Snap response: the hung parliament is the mandate for proportional representation
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 â€˜surgeâ€™ 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 Ã–pik. 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 â€˜victoryâ€™.
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 dâ€™Ã©tat 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 â€˜hungâ€™, 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: Donâ€™t mess this one up.
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