25 April 2010

Well hung?

David Cameron has been exercising an interesting paradox this week - accusing the Prime Minister of spreading fear among the electorate over Conservative spending proposals, while spreading his own brand of fear over the possibility of a hung parliament. Here I am using the word 'paradox' as a euphemism for 'hypocrisy', of course.

Faithful as ever, the Daily Telegraph published statistical evidence backing Mr Cameron's fearmongering from the last hung parliament:

The last time a British election failed to produce a decisive result, in February, 1974, the FTSE All Share Index – a broad measure of the stock market – fell nearly 15pc in a month and ended the year more than 50pc below where it began.

Horrors! Except that share prices had been falling since 1972 in response to the 'Oil Shock', so here I use the word 'evidence' in describing the Telegraph's article as a euphemism for 'fraud'.

Many successful democracies around the world cope with extended periods of political stalemate - in the US 'gridlock', as it is known, was a feature of the 1980s, a time of untrammelled prosperity, according to some - and more recently Belgium went for whole months without even a government, never mind a budget. Similarly, Germany rubs by with coalitions, managing to do all right in terms of economic growth. But for Britain it would be apocalyptic if the soothsayers are to be believed.

On the other hand consider the following: why do so many people vote (maybe not enough, but let's leave that) and yet so few people are members of political parties? Take me as a typical example of someone who is reasonably politically engaged, yet I have never joined a political party. Leaving aside issues of expense and lethargy, I think the main reason is the same as most other people's: my views across a range of subjects are ideologically inconsistent, contradictory even, and don't easily fit into a party programme of one colour or another. I value the dynamic prosperity generated by free market capitalism, yet also rail at its injustices; I think the NHS is a national treasure while despairing at its inefficiencies; Protectionism is counter-productive and stifling, yet the BBC is a wonderful organisation. Most voters are paradoxes, and where we place our cross every five years is an aggregation of the most prominent cluster of concerns plus how we feel about the party leaders' haircuts.

So let us look on the prospect of a hung parliament as an opportunity to try something more in line with most voters. Shifting coalitions could generate support for different issues and try to build consensus for legislation. The electorate could be used to crowdsource suggestions for things that need to change, and their proposals could be tested against the spread of MPs, who would feel less encumbered by Party loyalty. The main outcome is almost certainly nothing would happen; only the most desperately needed laws would get passed, and MPs might find they have to spend more time in Parliament working together instead of part-time investment bankers. And I use the expression 'investment banker' as a Cockney rhyming euphemism.

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