Skip to main content

A Hung Parliament: what the Liberal Democrats need to do

The possibility of the 2010 General election in Britain leading to a hung Parliament is now being seriously discussed across the news media. In fact it requites a very particular set of circumstances to lead to a hung Parliament, and usually minority votes still lead to a significant advantage for one party over another. Indeed the Labour Party was able to gain a majority government in 2005 with only just over 35% of the vote- barely a third of the votes. The electoral system does not reflect how people actually vote, and it has happened that the party that comes second in the national vote is still able to form a government.

Therefore no one can be confident about how the 2010 election actually turns out until the votes are counted and the election results declared. A very small number of votes in key "marginal" constituencies- probably less than 100,000- will ultimately decide who receives the mandate from the Queen to form a government.

Nevertheless despite the seemingly inevitable defeat for Gordon Brown's Labour Party, the Conservatives are clearly not confident that the electoral system will deliver them a majority. They privately think that this may not stop David Cameron coming into office at the head of a minority government that can secure a majority after a second general election that would be held quickly after the first.

If that does turn out to be the Conservative strategy after the General Election, then it may not be successful. The economic position of the UK is extremely fragile, and the political uncertainty that the likelihood of an early general election would create could tip the country into an economic crisis that is much worse than anything we have so far seen. It may be that Mr. Cameron simply can not afford to plunge the country into uncertainty.

For the Liberal Democrats a hung Parliament is both an opportunity and a serious threat. To an extent the position the party may take is also a function of what the electoral system delivers us. For example we have advanced in the national percentage that the party gains and still lose seats. Equally it is quite possible that our national percentage falls and yet we gain seats. In my view there is a significant chance that the party will indeed gain votes and if it does, I think there is grounds for optimism about nett gains of seats too. Indeed, I think it is only under such a circumstance that the Parliament is likely to be balanced anyway.

The message from election campaigns and indeed coalition negotiations in Scotland is that the party must focus on a clear set of core policies to insist upon as part of any agreement to support a minority government or even to enter into a coalition.

Thankfully, the Party seems to be distilling its agenda into four key principles that we can explain to both the electorate and the other parties as our bottom line.

The first is the key principle of political and constitutional reform. All parties now agree that significant changes are required to improve the functioning of our constitution. The Lib Dems ask for an electoral system that allows the voters to sack their MP without necessarily voting against their party: a change in the electoral system is fundamental to this. The Numbers of MPs should then be reduced by 150. The House of Lords should become a substantially elected body- albeit on a different franchise to that of the House of Commons. Strict rules need to be enacted against any no UK tax payer being allowed to sit in Parliament. Neither should big money and corrupt donors continue to be able to buy influence.

The second key principle is that taxation must be simplified dramatically- including a high personal tax threshold of £10,000. Taxes and benefits should be integrated to eliminate the poverty trap. The tax burden currently falls more on the poor than the rich. Fair taxes are an economic benefit as well as a social necessity.

While it is clear that overall levels of government expenditure will need to fall- and the Lib Dems would seek to close several Whitehall ministries outright- education should be protected from the general cuts. Schools in particular should be allowed to continue to invest, and class sizes overall should be reduced.

The fourth principle is that the government should promote investment in green technology in a way that makes the UK economy more sustainable and can create long term jobs.

Given the limited space that the Liberal Democrats usually get in the media, it is pretty much just these four principles: constitutional reform, tax reform, protect education, promote green technology that we will be able to convey against the noise and indifference of the media and the other parties contending for power. However they do represent a significant fraction of the Liberal Democrat agenda and the election will require us to set out simple and clear ideas.

Whether or not we can put Liberal principles into government in 2010n is still a function of the vagaries of the electoral system: this is also a year of economic uncertainty and in the face of this, all political questions are open.

Britain needs to change. It is not enough to change the party of government. The whole system of government needs radical reform. Liberals and Liberal Democrats have been arguing for this for over a century. It may be that now our time has finally come. Yet whatever happens over the next few weeks, come it will.


Gareth said…
What should the English do in the event of a hung parliament?

It would be very likely that the Tories had the majority of seats in England, but failed to secure a majority in the UK as a whole.

I would suggest that it goes against Lib Dem principles to impose a Lib-Lab coalition on a Tory England. But because of devolution they might perhaps consider a Con-Lib coalition.
Anonymous said…
What ever we do we should not follow the example of the Green Party in Ireland.

Popular posts from this blog

Post Truth and Justice

The past decade has seen the rise of so-called "post truth" politics.  Instead of mere misrepresentation of facts to serve an argument, political figures began to put forward arguments which denied easily provable facts, and then blustered and browbeat those who pointed out the lie.  The political class was able to get away with "post truth" positions because the infrastructure that reported their activity has been suborned directly into the process. In short, the media abandoned long-cherished traditions of objectivity and began a slow slide into undeclared bias and partisanship.  The "fourth estate" was always a key piece of how democratic societies worked, since the press, and later the broadcast media could shape opinion by the way they reported on the political process. As a result there has never been a golden age of objective media, but nevertheless individual reporters acquired better or worse reputations for the quality of their reporting and

We need to talk about UK corruption

After a long hiatus, mostly to do with indolence and partly to do with the general election campaign, I feel compelled to take up the metaphorical pen and make a few comments on where I see the situation of the UK in the aftermath of the "Brexit election". OK, so we lost.  We can blame many reasons, though fundamentally the Conservatives refused to make the mistakes of 2017 and Labour and especially the Liberal Democrats made every mistake that could be made.  Indeed the biggest mistake of all was allowing Johnson to hold the election at all, when another six months would probably have eaten the Conservative Party alive.  It was Jo Swinson's first, but perhaps most critical, mistake to make, and from it came all the others.  The flow of defectors and money persuaded the Liberal Democrat bunker that an election could only be better for the Lib Dems, and as far as votes were concerned, the party did indeed increase its vote by 1.3 million.   BUT, and it really is the bi

Media misdirection

In the small print of the UK budget we find that the Chancellor of the Exchequer (the British Finance Minister) has allocated a further 15 billion Pounds to the funding for the UK track and trace system. This means that the cost of the UK´s track and trace system is now 37 billion Pounds.  That is approximately €43 billion or US$51 billion, which is to say that it is amount of money greater than the national GDP of over 110 countries, or if you prefer, it is roughly the same number as the combined GDP of the 34 smallest economies of the planet.  As at December 2020, 70% of the contracts for the track and trace system were awarded by the Conservative government without a competitive tender being made . The program is overseen by Dido Harding , who is not only a Conservative Life Peer, but the wife of a Conservative MP, John Penrose, and a contemporary of David Cameron and Boris Johnson at Oxford. Many of these untendered contracts have been given to companies that seem to have no notewo