Tuesday, 11 May 2010

So what have the British people "said" at this election?

We have a hung parliament. Political commentators and politicians alike are making a lot of noise telling us that this means the British people have said this or that, or want this or want that. As Stephen Fry puts it, it is "the peculiar propensity of commentators to feel qualified to extrapolate from the election results the Manifest Will of Britain"

A lot of people voted. Each one voted for someone to represent them in parliament, yes, whether they thought that was what they were doing or not, that's what they did. 36% of them voted for a Conservative candidate, 29% voted Labour, 23% voted Liberal Democrat. If you're looking for the split on how people voted, then look no further.

Anyone who thinks that there is some kind of "voice" of the electorate needs to sit in a dark room for a bit. Clearly this country is divided into many voices, more even than those of our political parties, such that each party is really a coalition of views, some alike and some unalike.

In our system 'power' is distributed to political parties in the way of seats. In my view this is a failing of our system, but it's how it is right now, so we need to work with it. Most power has been given to the Conservative Party (306 seats), a bit less power has been given to Labour (258 seats), and somewhat less (57 seats) to the Liberal Democrats (and the others have 28 seats). These numbers do not represent any kind of moral or ethical value, they are just the result of the system, like a hand of cards. In some years the Conservative voting majority might have given them an overall lead in seats, but not this year. So we need people to be sensible and talk to each other and do what politicians do all the time: compromise.

Mathematically the most sensible option would be for Conservative and Labour to join forces, but their positions seem too far apart (at the moment) for this to happen. This means that the Liberal Democrats get to use their hand for the first time in many years. The fact that this is a rare event doesn't make it an invalid one. Our system is so skewed towards getting an outright majority from either Conservative or Labour that when a landslide doesn't happen we might fall into the trap of thinking that something is wrong.

Despite the pain involved to our political parties, it is a blessing that results like this one come along from time to time. I hope it will push us away from apathy and complacency and help people to reengage with politics.

1 comment:

  1. Ponder the Venn diagram doodle at http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/apr/30/election-2010-deficit-information-beautiful#zoomed-picture , which shows what measures the various parties might take in order to alleviate the national debt and the percentage they'd "fix" in the first 5 years of power.

    Obviously, if you were to choose one party to do the best, that would be the libdems with 25%. The Tories would be worst with a mere 17% improvement.

    However, why only have one party in power? The situation of hung parliament, evolving (hopefully soon) into some kind of coalition, opens up the option to combine the best bits from several directions: there's no doubt that cutting £10billion from Whitehall is "leadership from the top"; added to the LDs' proposals, that's even better for the economy.

    This is a more holistic / centrist view of government: all members working together, picking the best bits, realigning focus on policies without the petty messing around with parties. I'd be in favour of that.