“No man is an island, / Entire of itself. / Each is a piece of the continent...” John Donne evidently could not have predicted that the dominant actors in the English political class some centuries later – Cameron, Clarke, Balls (what an apt coincidence in his name) and their ilk – could be so blithely arrogant as to forecast chaos, economic catastrophe, plagues of frogs and other dreadful consequences of a “hung” Parliament in utter contradiction to the orderly and largely effective governance that follows on from “hung” parliaments in most countries on their own continent.
David Cameron even had the cheek to say that the rest of Europe must be astonished that the general election might not produce a decisive single party result. I rather think that politicians, commentators and others in Europe are more likely to be astonished at the false, or even genuine, panic and ignorance that is on display. They may well also wonder, as I do, how our media accept the extravagant prophecies of doom without having either the knowledge or integrity openly to question them. The BBC actually claims to bring clarity through their election coverage. It would be encouraging to experience clarity over what is a key issue now with the surge in backing for the Liberal Democrats.
Of course, it isn’t simply a question of what happens in Europe. Scotland has had several years of governance resulting from their “hung” Parliament. Reporting on the SNP’s manifesto launch from Edinburgh, Huw Edwards acknowledged tentatively that Alex Salmond (whom London-based journalists tend to regard as a joker, if not a joke) used the term “balanced Parliament” and we actually got a short treatise on the Scottish experience from the BBC’s Scotland correspondent. An excellent Democratic Audit briefing on the election also chooses to talk in terms of a “balanced Parliament”, suggesting that the term “hung Parliament” is a modern usage taken from the American term, “a hung jury” which is not an accurate analogy for a “hung Parliament” actually delivers a verdict, even if it is not to the liking of the two main parties.
The same report (and I ought to declare an interest here, I am an associate director at the Audit) also points out that decisive single party election results are themselves a comparatively recent (largely postwar) phenomenon, and that current trends in electoral politics are likely to make them pretty rare in the future if the public’s allegiance to the two main parties carries on diminishing; and that “hung councils” are now common throughout local government and manage to avoid the kind of chaos that Cameron and co predict at national level.
Ed Balls came out this week with the classic conservative response to any challenge to our political practice – coalition politics is “not the British way” of doing government. I would like just to say, “get used to it Ed!” But he stands for the obstinate tribal tradition that is very strong in the Labour party and presumes on some sort of divine right to rule alone and that will reject any kind of coalition or worse still realignment on the centre left. Amazingly, any sort of deal is seen both by Old and New Labour diehards as the “culmination” of the New Labour project when it depends utterly on a rejection of New Labour’s neo-liberal, authoritarian, centralist and undemocratic politics.
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