Friday, 7 May 2010

Hung Parliaments

The British people have spoken electing a hung parliament. Negotiations began. Speculation was rife. Media groups with 24 hour coverage. It was 36 years since the UK had the last hung parliament the same time we last entered a period of stagflation. This time a coalition government was the outcome, a marriage between the Conservatives and Liberals. Labours bubble has burst with the 'no more Tory boom and bust' happening on their watch, ending the Utopian mirage the general public believed the party had delivered them. Despite the election defeat the party is still in good condition for the next leader with a sizeable number of seats and share of the vote. I said that if we got a Conservative Government the UK was in trouble (and not under the conventional wisdom), well we got two of the parties so my bets are for a Labour Landslide victory at the next election. David Milliband has put his hat in the ring for the leadership contest, another possible Blair but I get the sense he has more political beliefs than the later PM. Speaking of Prime Ministers, Gordon Brown had a dramatic exit on Tuesday evening. Despite having all the wrong polices I liked Brown. I think he genuinely believed in what he did, was obviously a highly intelligent person and had a strong work ethic who believes he is doing the right thing. There's not many like him in any more in Parliament that is a real politician not a PR Guru such as the other two leaders.

While all the electioneering has taken place we've barely even noticed the carnage in the markets. The DOW crashing 9% at one point. Major stock indices all around the world looking shaky. Markets continue to worry about Greece, Spain, Portugal the UK. A bailout was announced but they can't kid the market who is playing the game but knows that the Government have set up the next disaster. Reports of relative safe 'havens' such as the US is like telling someone the boat they are in is safer than the next one because they've only sprung half as many leaks. Over the long term all boats are sinking just at different rates.

As the wheeling and dealing of the parties took place a hot topic was electoral reform, with the liberals trying to move towards proportional representation. In my view it will be a dark day if the UK was to loose the first past the post system, especially in these choppy waters the world finds itself in now. Its the political system that ensured Britain has historically maintained one of the most liberal and open societies in the world.

The end of the First World War sparked great political upheaval. The old empires - Habsburg, Ottoman, 2nd Reich - all collapsed and with it a scramble for the power vacuums they left behind. Democracy was imposed on many European nations, nations that were not acquainted with democracy. Not only did they get democracy but many got it in the form of proportional representation. The newly drawn boarders of the continent further exacerbated the issue of trying to dictate common policy. History views Fascism in rightly a dark context, however people in such countries didn't vote for the perverse beliefs such parties were associated with as the Second World War drew to an end, such extreme views had evolved during their time in power. Such extreme parties were formed from coalition governments that aligned themselves with traditional pillars of society.

Many European nations contained fragmented parliaments during the interwar period. Governments would come and go in months, for example the Reichstag in Germany had 16 parties all contradicting one another making laws almost impossible to pass. Many parliamentary members were radicals compounding the lack of common ground to be found giving huge variance towards policy. When the 'Crisis in Capitalism' struck in 1929, so did the crisis in democracy within many such European countries. The public began to believe that democracy was too ineffective to solve their problems thus seeking more radical alternatives. As extremes were given platforms in the context detailed above, nation after nation succumbed to the far right. All the above never occurred in Britain, the most mature democracy in the world. We had our share Fascism, but the first past the post never favoured Oswald Mosley.

Italian Fascism began like this, opportunities created by PR and the alliances they were able to obtain. Over time it gradually morphed into the political party it became infamous for. Hitler rose to power under exactly the same circumstances, again aligning himself with traditional pillars of society that could agree on some aspects of common policy but ignored other more radical views, believing these could be controlled. As Hitler and others increased their grip on power, they also abolished democracy and so began the dictatorships that they have become synonymous with.

Now I'm not saying that PR means we are going to elect a Fascist government, times have changed and I think the majority of Europe is a far more tolerant place. But PR gives rise to radical groups and fragmented weak governments. When the economies ticking over and everything seems fine this isn't so much of an issue, but when we have a persistent crisis then things can get messy.

I realise that our current first past the post system has produced a hung parliament, however the majority of seats are held by mainstream progressive parties. If we had PR then the Fascist BNP would have gained around 12 seats. Our current system ensures no such political base for them. UKIP would have around 18, the Greens 6. I understand what people say when parties get a greater share of the vote but don't get a proportional amount of seats, but first past the post generally ensures a moderate parliament. First past the post has its flaws but I would prefer it to other suggested alternatives out there.

With the new policy of fixed term parliaments I currently can't see the current Government lasting the five years. Splits are already emerging and when tough choices are to be made, finger pointing will begin, deals and U-turns will take place, garnishing further support for the opposition. Another Labour Government within five years? I think so and with it, further relative decline for the UK.


  1. That's democracy for you! Not however when hundreds get turned awy from the polls unable to vote and exercise their democratic right.

  2. That was a disgrace. Incompetence, I mean there was much higher turnouts in the 90's for example the 92' election had a turnout of somewhere around 78%, not 63% or whatever it was this time.