The case against a hung Parliament

I was intending to identify the perils of a hung Parliament.  There is no real benefit to be derived from an indecisive election result.  However, The Times saved me the trouble yesterday with a powerful leader putting the case against a hung Parliament.  It argues that now is the worst time possible, but the basic case remains regardless of the economic situation.  As the leader concludes:

“The likely outcome of a hung Parliament would not be a new form of pluralism. It would be a weak government, with no agreed programme and no mandate for the change the country needs. This is no time for a weak government and, therefore, no time for a hung Parliament.”

We may end up with a hung Parliament, but that doesn’t mean such an outcome is desirable.  Quite the reverse.


About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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30 Responses to The case against a hung Parliament

  1. Chris K says:

    And extremist minor parties taking advantage of a country on the verge of financial meltdown, offering their coalition support only in exchange for special interests.

    On the plus side it would, hopefully, kill off calls for electoral reform, once people get a taste of just how awful a hung parliament in perpetuity would be.

  2. Carl.H says:

    I actually think the opposite, I think a hung parliament would do good at least for politicians. If they cannot work together for the sake of the Country there is something fundementally wrong.

    Compromise often means things are looked at that much deeper and scrutinised thoroughly. This can be no bad thing.

    What change does the Country need ? All parties seem to have different versions of change so it`s obvious some things wouldn`t be changed depending on party.

    No matter what may or may not happen regards a hung parliament it may just teach Politicians and Parties a hard lesson.

    The case maybe from now on there are three main parties, the change politicians are afraid of maybe that of Parliament. The banks will continue to rise and fall with or without Parliament.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Carl.H: The issue isn’t whether politicians could work together (and the working together would not necesarily be driven by putting the interests of the country first – insofar as that can be determined) but rather that they would produce a hotch-potch of policies which have not been put before the electorate and on which the electorate are not likely to be able to pass judgment at the next election if, as is likely, the parties to the coalition stand as separate parties. The experience of the Lib-Lab Pact points to the problems. The hotch-potch of compromises then could hardly be said to have been subject to deep examination.

      • Carl.H says:

        Lord Norton what is put before the electorate is very little before an election and is always a hotch potch as there will always be parts you agree and parts you don`t. With low turn outs as they are one could accept that the actual majority (those not voting at all being more than any winning vote) have passed judgement and that is that none are worthy.

        As I stated the difficulties would be in Parliament more than outside.

        Regards any hotch potch of compromises I see little complaint from the parties with regard the wash-up.

      • Lord Norton says:

        Carl.H: The important point is that it is put before the electorate. In the wash-up, the government is usually trying to save outputs from its programme, though I do not see the wash-up continuing in its present form. It seems to have emerged without anyone really taking on board the implications for Parliament.

      • Carl.H says:

        Generalisations are put to the electorate at this time which is why a lot of the swing voters will base their opinion on previous Governments. Part of the reason why Dave hasn`t got a good poll lead.

        One of my main concerns is that I do not want an elected Lords,which party can give me that promise ? The issue is far more important than the general public realise. Should I not vote ?

        Regards a hung parliament is it not always parliament screaming at Unions and Management that compromises should be forthcoming ? Everyone else has to manage it why not Government ? Every marriage/relationship deals with argument and compromise on a daily basis if you are committed to the product of the relationship/Country then surely compromise is sought. Compromise after all should be what the Lords and Parliament is about. After all you in the Lords may not agree with Government so seek amendments and send bills back.

        Is parliament so worried about proper debate on an equal footing ?

  3. Dear Lord Norton,

    If they were a hung Parliament there would certainly be a new type of politics – and a worse type than the current type of politics. Certainly it will be a form of politics that won’t see any power pass to ‘the people’ which is what all the main parties supposedly want to see happen but will see all power concentrated in the hands of national politicians to make or break governments which I thought was the job of the electorate.

    Wannabe Expat.

  4. Dave H says:

    While I’d like to agree with Carl, I don’t think British political parties are capable of working together, there would most likely be too many demands from smaller parties that larger ones couldn’t accept. If they were forced to make it work then compromise would come into play, but I think we’re in for a bumpy ride while they learn.

    I’d prefer a single party with an overall majority, but make it small, no more than ten so they can’t be too outrageous. Sadly, I have lost a lot of faith in the system – it’s corrupt and I don’t see any of the main party leaders as capable of enacting necessary reforms because there are too many vested interests that would stand to lose from a proper shake-up.

