Ever since the Lib Dem surge started nearly two weeks ago, David Cameron and any other Tory within hearing distance of a microphone has done their best to try and scare the bejaysus out of anyone listening that a "hung parliament" (I prefer to use the less pejorative balanced parliament) would be dreadful for this country. "It would be calamitous for the economy!". "It would lead to weak ineffectual government!". "It would be politicians behind closed doors stitching it up for themselves!". Etc. etc. etc.
Sunday, 25 April 2010
He was at it again today in a Q&A session I just saw a clip from on the news saying that a coalition government would be weak and would lead to lots of dithering.
The thing is though, now that Nick Clegg has ruled out any chance of entering into an agreement with Labour if they come third in terms of vote share if they insist on still having the PM, (and given the current polls this seems quite possible) then if that happens, the only realistic coalition possible would be with the Tories. Clegg has been careful not to promise anything in this respect but my point is if Labour are ruled out (assuming they come third) then Cameron's only realistic chance of governing in a balanced parliament if the Tories got the most votes (I will explore what might happen if the Lib Dems came first in a future post) would be to come to some sort of arrangement with one of the other two parties. Again realistically it could not be Labour so the Lib Dems could be the only game in town for them.
Maybe he would go ahead leading a minority government under those circumstances. Maybe it would be a less formal "confidence and supply" type arrangement.
The problem will come if somehow we end up with a Lib/Con coalition. I'm not predicting this would happen. Indeed I think on balance it probably won't. But if it was to then Cameron would find all the thousands of words he and his colleagues had used to traduce "hung parliaments" would be used against him by the Labour Party and others. Any slight sign of uncertainty (which happens in all governments given that they are made up of human beings wrestling with complicated decisions) and his quotes about "dithering" would be thrown at him. Any movement in the markets and the quotes about a "collapse in market confidence" would be chucked his way. Etc. etc. etc.
Now I happen to believe that there is no reason why a balanced parliament cannot be strong and stable in and of itself. I really do not buy all this stuff being bandied about weak government automatically ensuing. You've only got to look at some of the countries around the world who have proportional systems and regular coalitions to see that this talk is nonsense.
But Cameron would not be able to easily escape his election campaign words and predictions. In fact the only way he would be able to get out of it is to prove himself wrong and make a success of a coalition government. Which would of course kick away the last prop of the argument against proportional representation that his party has been so viscerally opposed to. And also make him look pretty stupid.
Perhaps the best way to mitigate this right now and allow him to keep his options more open would be to lay off the "hung parliament" bashing and instead focus on the actual campaign issues.
UPDATE: I modified the post slightly to account for the fact that Clegg only ruled out a deal with Labour if they were third and insisted on having the PM.