which in turn means he’s falling on his sword in order to entice the Liberal Democrats into forming a government with his party instead of the Conservatives. Try as I might, though, I can’t figure out why the Tories would want power under the circumstances. As Ross Douthat said a few days ago:
First, as The Telegraph puts it this morning, no matter what kind of government gets formed in the next few days, “the only certainty is another general election,” and sooner rather than later. And second, as The Economist’s Buttonwood suggests, the next election will probably be precipitated by resistance — from regional parties and the Liberal Democrats as well as Labour — to the hard budgetary choices a Prime Minister Cameron will be forced to make. Cameron campaigned as a change agent this time, but if he finds himself facing the voters again in a year or so, it will be as the face of fiscal austerity — which is a role that no politician wants to inhabit.
Indeed, and it’s also the role the GOP may soon find itself in, isn’t it? In theory, by remaining in the minority, the Conservatives get to watch as the Labour/LibDems coalition makes the first painful budget cuts. Then it’s just a waiting game: Voters’ wrath over the cuts will mount, the next election will be called (sooner rather than later, thanks to the hung parliament), and finally the Tories will sweep to power. The only problem? The Tories will, of course, have to continue and even deepen the cuts and everyone knows it. They’ll be better positioned to do it once they have a majority since there’ll be no pressure to call new elections the way there is now, but how do you campaign against the Labour/LibDem cuts when your own austerity measures will have to be just as stark? Consider this a sneak preview of the tortuous political dilemma America’s two parties will very soon find themselves in. The public can’t (yet) accept that we’re out of money, so neither party wants to take responsibility for letting them know and telling them what it’ll mean. And so, like the Tories, we wait.
The other reason the Conservatives don’t want power right now is that gaining it would likely mean compromising with the LibDems to reform Britain’s electoral system, which will all but guarantee more hung parliaments and less Conservative power. That’s suicide in an era of austerity.