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Tuesday 09 November 2010

A well hung Parliament?

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 23rd March 2010

Until recently, it was conventional political wisdom that Gordon Brown's incumbent British Labour Government was suffering from terminal incumbency fatigue.

However, it is becoming far from certain that the Tories will return to power after May 2010.
Cruelly, it might confront a situation where it is the largest parliamentary party, but short of an absolute majority. That would mean that the third-party Liberal Democrats might end up holding the balance of power in a hung parliament, and might enter coalition with either Labour or the Conservatives. That might mean that there are significant changes ahead- Brown has suggested mild electoral reform (to the alternative vote electoral system) and the abolition of the House of Lords, to be replaced by an Australian-style elected Senate.

The devil is in the detail here, as the Liberal Democrats prefer more radical electoral and constitutional reform- they want the introduction of Single Transferable Vote (STV) elections and a written constitution. Even if the Tories do win, change may still be ahead. The Scottish Nationalist Party may lobby for a Scottish independence referendum, which might end up taking Scotland out of the United Kingdom altogether if successful. Scotland has dark memories of the Thatcher era and strong anti-Tory antipathy.
If the Tories manage to lose, then what? Probably, David Cameron wouldn't last long as leader thereafter, and there would be more interminable succession wrangling. There might be pragmatic reversal on electoral liabilities, like the excessive influence of wealthy Tory donors like Lord Ashcroft and City of London financiers, planned public spending cuts and the contentious question of European policy and difficult relationships with the French and German centre-right Sarkozy and Merkel administrations.

Speaking of which though, neither is looking particularly healthy in their own context right now. The recession seems to be an equal opportunity incumbency support solvent...or is it the case that the doctrinaire New Right dogma of the eighties and nineties is out of favour as a 'solution'?
What about LGBT legislative reform? Due to the progress of the Blair and Brown administrations, there is little left to achieve other than in policy areas, like asylum and refugee policy, homophobic school bullying, blood donor exclusion and anal cancer risk prevention through subsidised Gardasil injections. None of the above are particularly contentious, or attract mass opprobrium from straight voters. One can draw an analogy with the near-unanimous support for provocation defence repeal in New Zealand last year (although that has yet to occur in the United Kingdom).
How about other LGBT related changes? In Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson's governing Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) have been buffeted by financial and sexual scandal, particularly that surroundig Robinson's wife Iris, her extramarital liaison with young Catholic shopkeeper Kirk McCambley (19) and subsequent resignation from politics amidst claims of improper influence on financial grants to her young paramour. It is possible that they may lose seats to the slightly more moderate Ulster Unionist Party. In Scotland and Wales, the SNP and Plaid Cymru seem progressive on LGBT rights.
What will the ultimate outcome be? If a Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition emerges after the election, then that might be the best option for LGBT voters, given opportunities for constitutional reform that are amenable to entrenchment of human rights and civil liberties within British politics. Will Gordon Brown become a 'lame duck' Prime Minister and will his government succumb to 'incumbency fatigue', as happened with John Major and his Tories after it scored a phyrric victory in 1992? Or might a Liberal Democrat coalition re-energise Labour's tenure in office?
What about local repercussions? If Brown wins, Phil Goff will probably be jubilant and may hunker down and see what worked in his counterpart's effective re-election campaign and whether it can be exported to New Zealand. If Cameron wins, one hopes that the straight media will pay more attention to the Key/Cameron axis than has previously been the case. And might our own 2011 election turn out to be far closer than anyone initially might have thought?
Tim Bale: The Conservative Party: From Thatcher to Cameron: London: Polity: 2010.
Colin Hughes (ed) What Went Wrong, Gordon Brown? London: Guardian Books: 2010.
Johann Hari:

Craig Young - 23rd March 2010

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