Saturday, May 08, 2010

A Hung Parliament

When the general public opined that following the MP's expenses scandal they ought to be taken out and hanged, the warning should have been beware what you wish for. We now have a hung parliament.

As I write this Conservatives and Liberals are negotiating over whether they can form a government, either in a formal coalition or with a Conservative minority government with tacit Liberal support on most issues.

The big issue is likely to be electoral reform. Because Labour votes are concentrated in big cities with, often, small electorates, the present system favors Labour. The Tories have to be about 10% ahead of Labour in the opinion polls to get an absolute majority. The Tories solution is boundary reform with all constituencies of roughly equal size, and the elimination of small city-center seats.

The Liberals are even worse served by the current system. Despite getting about a quarter of the votes they have less than a tenth of the seats. They want a system of proportional representation, which would give us a parliament which is permanently hung.

With electoral reform, the House of Lords would have to be dealt with. To some extent the Conservatives have put up with a Labor bias in the Commons because of an inbuilt Tory bias in the Lords. Over the past 13 years Labor has tried to redress the balance in the Lords without doing anything to detract from their advantageous position in the Commons.

The current system in the Lords ensures that non-party interests get a say, with churchmen, scientists, doctors, theatre people and businessmen all having a vote. 'The great and the good' are able to stymie unwise legislation.

In the background is the possibility that Labor and the Liberals might cobble together a 'progressive' coalition. However, this would not give them a working majority - they would still need the support of at least some of the Nationalists (Welsh, Scottish and Irish), and this would come with a price (that of sparing those parts of the UK from the cuts that are necessary. Since these parts already enjoy a fiscal advantage over England, this would not go down well with the English. It would bring fresh calls to address the democratic deficit, by which MPs from the smaller nations (including Gordon Brown himself) can have a say on purely English matters, while English MPs have no say on matters that only concern the Celtic nations.

We are in for an interesting few days.

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