In a speech designed to warn undecided voters of the alleged dangers of voting Labour, the Tory chief whip raised the prospect of a Labour-SNP coalition in which Alex Salmond could serve as deputy prime minister or chancellor.
Speaking at the centre-right Policy Exchange thinktank, Gove said: “A Miliband-led administration reliant on the support of minority parties risks creating not a zombie parliament but a Frankenstein administration – a stitched-together creation capable of causing great harm.”
Gove highlighted the polling this week by the Tory peer Lord Ashcroft which suggested Labour could lose 35 of its 41 seats in Scotland. An Ipsos-Mori poll last month suggested the SNP could win 55 of Scotland’s 59 seats, raising the prospect that it could replace the Liberal Democrats as the third largest party at Westminster. The Lib Dems won 57 seats at the 2010 election.
Scottish-born Gove warned that a Labour deal with the SNP would have grave consequences for the rest of the UK. He said: “Such a government might therefore have to impose policies on English voters designed explicitly to appease Scottish separatists … It might have to downgrade or weaken our nuclear deterrent to satisfy the SNP’s opposition to Trident. It might have to accept an approach to negotiation in Europe designed to serve Alex Salmond’s agenda. Indeed it might even have to accept Alex Salmond as deputy prime minister, or chancellor, to stay in office.”
Gove added: “The risks of such an administration are real. A Miliband government – whether a majority Labour government, or one propped up by the SNP, or one dependent on arrangements with the SNP, Plaid, Liberal Democrats, Greens and Ulster MPs – could not be relied on to keep public spending under control, could not be relied on to avoid tax rises, or ensure interest rates stayed low, or guarantee new jobs continued to be created.”
The chief whip’s speech was designed to challenge claims that so little legislation is passed that Westminster has become home to a “zombie parliament”. Gove described this view as “total rubbish” as he reeled off a list of the legislation that has been passed. He took the rare step for a Tory of praising the modernising speaker John Bercow for improving scrutiny of the government. He said that Bercow has presided over a 270% increase in the use of urgent questions – the procedure in which ministers are hauled before the Commons at the behest of the speaker to answer an emergency question, which can be tabled by any MP.
Gove said: “This speaker has also ensured more backbenchers get called during ministerial questions, more use is made of topical questions to ministers and every backbencher on the order paper during Prime Minister’s Questions gets called to make their point. As a result PMQs regularly exceeds its 30 minute allocation, inconveniencing the executive, but underlining the Speaker’s determination to be a champion of the backbencher and an upholder of parliament’s scrutiny function. Again, this is hardly evidence of a move away from our democratic traditions and a retreat into sloth and somnolence – it is proof there has been an injection of electricity into our operations which underlines that this has been a more accountable, active and alive parliament than many, many of its predecessors.”
Gove also mocked his coalition partners as he suggested that Nick Clegg would lose the Liberal Democrat leadership after the election. He said: “We don’t know who the Liberal Democrat leader will be after the next election, we don’t know what the temper of the party will be, we don’t know if the momentum will be with the Tim Farron tendency or whether people like Jeremy Browne – sadly leaving Parliament – will still have influence. What we do know is that Liberal Democrat MPs could end up propping up Ed Miliband in power.”
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