Snap response: the hung parliament is the mandate for proportional representation

posted by Kaihsu Tai on May 7th, 2010

Diário de Notícias: Flashes da campanha britânica The result of this British general election is, on the whole, a good result. No party can claim that it does not need to eat the humble pie. The Conservatives (Tories) did not win a majority of seats nor garner more than half of the popular votes. The Labour Party took a beating, losing several frontbenchers. The ‘surge’ did not deliver for the Liberal Democrats. Instead, they lost great MPs such as Dr Evan Harris (in my constituency of Oxford West and Abingdon) and Lembit Öpik. The Greens, though getting our first MP in party leader Caroline Lucas, did not make as many breakthroughs as we would like.

One thing to keep in mind (for trans-Atlantic readers especially): This is neither an electoral college for a president, nor a baseball or American-football game. This is more soccer or cricket – with a draw being a possible and valid result – and a parliamentary system which should lead to some arrangement with a level of Cabinet collective responsibility. Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke too soon by congratulating David Cameron on his ‘victory’.

Much of the spotlight should be on Nick Clegg, Leader of the Liberal Democrats. The electorate has delivered a hung parliament that they (and, to lesser extent before 1997, the Labour Party) had asked for over the decades, in exchange for what they promised: proportional representation (not alternative vote plus). They should not squander this mandate, this kairos moment.

If instead, Mr Clegg wants to disappoint his voters, many voted tactically for him just to keep to Tories out, he can join with the Conservatives in coalition. He will thus quickly ruin the fortunes of his party for yet another generation, possibly also taking British politics down with them. Indeed, he would also be carrying out a coup d’état by subtly rewriting the constitutional rules to affirm the primacy of the party with only plurality, but not majority, in the House of Commons – let alone popular vote – at the expense of the incumbent Prime Minister, as current convention requires. He cannot talk his way out of this one, though many of his fellow party members seem already to start trying – totally on form, not out of character at all for the Liberal Democrats.

There is still a lot to play for. If these chaps do not deliver, the electorate needs to give them another hung parliament (likely very soon) – one even more ‘hung’, with more minor-party MPs and independents – which will have the mandate to try again. The Greens need to prepare for this worse scenario as well as the better one I outlined before. I might gently add that Caroline has finally made the breakthrough for us now … the party should have allowed Sara Parkin and Jonathon Porritt to make it two decades earlier, in 1992. Some friends might disagree with me, but in any case: Don’t mess this one up.

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  1. On May 8, 2010 at 18:50 Kaihsu Tai said:

    Cameron also knows he can pick off Liberal Democrat MPs who have personal career ambition but little wider political vision (other than a close ideological alignment to the Tories) by offering them ministerial posts, run the Lib Dem party to the ground, then absorb them into his own party (if he still needs/likes them after the next general election, which may come as soon as this autumn).

    Oxford City Councillor-elect the Reverend Dick Wolff reached a similar conclusion to mine.

    Things are moving very fast. The talks are going on now. There were protests in Oxford and elsewhere for proportional representation Saturday afternoon. It is a good and healthy thing that two days after the election, people do not feel resigned to fate but still feel engaged. The one in London ended up outside where the Liberal Democrats were negotiating, and people demanded to see Nick Clegg. When he turned up, people chanted ‘fair votes now’ and ‘don’t sell out’.

  2. On May 10, 2010 at 13:50 Kaihsu Tai said:

    Things seem to have turned round to the right direction late this afternoon.

    A buoyant Liberal Democrat party thinking it could continue to win in first-past-the-post by targeting and (dare I say) trickery would be a worse one to deliver proportional representation than one which feels the pain of the current wretched system firsthand.

    Now I hope they will stick to their demand of proportional representation through the single transferable vote rather than falling into the trap of some sort of alternative voting.

  3. On May 11, 2010 at 16:19 Kaihsu Tai said:

    The tortilla was turned again and now we have a new coalition government, apparently with Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in it. I wish them well in governing our country.

    In the course of the negotiations, the most striking thing for me was that many Labour MPs were demoralized and ill-prepared for the hung parliament. It almost appears that they had been expecting to lose outright to a Conservative majority.

    The Greens need to support our Caroline Lucas MP really well, so she can continue to hold the one seat we have. In addition, we need to prepare for the next elections: we do not know when they will come, nor under which system.

    I have my law exam tomorrow, so I will not go into the details.