The People's Army was within touching distance of Downing Street
“Bell Ribeiro-Addy will meet with the leaders of the other main parties next week in what are expected to be difficult negotiations. Ribeiro-Addy’s left-wing UPA came top in elections on Sunday but fell short of a majority. This means she will need the support of other parties to govern. The radical leader is starting the long process by meeting with the leaders of National, Unity and the SDP, it was announced on Wednesday. Of these groups, only the last, the Social Democrats, are keen on forming a coalition – while the first two have ruled out close cooperation with the Alliance. Ms Ribeiro-Addy’s party has indicated that it wants to govern alone as a minority – relying on other parties for ad hoc support.”
- Ribeiro-Addy to meet party leaders as SDP argues for coalition, Jon Stone, The Independent (2019)
Once again the party leaders were summoned to the Palace to discuss potential coalitions, with King Charles taking a particular interest in stable government. Whilst Tugendhat and Sugar made noises about leading a government, everyone knew only the UPA could realistically form a majority. Both National and Unity ruled themselves out of supporting a People’s Alliance Government straight away, with Tugendhat telling journalists “this is the UPA’s mess, it is their responsibility to clean it up”. With almost everyone in the National Party wanting Tugendhat out, he had to project an aura of strength to protect his job. Sugar on the other hand was gunning for a second election, after his party had surged, all they needed was one last push to wipe out National, and secure leadership of Britain's centre-right.
Bell Ribeiro-Addy was minded towards a minority government, relying on the support of the Social Democrats and separatist parties without a formal deal, this could avoid prompting the ire of her moderates who were nervous about working with RISE - and the radicals who didn’t want a deal with the austerity enabling Social Democrats. This had strong precedent in British politics, despite being a proportional system transition Britain had never seen a Westminster coalition government - with minority governments being the norm. Alliance leadership also feared the party’s anti-establishment image would be tarnished by going into coalition with the Social Democrats, with all the baggage that brought.
Sugar's tactic of refusing to support any government alienated some of his supporters
However the Social Democrats were eager to enter Cabinet as coalition members, fearing a confidence and supply deal would doom their party to extinction. Khan’s whole election pitch had been to moderate a future People’s Alliance Government. In one BBC interview he told viewers the UPA shouldn’t “take the Social Democrats for granted” and that he was keeping “all options open” in regards to negotiations, opening the door for working with the right. Whilst this was likely an empty threat, Khan knew he held kingmaker power, and was eager to ensure his party wasn’t swept away - like PASOK and so many other Social Democratic parties had been.
Negotiations between the Alliance and Social Democrats did not go well,with Khan unwilling to budge on his Cabinet demands. Some within the People’s Alliance also placed pressure on Ribeiro-Addy from below, the “Progressive” faction of party moderates were eager to see the Social Democrats brought into Government, with some such as Paul Mason even wanting the parties to officially merge to form a Popular Front. Another issue was the problem of Scottish separatists, RISE and the SNP only agreed to support a People’s Alliance on the condition of pardons for Harvie, Brown and others - something the Social Democrats were unlikely to accept.
“Keith Brown will not be allowed to take up his seat in the European parliament until the end of his trial, Home Secretary Graham Brady has ruled. On Friday, the Supreme Court temporarily rejected a petition for Brown to leave jail on Monday to begin the process of becoming an MEP. EU rules around Parliamentary privilege oblige him to travel to Brussels in July to take up the seat he won in last month’s European elections. That trip to Brussels, it ruled, would present “an irreversible danger to the outcome of the trial” Brady said. Brown faces a 25-year sentence if convicted of rebellion over his alleged part in Scotland’s attempt to secede from Union. The court took a more cautious tone, a spokesperson said the ruling did not mean that Brown had lost his right to take part in the European parliament.”
- Home Secretary blocks Keith Brown from joining EU parliament, Sam Jones, The Guardian (2019)
The UPA and SDP had completely different positions on Scottish pardons
Relations deteriorated further when it transcended that Khan had been secretly meeting with Tugnedhat and Sugar to discuss a government of national unity. Whilst such a Government was unlikely, if the Centrists abstained and the various Northern Irish sister parties agreed to it a centrist coalition would have a very slim majority. Although nothing came from these talks it enraged the People’s Alliance and some within the party called on Bell to walk away from the table altogether. After the UPA’s extraordinary gains in the general election, many in the party believed lightning could strike twice, and with another snap election they could crush the Social Democrats, securing power without needing the centre left.
As the deadline for forming a government grew ever closer the parties of the left were no closer to an agreement. Khan had demanded the Deputy Prime Ministership for himself, alongside the Finance and Industry portfolios for other leading members of his party. These were all jobs the People’s Alliance had a keen interest in, with many in the Alliance seeing Finance as a gambit to prevent more radical policies getting through. Frustration between the two parties became increasingly public as UPA lead negotiator Jon Lansman accused Khan “putting ministerial cars ahead of sensible policy additions” when discussing a joint governing platform.
At this point Bell had run out of patience. The UPA’s leader wanted to propose herself as Prime Minister with the backing of the separatists, and dare the Social Democrats to vote her down. Although the Alliance’s uber-democratic constitution meant she had to submit this to a member’s vote first via the Alliance’s online “Outrage” portal. This vote was roundly criticised for the biased wording of the question, with member’s options being either to “push ahead with a UPA Government to change the country for the better” or to “continue with negotiations despite the SDP’s intransigence, even if this risks our radical values”. The vast majority of the party establishment, including Ribeiro-Addy and Jones favoured pulling out, with only a small faction of progressives supporting ongoing negotiations. By a 58% vote margin the Alliance’s grassroots voted in favour of going it alone - thus began a national game of chicken.
“Three months after she won a general election, Bell Ribeiro-Addy told lawmakers it is their “responsibility” to make her Prime Minister. The UPA chief spoke in parliament on Monday at the start of what could be several days of discussions and votes on the country’s leadership. Ribeiro-Addy, whose most likely path to power is a deal with the centre-left SDP, told MPs they should back her because it is their “responsibility.” “We’re choosing between having a government and not having one,” she said, warning the country will face another ballot if her bid fails. Ribeiro-Addy said she intends to form a “pro-European, progressive, ecologist and feminist” government. She outlined what she described as the six main challenges she plans to tackle, from pensions to gender equality to global warming.”
- Bell’s Gambit, Politico, Eleni Courea (2019)