MY colleague Nick Lavigueur is full of suggestions for this column – or blog, as he insists on calling it.
“I’ve got an idea for your blog,’’ he said a few days back.
“It’s not a blog, Nick. It’s a column,’’ I replied.
“Anyway, as I was saying, I’ve got an idea for your blog. Why don’t you do one about a hung parliament? What happens if there’s a hung parliament?’’
Good idea, I thought. So here it is then, my blog about a hung parliament.
I find it strange that so many people feel the prospect of an indecisive election result is so terrifying.
Newspaper headlines scream about a run on the pound and massive losses on the stock exchange if there’s no clear winner at the General Election on May 6. Conservative leader David Cameron tells us a hung parliament would be “damaging’’ and that the “uncertainty would be bad for Britain”.
Tory business spokesman Ken Clarke goes further, warning it would be economically “catastrophic’’ if no party wins a majority of seats in Westminster.
I don’t see what all the fuss is about. What would be so bad about a hung parliament?
It’s ingrained in the British mind that hung parliaments lead to weak, unstable governments which lack the moral authority to rule.
This attitude is partly down to the fact that hung parliaments are so rare in this country.
Some people reading this will be old enough to remember the last time a British General Election produced an inconclusive result in 1974. But I doubt any reader will be able to recall the time before that, in 1929.
Hung parliaments may not be once-in-a-lifetime events, but they do appear to be twice-in-a-lifetime.
Yet we should bear in mind that Britain is the exception in western Europe in having so little experience of hung parliaments.
In most neighbouring countries, where the voting systems are much fairer, there are nearly always coalition governments. Every parliament is a hung parliament.
Yet I don’t see anyone saying that these countries are weak and ineffective.
Germany has had nothing but hung parliaments since 1949 – during which time it’s moved from being a shattered wreck to become by far the most powerful country in Europe.
In all that time no party has won more than 50% of the seats in the German parliament and stable coalitions have been the order of the day.
In the last 61 years, Germany has had eight leaders. In the same period, Britain has had 12 prime ministers – including a lad from Huddersfield who got two goes at the job.
It’s not written in stone that coalition governments have to be unstable governments.
Across Europe at election times the people speak and they say many things.
Out of this comes a situation where no one party has enough support to govern alone.
So the politicians do what any grown-up group of people would do in such a situation, they sit down and hammer out a deal.
Coalition partners trade off, they give up some of their manifesto pledges to get some of their other policies implemented. They trade seats around the cabinet table.
Opponents of coalition government like to harp on about how this process of ‘back-room deals’ in ‘smoke-filled rooms’ is so terribly undemocratic because the politicians, rather than the people, decide who runs the country.
But coalition dealing is just another one of life’s many messy compromises.
It’s no less democratic than the current British system which has allowed Labour to govern alone for the last five years having won all of 36% of the vote at the last General Election.
Coalition forming is nothing to fear.
It’s what happens in Ireland, Holland, Germany and Sweden. And it may be what will happen here after May 6.
Indeed, coalition-forming is normal practice in Kirklees where the four main parties have all been in power at some point in the last 10 years. And life has gone on relatively untroubled.
In stable western democracies there’s no reason to fear that anarchy lurks round the corner after an indecisive election result. The government will continue to function and the post will go on being delivered while the politicians work things out.
In the meantime I would suggest that everyone – whether they be currency speculators or Examiner reporters – should try not to worry.