Hung Parliament: The epitome of change

by Marc Geddes

Please note that this article was written for, and originally appeared in, Canvas, a student politics journal for which I was the Founder and Editor between 2010 and 2012. The article is available here.

Over the past few weeks, Britain has been heading for a hung parliament. Politicians have claimed that it could spell disaster for our economic recovery, our international position and our political system. If only our politicians had learned from the Expenses Scandal and stopped telling lies. A hung parliament is crucial to British politics – it has the opportunity to re-ignite consensus politics; reveals the wish for deep-rooted and whole-scale political reform; and would inspire real change.

Consensus Politics

It has long been held as the ultimate goal of politics that consensus can only be good for the populace. Consensus politics, in which politicians agree to work together, implies that MPs will put the national interest before their party interest. Moreover, this would forge progressive and national change.

The two largest parties, and supporters in general of a First Past the Post electoral system, have always claimed that a hung parliament implies back door dealings between sly politicians to seek office and power. This argument has struck a powerful chord with many British voters; yet it is fundamentally flawed. In the event of a hung parliament, the natural consequence would be a coalition government; the ultimate course of action being that all politicians, from all backgrounds, would have to talk and work together. This may mean that parties surrender some policies in favour of forming a government. However, the reason behind these sacrifices should not be seen purely as a power struggle between different factions. Consensus involves explicit collaboration, not compromise, demonstrating that our MPs can work together. MPs would no longer be facing each other and shouting abuse across the floor, and would instead analytically debate policies in differing groupings in order to come to an agreement and to pass legislation. Legislation would therefore reflect the desires of a majority of politicians from different parties, rather than representing the doctrine of a single faction in government.

Whilst party politics usually determines the nature of governance in Britain, there have been occasional cases when the national interest has profoundly shaped government, especially in times of crisis. One needs only to look at the National Government of the 1930s. Great Britain was in economic crisis and political turmoil. It sounds familiar, even comparable, to the situation we face today. And whilst the election of 1931 produced a clear victory, it was not for a particular party, it was for the National Government. MPs attempted to work together, collaborate, and serve their king and country. Today’s economic recovery is in such a precarious position that a single wrong move would cause a double-dip recession.

Political extremism was also experiencing a considerable rise in popularity in the 1930s, something which can clearly be seen today. The National Government of 1931 – a coalition of Britain’s major parties – secured economic recovery and quashed Oswald Mosley’s fascist movement.

The point is this – our politicians are so caught up in winning a majority at elections that they have forgotten the principal reason that we vote MPs into parliament – to represent our needs and sustain the national interest. A hung parliament would enable our politicians to look at each other and make decisions in a much more considered and co-operative way.

Political Reform

What does it tell MPs when not a single party wins a majority in parliament? It can only be one thing – the electorate is not happy with any of the major national political parties. The Expenses Scandal has put all politicians, justifiably or not, into disrepute. Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have all claimed that it is their duty to clean up politics and each party has argued that none of their rivals can do it.

A hung parliament, however, would clearly tell the parties that they’re all doing a bad job. Not one will have persuaded the majority of the British public that their party has been actively promoting clean politics, not one will have persuaded the British public that their party offers change, and not one will have persuaded the electorate to restore their trust in politicians.

A hung parliament epitomises the need for change in politics. Albeit vague, the concept of “change” implies a recognition to restore trust in the political process and to re-ignite links between the electorate and their representatives in parliament, not necessarily a change of government. If a majority win in this election, it is self-evident that voters are not fundamentally disengaged with politics, rather with the political party in power. To talk of a hung parliament is to talk of reform.

Consensual Change

Some say that a hung parliament is indecisive and that it fails to deliver. This has been argued forcibly because it meant compromise. But compromise of what and in favour of whom? The more appropriate term of ‘collaboration’ between the major parties would result in policy agreements that all MPs could accept, through hard work and representation of the national interest. Furthermore, their policies must be sold – to their party members, to the media, but most importantly, to the British public. Would the public accept anything other than progressive action?

A hostile media and a host of political commentators have continued to point out the corrupt and unstable nature of Italy’s governments during past decades. Moreover, given the recent collapse of the Belgian government after only six weeks, politicians have hastily added that a hung parliament would bring chaos to the political scene. And yet, the strength of Germany has often been ignored. German governments have been made up of coalitions since 1949. Some may remind us that political change is slower and less radical, but they will mute the fact that it is consensual, which ultimately led to Germany’s economic recovery from the global recession months before Britain could even fathom economic growth.

A hung parliament will deliver a resounding victory for the national interest. No majority from Labour, Conservatives or even LibDems could offer us a truly National Government that our country so desperately needs to move forward into a new progressive age.