Boris and Wolf: The two best arguments in favour of a hung parliament

Two articles by broadsheet columnists on the prospect of a hung parliament bookended this week. In their contrasting ways, both made a convincing pitch for the attractions of neither Labour nor Tories ending up with an overall majority at the next general election.

First up is Martin Wolf from the Financial Times, writing today that Britain can love hung parliaments:

The bogeyman of a hung parliament is being used to terrify British voters. What is needed, it is argued, is a government with a strong majority, to rescue the UK from the threat of national bankruptcy. This is nonsense. The UK does not face national bankruptcy and, if it did, would not need strong single party government to save it. Has everybody forgotten that in the gravest crisis ever faced by the UK, Winston Churchill governed with a coalition? Why is the present crisis so very different? So poorly has single-party despotism governed the UK that I would welcome a coalition or, at worst, a minority government.

And Martin might also have added that the last time this country faced a financial crisis as grave as the current one – the 1930s – coalition government was also the flavour of the day.

But, wait, there’s more:

No serious person denies that the country confronts a huge fiscal challenge. Among those serious people are, of course, the leadership of the Liberal Democrats. I cannot be the only person who believes that Vince Cable, the party’s shadow chancellor, is far better qualified to address this challenge than any current member of the Conservative front bench. Indeed, the latter has blown worryingly hot and cold over its elusive plans for fiscal stringency.

Which seems the right moment to bring in our second broadsheet columnist: Boris Johnson. Writing for the Telegraph on Monday, BoJo bemoaned the media’s occasional mentions of the Lib Dems:

Can anyone explain the current ubiquity of Nick Clegg? … It’s because the media are obsessed with the idea that there is going to be a hung parliament – and that Clegg will be the kingmaker! In this fantasy world we go back to a 1970s-style Lib/Lab coalition in which Gordon Brown remains Prime Minister, shamefully clinging on to Downing Street with the help of the Lib Dems, while Cleggie and (say) Vince Cable are rewarded with seats at the Cabinet table. It goes without saying that I think the media are wrong to be talking up this ghastly prospect.

Vince as Chancellor: a ghastly prospect, eh, Boris? London’s mayor so clearly has his finger on the popular pulse.

What Boris has described is, of course, the Tories’ worst nightmare: a Lib Dem who is so patently more competent than their own shadow chancellor that it hurts them. But for the rest of the UK – the voters who will actually decide the election – the prospect of the Lib Dems holding the balance of power is probably quite an attractive one.

Of course it comes laden with potential pitfalls for our party, but let’s just look at this from the voters’ perspective for now. And from their vantage, Martin Wolf is right: there’s no reason to worry about a hung parliament. In fact, they may enjoy it a whole lot more than the thought of five more years of Gordon’s stale nothingness, or a flimsy government with Dave as titular head dominated by his party’s right-wing base. As Martin pithily concludes:

Given the task ahead, government by whim and by whip is just not good enough.

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8 Comments

  • Martin Land 12th Feb '10 - 5:44pm

    On the doorstep I’m not hearing much about a hung parliament; quite a lot about ‘hanging parliament’ though I guess that’s not the same thing….

  • I saw BoJo’s article and a more febrile, abusive pile of crap has rarely been published, even in the Torygraph. I took it as a sign that the Tories are starting to get worried about the Lib Dems and are desperate to find a way to attack them. It was kind of comforting in a way.

  • All very well, but a hung parliament is not going to happen by itself given the 11% swing to Cameron in the Lab-Con marginals.  In these seats Lib Dem supporters should be voting to block any ‘majority’ govt, ie voting Tory in the micro-marginals where they are within 6 points of Labour, but voting Labour in seats 100+ on the Tory target list.
    By the way, in Kirkaldy a vote for the SNP would probably be the best thing to do for a hung parliament by reducing the number of Con or Lab seats.  But, as it’s so safe a Lib Dem vote is too irrelevant to do any harm

  • A hung parliament, with a minority government, would be the best possible outcome. I do not advocate the LibDems entering into a coalition, but rather, supporting the things that must be done by means of a memorandum of agreement. This still leaves them free to oppose bad legislation (like the 4500 plus labour curbs on individual freedom), which do not directly impact fiscal policy. This should be arranged so that it did not prevent individual LibDem MPs from accepting cabinet posts (ie Vince Cable as Chancellor).
    Yes we should talk up a hung parliament – Strong Government is inevitably bad government!

  • Andrew Turvey 15th Feb '10 - 12:30am

    I work in the banking industry and it’s very interesting to hear gilt traders – whose job it is to make accurate predictions – think through the consequences of a hung parliament.

    When it comes to assessing the risks associated with UK government debt, the consensus seems to be that a strong labour or conservative majority would create a government able to push through tough choices and get the deficit under control.

    There is a fear that a hung parliament, particularly a minority government, would lead to “lowest common denominator” policies, forcing them to pander to every lobby group around, avoiding any tough decisions and preventing the government from bringing the budget back into balance.

    A coalition government – either LabLib or ConLib (or for that matter ConLab) would be better placed to make these decisions.

    LibDems should bear this in mind before talking up a hung parliament and then wondering why british people never vote for it!

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