UK General Election 2010 Poisoned chalice

Opinion polls are good indicators but not the exact predictors of the outcome, especially in something like a UK general election. So much ink is spilt, and so many predictions are made, but most of which will be of little use and provide future historians with amusement.

The two likely outcomes of the general election in the UK this year are 1) a hung parliament in which no single party obtains a majority in the House of Commons, or 2) a narrow victory for the Conservatives. Much has been discussed about what ifs: what if there’s a hung parliament, what would the Tories / Labour / Liberal Democrats do? What if the Tories win?

The lack of concrete, substantial debates on the economy was somewhat disappointing, since there will necessarily be cuts in public services and there will also be tax rises. Or, can the economic mess be remedied otherwise? Perhaps it can. But no party leader has managed to present a convincing case.

Dr King, the Governer of the Bank of England, made an interesting observation.

"I [US econmist David Hale] saw the governor of the Bank of England [Mervyn King] last week when I was in London and he told me whoever wins this election will be out of power for a whole generation because of how tough the fiscal austerity will have to be," Hale said in an interview on Australian TV reported by Reuters.

This is a bleak assessment, but probably quite right. In this context, winning this election is a poisoned chalice. The public finances are in a mess, and that calls for drastic measures.

If a hung parliament were excluded as a possibility, then it will be a Tory government with a small majority in the new parliament. Is this the ideal, or least bad, outcome for the country and for the party? Obituaries of the (New) Labour party have been penned and published in some quarters, but in a few years’ time, the theme of the death of the Tory party may become more prominent. Economic management is difficult, and the feel-bad factor will probably remain strong in the medium term in Britain. And fairly or not, the government will be blamed for economic woes.

If the Tories win, they seem reluctant to change the electoral system. And for a good reason. A system based on proportional representation will probably end up in no party gaining a workable majority in the House. It’s unlikely that Labour will gain 50%-plus share of the vote, but neither are the Conservatives. Whatever the outcome of this election, the Liberal Democrats will keep reminding the electorate of the unfairness of the current system, since the party will win disproportionately few seats to its share of the vote, and Labour has committed to a reform. If the new Tory government refuses to countenance electoral reform, and has to implement cuts, the debate then could turn to the legitimacy of that Tory government, elected on 30-plus per cent of the vote (i.e. more than 60 per cent of the votes cast were against), pushing through painful spending cuts and reforms.

If the Tories were to win by a slender majority, they may be wise to take up Mr Clegg’s idea and try to reach a consensus on the deficit and debt with other parties. If the other parties agree, then that would bind them to the general direction. If the other parties refuse, they are playing political football.