I was in Brussels last weekend, celebrating the 20th birthday of an environmental organisation I helped to set up in 1990. Chatting with the various people from a couple of dozen different countries, one thing became very clear – almost all of them come from countries where more than one party is currently in government.
Contrast that with the situation in this country where some sections of society are getting hysterical about the prospect that we could on 7 May have a hung Parliament. What is normal in most other countries appears to be a recipe for national disaster here.
So what’s the difference?
The difference is that we’re not used to different parties cooperating in government. This is not strange, when you think we haven’t had a formal coalition since 1945, or a peacetime coalition since the late 1930s. We had some cooperation between Labour and the Liberals in 1977-78, a short-lived arrangement that served the country well, even if it was disastrous for Liberal fortunes at the polls.
But it’s strange in another way. We have never had a government elected by a majority of those who voted! Maragaret Thatcher’s thumping majority of 144 seats in 1983 was achieved with 44% of the votes. Labour got in in 1997 with a 179-seat majority on 43% of the votes, and won last time with a majority of 66 on under 37% of the votes. This is the true scandal that needs to end.
With the polls suggesting neither Labour nor Conservative will have an overall majority this time, much speculation is put on us as to which party we would support. This question totally misses the point.
The point is that we tell the electorate what we stand for, and then, if there’s a hung Parliament, we look at the maths and see if a majority can be formed involving us and a party that is willing to embrace our four core policies: fair taxes, a greener economy, reform of education, and a new political system.
Yes, I want a hung Parliament, but not because it will help the Liberal Democrats – I’m not entirely sure that it would help us. I want a hung Parliament because it will be best for democracy and may lead us to a new era of cooperative government rather than the elective dictatorship we have now.
Yes, the City and the markets may go into panic mode the morning after an election that offers up no single-party winner. But that will focus the various minds, not just on the need to cooperate, but on our need for a properly written constitution so we have a stronger framework in which to work.
No wonder the latest opinion polls are saying there is popular support for a hung Parliament. The people appear to have a better sense of how the country should be run than the vested interests in the City whose concept of ‘a clear mandate for government’ is very different to mine.