They all lost, but we could all win.


Labour has clearly lost, but the Tories also clearly did not win either, however much they want to pretend otherwise. The verdict of the electors is that they do not want one-party rule anymore. The issue is not whether we have a smash and grab Tory government or a clinging on Labour one, but what Coalition Government will form?

Probably the least stable, and desirable, outcome would be an attempted Tory minority government. With just 36% of the vote behind them, and no majority in Parliament, how could such a government possibly provide the medium term stability that is needed to deal with the financial crisis of the state and the still far from stable economic situation?

A Conservative-Liberal coalition would provide the greatest political stability and a clear possibility of a programme for dealing with the deficit. But there are deep divisions between them on electoral reform and Europe that would make a stable coalition very hard to form, unless the Lib Dems sacrificed some core principles (which could cost them dear). In any case, at the time of writing it doesn’t appear the Conservatives are interested (although that may change as reality seeps in).

A Labour-Liberal coalition would not have enough votes to govern without including some of the minor parties or nationalists, which brings its own problems. It’s best chance of any stability would be to pledge a fixed term of say two-three years, during which it would hold a referendum and reform the voting system, and then go back to the country with a fresh election under the new system. The biggest block on this option is Gordon Brown – not that he would be against it (he may or may not) but the Libs are deeply hostile to him continuing as PM. Replacing him with Alan Johnson of David Miliband raises all sorts of political and constitutional issues about having another un-elected PM.

With only half as many again votes as the Lib Dems the Tories are getting six times as many seats. Labour are getting five times as many seats for only a fifth more votes than the LDs. The unrepresentative nature of our antiquated electoral system could not be more exposed. The Tories idea that we should now apparently have “first past the post” Government to complement “first past the post” MPs is clearly farcical.

One way or another we will surely get some form of proportionality into our elections, and with it coalition governments, soon. It would be wise of our putative leaders to stop posturing and start working out how they make a post-majoritarian system work, for the good of the country. The era of “elective dictatorship” is over – the era of pluralist government in Britain starts here.

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About Colin Talbot

Professor of Government. Universities of Cambridge and Manchester, England.
This entry was posted in Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

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