The fall-out and speculation caused by the televised ‘Seven Leaders’ debate on Thursday evening continues to dominate the news media. I don’t sense that this is a five-day wonder, either. The pundits, based upon political surveys and polls – both supposedly independent/impartial and those conducted privately by the political parties themselves – have been flagging the likelihood of a hung parliament after 7th May for at least two years and now suddenly the possibility has become all the rage.
Surely it cannot have taken a tortuously-negotiated and ultimately imperfect ‘all the suspects’ television debate to prompt a ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ moment the length and breadth of the UK?
In one way, of course, the politicians have brought this upon themselves. Rather like the British constitution itself – famously unwritten, and ‘long may it stay that way’ (as we used to be taught) – our national structure of electoral voting is undoubtedly imperfect but it’s the only one we’ve got. You might say, accurately, that (logically) ‘you wouldn’t start from here’, as the Irishman in County Cork replied when a tourist stopped to ask the way to Dublin, but we’ve been using it for about 80 years and somehow muddled through.
Is it biased against the Tories, in terms of the variations between constituency populations which allegedly give the Labour Party an inherent MPs’ seats advantage over the actual numbers of votes each party attracts? Probably.
Does the voting system structurally favour the duopoly of the two main parties and make it difficult, indeed almost impossible, for new and minority parties to turn votes into seats? Almost certainly.
Around the time of the last General Election the House of Commons enacted five year fixed-term governments. Now we’re being told that constitutional lawyers and top civil servants have been locked in exploratory discussions about what might happen in the gap between a ‘hung parliament’ result on 7th May and the potentially prolonged period of horse-trading between the political parties (duration say three months?) that might follow before the outgoing Prime Minister could drive down to Buckingham Palace to resign and ‘hand over’ to the new one … unless, that is, Mr Cameron has also emerged as the leader of any new coalition government.
Apparently near-paralysis could quite easily result whilst all that is going on.
It won’t particularly surprise anyone that this scenario was not covered in the ‘fixed term’ enabling legislation as passed, an error and omission that arose simply because nobody involved in the drafting had contemplated the possibility. We can mark this down as another example of Murphy’s Law – the one where, if it is possible for something (anything) to go wrong, at some point it probably will.
It is difficult to escape the conclusion that a strange combination of factors – not least population demographics and the inevitable end-game that would result from setting off down the Devolution route at all – has brought us to this potential ‘hung parliament’ crisis in May.
Could this be a one-off – or rather, a two-off, given that we’ve had the Tory/Lib-Dem government already – coalition government set-up, i.e. before we return to some form of two-party government alternatives?
Or it is the start of domination by coalition in Britain? And what does anybody think of this prospect? If we like it enough (getting rid of the two-party tyranny, I mean), would this hasten a movement towards Proportional Representation and thereby near-permanent coalitions?
Allegedly these work okay in other European countries. However, from where I sit, they feel somewhat un-British … but then I’m only an old fogey and what do I know?
Some hold that a period of coalitions – supposedly ‘governments of all the talents’, with the Big Battalions having to pause, think and take account of a wide variety of views and perceptions – would be healthier.
I’m not so sure about that. I suspect that the business of government would become slow, disjointed and fractious if, for example, I – as a leader of one of the two main parties and therefore Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister in such a coalition – was routinely obliged to listen in cabinet to seemingly endless supplies of hot air being fired at me from across the table by Natalie Bennett of the Greens and/or indeed any other Tom, Dick or Harry from the Monster Raving Loony Party whose half-thought-through crappy ideas now had to be given equal access time alongside those being offered by people who actually know what they are talking about in the real world.
I’m afraid I’ve not got a good feeling about outcome of the 2015 General Election.