Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Thursday, 4 March 2010

The hung parliament doom-mongers

I know I keep blogging about hung parliaments but it's the polls wot made me do it. For example there is one just out from Channel 4 that shows that in 60 of the marginals that Cameron will need to win, the Tory lead has slipped from 7 points to just 2 now. If that is right then Cameron cannot win a majority.

Timothy Garton Ash has a good piece in the Guardian today entitled "Don't be afraid of a hung parliament". In it he argues that we should not be intimidated by an unholy alliance of currency traders and the Daily Mail. He's right. It is now starting to feel like the electorate is being blackmailed by the market into voting Conservative. This tactic could backfire horribly. People don't like to be told how they should vote.

The doom-mongers cry that there will be a run on sterling and we could end up having to go cap in hand to the IMF unless there is a "strong" government after the general election. Really? Are Germany on the verge of having to do that? After all, they have had coalition governments for many years.

The truth is that it is the "strong" governments of the last 30 years that have got us into this mess. Perhaps if those governments had had to win the argument more often rather than just whipping through the votes then we might have been in a better position now. Imagine if Vince Cable who called the market problems years before they occurred had had some influence on economic policy instead of being pilloried by Brown and his acolytes. Maybe the worst of the economic crisis could have been averted.

Garton Ash also makes another very good point in this little snippet:

The very term "hung parliament" is calculated to deter. Like "hung jury", it suggests crippling indecision. But a hung parliament is actually a stronger parliament, since the executive is more dependent on the goodwill of the legislature. Properly arranged, this produces not weak government but limited government, something Conservatives have traditionally favoured.

Indeed. I would have thought that the constraints that a hung parliament could place on executive power would be right up the Conservatives' street. I wonder why it isn't...


Cardinal Richelieu's mole said...

The comparison with Germany is not valid, both because in contrast to the UK (1) its financial position is not precarious (Brown lied when he said we were well-placed etc) and (2) its political parties are well-used to forming coalition governments.

(2) matters quite a lot. Here the political classes have shown themselves unable to adjust to the idea of coalition (not surprisingly perhaps) and in consequence the rest of us, including the international capital markets, are entitled to look askance at the prospect of being left with a coalition of the unwilling seeking to fulfil a programme founded in fudged compromise of seriously limited objectives.

Of course coalition government does not have to be like that - but there is no reason to suppose it would be different from that here in the immediate future, rather there are good indications to the contrary.

Garton Ash's final point concerning dependency on the legislature is misconceived. so far as a coalition is concerned, although it might apply to a minority government. A coalition demands party discipline be exercised more rigorously, not less.

Cardinal Richelieu's mole said...

See the German v UK numbers in this poster -

and note the quote.