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Election 2010

Who’s afraid of a hung parliament? - not Steve Beauchampé…bring it on he says!

In its usual arrogant, high-handed manner, the British political establishment, and the mainstream media which serves and feeds off it, likes to portray Britain as the mother of democracy; stable, steadfast, dependable - the Ancient Greece of modern times.

So there is collective horror at the thought of a hung parliament.

The notion that either the Tories or Labour will, come May 7th, have no overall control of the House of Commons fills many amongst this establishment with dread…the worst possible outcome we are told, a weak, indecisive, shilly-shallying government is the inevitable consequence…and just as we are emerging from the worst economic crisis in decades, with an enormous budget deficit to tackle! No, no, no, no, no!

Stuff and nonsense! It is a damning indictment on the immaturity of our political system - and the two parties that continually benefit from it - that a result which actually forces consensus, rather than adversarial, politics, is viewed as negative rather than positive.

For five years Labour has governed on a mandate of around 25% of the electorate - and done so comfortably owing to a parliamentary majority of around 60.

If, as opinion polls currently indicate, the Conservatives are the largest party after May 6th and secure a small overall majority, they are likely to do so with backing from around just 33-34% of the total electorate.

Indeed, they could accrue several percentage points more votes than Labour and still garner fewer seats (but don’t shed any tears for them as they’ve persistently opposed the introduction of any form of proportional representation!).

The fundamental, defining factor of the parliament in a democratic society is that the make up of its government accurately reflects the will of the people.

And in Britain, that pretty much should always means a coalition government. It is absolutely NOT a frightening prospect per se. Coalitions are the norm on mainland Europe and in most other ‘First World’ democracies.

These countries are not intrinsically weak and indecisive - inevitably decision-making can at times be slow and messy, but these are characteristics of genuine democracy and the debate, discussion and negotiation that comes with it.

Such a winner-takes-all system of government is fast becoming an anomaly even in Britain.

Many local authorities (including in the West Midlands) are run as ‘No Overall Control’ coalitions, the results forcing cross-party dialogue, and a subsequent consensual and pragmatic approach to government.

Likewise, the eschewing of first-past-the-post voting systems mean that the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, along with much of the political system of Northern Ireland, is based around coalition and power sharing.

Ditto the European Parliament, where parties such as the Greens and UKIP, forever destined to be marginalised by the Westminster voting model, are able to claim their fair share of seats.

Democracy is multi-dimensional; it is not about one group always getting its own way, having total control over policy to the exclusion of all other views and opinions for four or five years at a stretch.

It must also include other groups dictating policy on occasions. And it will only be occasionally; the evidence from our local Council chambers proves overwhelmingly that the largest party in a collation gets it’s way most of the time, it just does so through agreement and by ameliorating the more contentious aspects of its policies.

Britain’s broken model of outdated parliamentary democracy leans too heavily on macho posturing, on the catcalls of the set piece House of Commons debates. Hell, we can’t even provide enough seats in the Chamber for every MP to be able to sit down, let alone a table for them to work from!

Our mainstream political media deal in one-dimensional clichés, the rough and tumble of personality-led sound bite politics makes good copy; give them an elected Mayor, give them a PM-cum-President, that’s easy enough to caricature. The subtleties and nuances of a mature political system bore them, they want simple, straightforward Aunt Sallies to be set up and knocked down.

But politics is more important than that. I welcome a hung parliament (though at this point I’m anticipating an overall Conservative majority of up to 20) and I hope it sustains for several years.

We might get voting reform (though not if via a Conservative/Ulster Unionist coalition) and even though a consensus parliament’s every deliberation will be depicted by some as a weakness, we might come to appreciate the advantages of reigning in Britain’s two dominant - and arrogant - political elites and replacing them with a system that is fundamentally altogether more mature and representative.



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