  5. maldencapell says:

    I don’t think hung parliaments are bad per se. I think majority governments – coalition majorities governments in particular – are more harmful than single party minority governments.

  6. FinnishCowl says:

    I have to say that I do not think much good is likely to come from a hung parliament. The only thing I think politicians would learn is exactly how fast they can trigger another general election.

    I agree with Lord Norton and The Times that the timing is the real problem. The economy does not have the time or the stability to wait for politicians to figure it out (I have a sneaking suspicion that the pound is going to drop significantly over the next few days as a result of the speculation). I think that any majority government would be better than rushing around trying to reconcile two (or more) irreconcilable plans for recovery. The result will either be a poorly designed (and probably conflicted) plan or an unworkable coalition. In either case, nobody wins.

  7. Senex says:

    LN: A Justice Committee session on 24 Feb 2010 touched on this.

    Academic viewpoints on a Hung Parliament: 0:50:30

    There was various expert testimony, and in no particular order, that of Professor Vernon Bogdanor, Professor of Government, Oxford University, Professor Robert Hazell, Director, Constitutional Unit, UCL and Mr Peter Ridell, Senior Fellow, Institute of Government.

    The testimony in of itself is noteworthy however the body language of some members of the committee and at times their guests is something that cannot be conveyed by the written word.

  8. Senex says:

    CK: “On the plus side it would, hopefully, kill off calls for electoral reform”

    One of the opportunities afforded by electoral reform would be a chance to address the issue of any party having less than 50% of the vote forming a government. LN wants to maintain the status quo on an FPtP system regardless and I would hardly call the Tories reforming in this respect.

    Whilst electoral reform might make governments more representative of those that participate in democracy no Parliamentary committee to my knowledge has taken evidence on the implications of voter fatigue and a turnout of less than 50%.

    LN’s view is that it can never happen in the UK. I hope he is right but he must take into account public perception of Parliament and the case for a hung Parliament is an example in point.

    In February both Royal and Government private secretaries were busy drafting a chapter to the cabinet manual to address the issues of a hung Parliament. Its hardly reassuring to the public that the establishment is making it up as it goes along. So why not address the business of low turnout at the same time and have an action plan ready.

    Our problem historically is that popular democracy is new to our Parliamentary way of life but Parliament and the Monarchy still behave as though it was a closed shop were mistakes and shortcomings can be hidden away.

    The other aspect of popular democracy is the continual recycling of the same people used to form governments. If it was a faulty appliance in the home we would through it out, instead we find ourselves recycling the same politicians over and over at each general election. This is the cause of voter fatigue and it is an Achilles heel of popular democracy.

    For centuries and for some mysterious miraculous reason our political way of live has survived the traumas that destroyed continental political systems and the answer must have something to do with just how stable our political system is. We must work hard to maintain this and its not going to happen by the establishment pretending certain things are never going to happen.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Senex: I didn’t say we couldn’t have a situation where less than 50% of those registered turned out to vote. If you want to avoid the same people being in government, the thing you need to avoid is a system of proportional representation.

  9. Carl.H says:

    In 1900 the population of the UK was 38 Million.

    The total number of votes cast that year 3.5 million.

    In 1918 10.5 Milli0n votes were cast (All adult men and some women allowed)

    In 1923 14 million

    In 1974(Feb) 31 million

    In 2005 27 Million

    It is a relatively new phenomenom that is partly due to voting regulations that Government is voted in on anything like 40% see bottom of page for various dated election stats….,_October_1974

    Most late 20th century Governments have been empowered on 40% of voting publics votes. Since it`s been almost from mid century when an 80% turnout occured one could say that all Governments were formed by a minority vote .

    See here for turnouts

    • Lord Norton says:

      Carl.H: The last time a government was elected with more than 50% of the votes cast was in 1935. I doubt if that will change under any electoral system. A post-election coalition will not produce a government with majority support among the electorate, since no one will have voted definitively for it. PR systems are not ways of producing governments with majority electoral support; they are ways usually of manipulating a majority in the legislature, but that is not the same thing.

      • Carl.H says:

        “I doubt if that will change under any electoral system.”

        Absolutely. I was trying to get the point over to Senex.

        “they are ways usually of manipulating a majority in the legislature”

        Again I agree entirely.

      • Lord Norton says:

        Carl.H: Great minds….

