Constitution nil, Clegg & Coase won

I have written before about Coase’s Theorem – whenever the law creates or imposes an inefficient rule, people will bargain or contract around it – named after Nobel laureate, Ronald Coase. It seems that Coase’s theorem works just as well for our constitution.

For weeks, if not months, we have been told that, if the General Election resulted in a hung parliament, the incumbent Prime Minister had first go at forming a government. Well, it took just one sentence from Nick Clegg at 10.30 am on the morning after the night before (“I’m talking to Dave”) and Gordon Brown was left high and dry for as long as Nick Clegg wanted it that way.

Roll the clock forward 24 hours and, with the public (allegedly) clamouring for Brown to resign, the constitutionalists and commentators told us that he couldn’t do so until there was a new PM ready to take over. Technically correct. But as soon as the Labour Party saw a political advantage in Brown declaring that he would not be staying on, he announced exactly that. If Brown had wanted to make the announcement earlier, he could have done so.

Has anyone learned from this? We are now being told that this parliament will last for five years and that there will be legislation to make that into law. But if the current coalition Government were to break apart and no other grouping could command a majority, what then? If an Act of Parliament can fix the date of the next General Election, another Act can change it.

Does that worry me? Coase not.