Saturday, January 09, 2010

Why I want a hung Parliament

Why don't I want anyone to win the general election that will happen sometime in the first half of this year? Because its high time our two main parties were forced to put their tribalism to one side and work together for the good of the country. Here's today's Journal column.

Last week, in my political preview of 2010, I put my head on the block and predicted that this year’s general election will result in a slim Tory majority of the order of that achieved by Margaret Thatcher in 1979.

The chances of such an outcome have doubtless been strengthened by the past week’s events, and yet another botched coup attempt against Gordon Brown which has left the Prime Minister badly wounded, but not quite dead.

But if a narrow Tory victory is what I think will happen come May 6 – if indeed that proves to be the election date – what do I think should happen when the country finally goes to the polls?

Well, at the risk of infuriating the supporters of both main parties – and it wouldn’t be the first time, after all – I have no hesitation in saying that I very much hope the electorate will deliver us a hung Parliament.

At this point, I can practically hear the collective ranks of the North-East’s Conservative and Labour stalwarts sighing to themselves: “We always knew he was a Liberal Democrat.”

But actually, the reason I want to see a hung Parliament is not because I want to see a Lib-Lab coalition, or even a Lib-Con one, but because I think the country now badly needs a government of national unity.

It may seem an odd time to say this, given the increasingly bitter nature of the two parties’ attacks on eachother over the past few days as the pre-election skirmishing got under way in earnest.

But in my view, the peculiar circumstances of this time in politics demand a degree of cross-party co-operation that can only happen if the two main parties are working together in government.

Why do I say this? Well, because the country is facing three big challenges at the moment which, in my view, would be best handled by a bipartisan approach.

They are, firstly, the economy, and specifically the question of how to tackle the budget deficit. Secondly, how to restore trust in politics after the twin scandals of the Iraq War and MPs’ expenses. And thirdly, how to bring our involvement in Afghanistan to a successful, or at the very least an honourable, conclusion.

On all of these key questions, whichever party wins the election will have to make some hard and potentially unpopular choices.

It would, in my view, be better if they were in a position to build a national cross-party consensus for those difficult choices rather than having to make them in the knowledge that they will be opposed for opposition’s sake.

This is particularly true of the economy. Everyone now knows that the next government will have to carry out the most vicious public spending cuts since the early 80s – so why indulge in the pretence that there is actually an alternative?

On political reform, too, it would be better if the parties could as far as possible reach agreement on the way forward, rather than for one side to face the inevitable accusations of fixing the system to suit their own ends.

The last Lab-Con coalition was, of course, the wartime one formed by Sir Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee in 1940 which successfully saw the country through to victory over Hitler in 1945.

I do not claim the peril facing us now is anything like of the order of that dark hour, but the sense of national emergency that has gripped the UK for the past year or so perhaps comes closer to it than anything since.

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Robert said...

Do you really think the coup was botched, I do not think Hoon and Hewitt had any real thought of it working, But when Brown called his meeting yesterday within Hours Mandy came out to let us know he and Darling were now the leadership team.

Brown then came out with give me another full term, not to us mortals but to the labour party and MP's.

His wife must have spend hours checking his back for knife marks last night.

Mandy has now come out with his Cuts will be massive, and we all knew he would, Balls and Johnson have taken a massive step back wards out of the limelight.

And the Blairites have retaken the party in what you think was a failed coup.

I think it has worked well and done as the ministers for Blair wanted, we will now have the repair of the third way.

Chris Whiteside said...

There is no space on the ballot paper for "hung parliament" so this is all academic. But in the present circumstances a hung parliament which lasted for any length of time would be the most catastrophic result possible.

Paul, have you ever been a councillor? In particular, have you ever served on a hung council?

I do know what hung councils are like having been through three different periods of no overall control during my time as a councillor. It is incredibly difficult to get a tough decision through a hung council and the same would almost certainly be true of a hung parliament.

Which is exactly what we cannot afford at a time when the budget deficit represents one pound in every four that the government spends, when we are heading for a national debt of well over a trillion pounds, when the annual interst cost to service that debt is already more than the country spends on schools and is rising at £6000 a second.

I just do not believe that there is a cat in hell's chance of anyone being able to assemble a majority in a hung parliament for the sort of painful and unpleasant medicine which will be required to sort out this mess. If anyone wins a majority they will be forced to try. But if there is a minority government or a coalition, the temptation on each party to distance themselves from the unpleasant medicine and blame it on the others will be extremely strong.

Frugal Dougal said...

David Cameron says that should the Conservatives have an absolute majority he'll have cross-party representation on the defence cabinet.

Michele said...

I am not in favour of a hung parliament - however a hung parliamentarian or two might focus their minds a little more on what is really important!!

Stephen Rouse said...

Our political system means we essentially get coalition government anyway. Labour and the Tory parties cover vast spectrums (spectra?) of opinion which, in a European PR system, would in both cases divide into two or three smaller parties. Hence the Conservative uncertainty over who its EU allies should be.
Wilson, Callaghan, Major were all distracted from governing the country by the business of keeping these unwieldy coalitions together. Thatcher tried simply to ride rough-shod over the problem, and was destroyed by it. Perhaps a government of the more reasonable voices from left and right might be more united than these arbitrary party coalitions, and do a better job of actually running the country.

Anonymous said...

I would hope you're right that the parties would work together in a hung parliament, but I wouldn't bet on it. Here in Canada, we've had minority rule for a few years and parties are more bitter than ever. I find it interesting that you want a minority result in order to open the possibility of a coalition. The parties and the media here openly talk about a coalition as 'abusing the intentions of voters' when its even discussed. If you did have a hung parliament and some kind of coalition it would at least improve the chances of it being possible here given the example, even if it didn't help you with the tough decisions that need to be made.

VickyK86 said...

Today I came across this really interesting new webiste where you can discuss openly the possibility of a hung parliament, its

“Charter 2010 is dedicated to seeing a hung parliament transformed into a stable and representative government which can focus on dealing with the economic crisis,

The UK is in the midst of a deep financial and economic crisis. We also face a General Election within a matter of months. At the same time disillusionment with MPs and politics has never been higher - and trust in the working of the banking and financial system has never been lower.

Robert said...

Just vote Tory they have to be better then brown, end of story..

Anonymous said...

The polls are suggesting that a Hung Parliament is possible, I've found an interesting site with loads of info:

VickyK86 said...

For the first time in over 30 years, there is a strong possibility that a General Election will
result in no party having overall charge of Parliament. At the same time the grave
continuing economic and fiscal crisis will be the major issue facing our government.

Around half of recent opinion polls put a hung parliament as a possible election result - if
current voting intentions, as given to the pollsters, are translated into the number of MPs
each party would have after the election.

Now a non-party group, Charter 2010, has launched a website to
promote discussion of how an indecisive election result should be handled by the party
leaders and politicians. Charter 2010 says a hung parliament is “the result no-one wants
to plan for” – and it accuses party politicians of a “conspiracy of silence” on the issue.