  10. The Duke of Waltham says:

    Well, irrespective of whether the current political situation engenders apathy within the electorate, I believe that the most potent factor at play is the distance between modern society and the struggles to give the vote to more people; free and open elections are simply taken for granted, so people just don’t care as much as they once did. It seems to me that the only way to raise participation above such levels that might spark discussions on a Government’s legitimacy would be to somehow make the people feel that their right to choose their representatives is threatened. Idea: if less than 40% of a constituency’s registered voters turn up at the polling centres, leave the seat vacant. I’m sure it would send participation through the roof (and would certainly work better than making voting compulsory, a measure much more likely to backfire). Whatever one says about Westminster politics in general, I doubt one would risk being left with no MP and no say in who becomes Prime Minister, and the more-involved voters would take action to persuade their fellow constituents to vote. Just seeing such a vacant seat would act as a regular reminder to voters all over the UK to take politics more seriously, with whatever (hopefully positive) effects that would have.

    Regarding electoral reform, I am against proportional representation, for reasons that have already been stated above.

    • Carl.H says:

      DoW it wouldn`t work I`m afraid, the apathy would still persist.

      To get numbers a lot higher one would need a really awful Government, yes worse than GB`s. The issues on the table at present are not threatening enough to induce more participation.

      Of course there are ways to induce : A voting stamp on passport being necessary for foreign travel. Voting stamps being necessary for benefits.

      Sounds a bit fascist doesn`t it. The Ministry for Voting !

      There were many people who lived quite happily under Saddam Hussein, Stalin and the like. Some people just want to live their lives and are unconcerned with bureaucracy, infact shy away from the whole deal.

      You can lead a horse to water………

      • The Duke of Waltham says:

        I am not saying that my proposal would be a substitute of making efforts to re-establish trust in the political system. But if the downward voting trends continue, it might at least help the situation.

        Compulsory voting would not sit well with the public, especially a public tired of politicians; it would actually provoke reactionary movements against voting, which is the last thing we need. Worse, it would encourage casual rather than well-thought-out voting, and we might see a dangerous rise in fringe parties. I’d rather have people decide on their own that they need to pay attention to politics and consider their options. An energised and involved electorate would hopefully result in more independent candidates as well.

  11. ladytizzy says:

    The main differences between the parties can be seen in how they would handle our economy, which happens to be the top subject of concern for the electorate. Since financial decisions affect all gvt departments and that (currently) there is no clear-cut candidate for any of the top jobs it is difficult to see how and where a lasting consensus can be achieved.

    Certainly, the financial markets are showing their concern with gilts already down because of the debt. These will drop futher, as will sterling, as will the stock market, creating futher debt and so on and so forth.

    My memories of the swing from Wilson to Heath and back again until both were humanely put down have led me to prefer a strong leader with a stonking majority. I am not as concerned with which party is in power as I am with the prospect of what would inevitably be a disasterous hung parliament.

    I’m still trying to come to terms that this necessarily means I would prefer Gordon Brown to a coalition. Leave me in my grief.

    • Carl.H says:

      The main concern for the electorate is who I can vote for that would make me better off or at least not worse. And who is going to stop all this red tape form filling and all this PC nonesense.

      Ahh the financial markets of guilts and stirling, why just this morning there was nothing else spoken of in the school playground ! lol

      Lend us a few quid Ladytizzy preferably before you utter more than your last para which I`m afraid you may choke on.

      • ladytizzy says:

        My advice to you, young man, is not to borrow more than you can chew off.

      • Carl.H says:

        I was rather astounded by this

        “My memories of the swing from Wilson to Heath “.

        But so many nowadays have past life memories ! Which of course is what it must be in Ladytizzy`s case.

      • ladytizzy says:

        I’m playing mindgames with Frank; he thinks he knows who I am.

      • Carl.H says:

        I worry about people that talk to Frank ! I`ve heard the ads you know.

        Can`t believe I wrote guilts….Freudian slip….Where are those chocolates ?

  12. ladytizzy says:

    Thinking about your link to The Times, Lord Norton, followed by a part quote, it would be helpful to me, at least, if you would bear in mind that I have no intention whatsoever to pay for an online newspaper.

    This link may only be good intil 1 June, or until the proprietor gives up.

  13. Senex says:

    CN, LN: The important thing is to maintain political stability and all that I said was that electoral reform would afford an opportunity to increase registered voter turnout but I agree with you both that PR would increase voter apathy. But is it a price worth paying? Would you rather have apathy or violent anarchical revolution on the streets?

    The word LN does not like is Consociationalism; this has been the healer in Northern Island. Should we start travelling towards this by adopting some form of PR or will we first have to endure the hurt before it happens?

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