Is hung parliament such a bad thing?

The British currency has been weakening noticeably for the past few days, since opinion polls suggest that the general election in the UK will result in no one party winning half plus one seat. Minority or coalition government is seen as weak and unstable, and is something that needs to be avoided, especially when the economy is in a precarious situation. British political culture has, for the most part since the WWII, depended on a single party – either the Conservatives or Labour – forming a majority in the Parliament and fomring the government.

While a party with a convincing majority can make strong claims to hold a mandate from the electorate and implement the policies outlined in the party’s manifesto, it’s unlikely that either the Tories or Labour will win over 50% plus one vote of the votes cast. Even if more people vote this time around, it still would be the case that a party can form the government with more people voting against it than for it, and if those voters who wouldn’t or couldn’t be bothered are included, the positive support dwindles further. This is a trade-off in a first-past-the-post system, where lots of votes don’t really count, but it gives one party a chance of forming government with a comfortable majority.

Most political pundits agree that whoever wins the next election, the state of the public finances will be dire, and there will be a lot of cuts and pain. No party now pretends that Britain can recover very quickly and reduce the public debt without pain. As a natural pessimist, I tend to think that things are going to be tough for a number of years to come, and the next government will have to be ruthless and stand firm to avoid a desaster.

A government that demands sacrifices from the electorate has to be brave, but also requires strong legitimacy. Parliament’s reputation has suffered due to the expenses scandal, and the sentiment of anti-politics remains quite strong.

For that reason, a hung parliament may not be as bad people think, if it leads to a coalition government or a government of national unity. Naturally there are many provisos. A hung parliament has to lead to a coalition government that has strong sense of direction and personality. It needs to be stable. But there are also positives. Let’s say this coalition government is formed by one of the two major parties and the Liberal Democrats. This would not only mean a relatively stable majority in the Commons, but crucially, it’s quite possible that more than 50% of the electorate voted for the parties forming the coalition. It will have the necessary legitimacy in numbers to do something quite unpopular or politically inexpedient.

Of course, things can go wrong with politics, so the above-mentioned scenario may be too rosy. However, British politicians will face tough decisions in the coming years, and it can only be hoped that there are sufficient number of MPs who will put the country’s interests above party political and personal interests. It will be testing years ahead, and winning the election or forming the government may be the easiest part.