Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Hung Parliaments, Negotiation and the Way Forward

I was going to avoid any form of political comment during the election, I really was. There is so much comment in the media that one more voice was just too much.

 Until, that is, the nonsense about a hung parliament. Both of the (previously) major parties - the Conservative and Labour parties - seem to be obsessed with the idea that a hung parliament will be a disaster "for British democracy". Why?

Let me put it in my own simplistic way. For as long as I can remember, either the Conservatives or Labour have won a majority of the seats in parliament at a General Election. This meant that they could get on and run the country in the way that they had promised to do in their manifestos. Well no - not always. Both parties have had to make changes between manifesto and government - of course it was because things changed in the economy, for example, which made their promise impossible to keep. All the other parties were out of luck - the winning politicians could, essentially, ignore them and their policies for the mean time. The winning party could use Whips to ensure that none of its members jumped away from the party line - and it didn't matter that much if anyone else didn't like what was being debated. The party leadership could move from thought to Act very quickly.

In a hung parliament, however, deals need to be done - possibly on a Bill by Bill basis (as in Scotland) to get law enacted. Is this really such a bad thing. Is it really a problem to ensure that more MPs are in favour of a law before it can come into force? I agree that it may take more time - but given the number of quite badly drafted laws which seem to have hit the Statute Book lately, a little more thinking time would be a good thing. I can think of many new(ish) Acts which needed more thought & debate.

Businesses are rarely run in a democratic manner. There is a Chief Executive (or Managing Partner) who has the power. Most Boards, however, are more like hung parliaments - there are different factions and sets of belief, none of which has overall power. Things get done by persuasion, negotiation and debate - and most businesses (and even law firms) manage to get things done, to do business and to succeed. Why, therefore, is the idea of running government in an inclusive, negotiated manner so abhorrent then? I can't see the problem. I should like my MPs to behave in a more civilised manner (am I the only person who is embarrassed by the way that MPs "debate" in the House of Commons? My daughter stopped behaving is such a childish manner years ago). I would welcome the idea that MPs needed to engage in adult negotiation with people who held fundamentally different views before a new law could come into force.

I do not suggest that voters should actively try to get a hung parliament. Everyone should vote for the party of their choice instead of worrying about tactical voting. I've never believed that "well at least we're not a bad as them" was much of a vote winner. I do not, however, think that we, the voters, should be concerned about a hung parliament. Perhaps it will be more difficult for the MPs or for the executives in the House. That is not a reason, however, to be concerned about it. We have tried majority politics for decades now and the result seems to be badly behaved MPs and a disengaged public. Perhaps it is time for a hung parliament and the changes that will come with it.

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