Momentum builds for hung Parliament

Prospects mount for a typically bloodless British revolution this Thursday

It’s always pleasing, especially in politics, when your hopes, let alone your predictions, appear to be coming about. Last October, in the wake of the party conference season, I looked ahead to this week’s election and said we needed a hung Parliament.

At that point in the political cycle this seemed an improbable outcome. It appeared as though the Conservatives had the edge. They were ahead in the polls, Labour was floundering, and the Liberal Democrats were very much on the outer edge of the debate.

Yet, it didn’t feel like a 1997 moment, that glad confident morning when Tony Blair swept in with his landslide and “to be alive was very heaven”. Apart from anything else there was the expenses scandal which I judged would colour much of the forthcoming campaign, despite the fact that it had been studiously ignored at the party conferences. As I wrote, “I think both Tories and Labour are still in denial about what offending MPs can expect from the electorate when the time comes.”

This is how I concluded my sense of what the election would bring:

“There is no real enthusiasm for the Tories who remain stuck around the late 30s in the opinion polls. If Labour loses its majority, as seems likely, it will be because they do not deserve to remain in office – mainly because of allowing the city to let rip and going to war in Iraq on a false prospectus. When he took over as Prime Minister Gordon Brown promised to be different, to restore the authenticity of Labour before it was seduced by Blair’s promise of electoral success. Above all he promised to be decisive, for instance on pursuing the constitutional change that Britain so desperately needs. He has reneged on all these fronts.

“None of this gives me any pleasure. We desperately need a government in London that recognises the reality of Britain’s place in the world, as a medium-sized country that sees itself in the European mainstream, no longer harbouring imperial pretensions and no longer clinging to the delusion of a special relationship with the United States. We need a Government with a proper understanding that the urgency of Climate Change means much, much more than promoting renewable energy on the one hand while allowing a third runway at Heathrow on the other. We need a government in London that acknowledges that we need to re-balance the economic relationship between the City of London and the South East with the rest of the multi-national state. We need a new regard, and some actual help, for people and businesses that earn their living by making things we really need.

“My main hope, therefore, is that neither the Tories nor Labour will win the forthcoming Westminster election. Instead, we need a hung Parliament in which one or other of them will need to negotiate with the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish Nationalists and Plaid Cymru to produce a modest, practical programme for government. This should be one that meets the economic needs of the whole of Britain, that is determined to modernise our feudal constitution, and one that acknowledges that Britain itself can no longer be imagined as the global economic power it briefly was in the few decades leading up to World War I.”

When I wrote this I had no idea that such a momentum of the past few weeks would build behind the idea of the parties co-operating in a hung Parliament. Back then there had been no agreement on the Leaders debates that have so dominated the campaign and which have given such a decisive opening to Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats.

Google ‘hung Parliament’ and you’ll find a plethora of information. The first site to appear is the electoral reform group Power 2010, in its own words “a unique campaign to give everyone the chance to have a say in how our democracy works”. On it you can discover the record and views of sitting MPs and make your mind up accordingly. Hang ’em, a neighbouring site describes its mission thus:

“The aim of Hang ’em is not ideological. It is not about voting for a candidate whose views you agree with (and is likely to lose). It’s about voting for people with integrity and character – the more independent the better – including Tories and Labour candidates with a record of rebellion.”

It has to be said that alongside such sites is one by a well-known lingerie firm inviting us to visit it and discover “why we believe in a well hung parliament!” Nevertheless, the momentum is there with its promise of a typically bloodless British revolution this Thursday. When I was writing back last October I hoped this might happen but didn’t really believe it could. Now I’m beginning to rub my eyes.

John Osmond is the Director if the IWA

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