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Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Hung Parliament - More Pressure?

Many people would like to have rolled out the tumbrils for the UK Parliament in the past year, but a 'hung' Parliament is of course something quite different. And 38 Degrees is rightly running a poll to see if people want to hear more about the pro's instead of being heckled by The Sun and other mainstream media about the con's. I've said that I do.

Esentially, a hung parliament exists where no political party has a majority of seats. So either several parties agree a coalition and form a majority government, or a single party must form a minority government and horse-trade with the others on key issues. If neither works on critical issues, like budget approval, there would need to be another election.

The BBC has tried to explain it, but gets mired in speculation about numbers. A short Wikipedia entry has just been created. It links to the BBC explanation and a Q&A by the Institute for Government, an apparently politically neutral think-tank, which is also concerned about the unduly negative portrayal of hung parliaments in the media:
This has been reported quite negatively and has generated predictions that unstable and ineffective government would be the result.

However, as argued in 'Making Minority Government Work' by the Institute for Government and Constitution Unit, this need not be the case. Indeed, minority or coalition government can even have advantages, though ministers, the opposition, the civil service and the media would all have to adapt their behaviour to make it work.
This sounds promising. Basically, all politicians would have to behave much more reasonably and responsibly to try and forge consensus, and the media would have to refrain from senselessly branding the process as unstable and chaotic. After all, the democratic process should be messy rather than engineered from the top down in a nice orderly fashion. A dynamic, open system which encourages broad engagement by all stakeholders cannot realistically appear neat and linear.

I suspect that the biggest driver of the negative airplay - particularly at The Sun - is that Gordon Brown would remain PM, and would be the first to be invited to try and form a government. Given his record for clinging desperately to power to date, one does wonder whether we'd ever be rid of him.

However, while the fear and loathing of Swinegate has exposed Parliament to more public scrutiny and produced a little more accountability, it seems we have a long way to go in educating the politicians that citizens come first. And a hung Parliament seems a great way of keeping the pressure on.

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