Saturday, October 07, 2006

Beware of hung parliaments – they may not produce the outcome you expect

A few people appear to be wishing for a hung parliament after the next general election. Clare Short has even declared that she will campaign for one. Not quite sure how such a campaign might be run because it seems to require a good deal of sophisticated co-operation between voters. But one or two people seem to think a hung parliament would lead to a reform of our voting system and thus usher in centuries of bliss.

There have been two hung parliaments in Britain in my lifetime. The first was the result of a general election early in 1974 which was the result of a miners’ strike. The immediate outcome of the election was a curious few days during which prime minister Edward Heath refused to move out of 10 Downing Street whilst he tried to cobble a deal with the Liberals.

In those innocent days it was possible to walk down Downing Street past his front door. There were steps at the St James’s Park end of the street and no gates at the other. I remember walking along it whilst the Old Jolly Sailor was deliberating inside. There was a small good-natured demonstration outside and a few people were wearing huge grotesque Edward Heath heads, yuk.

Eventually he made way for a minority government led by Harold Wilson who quickly called a second election which he won with a tiny majority. This was eroded away by deaths and by-elections and along came the Lib-Lab pact; not a formal coalition but a working arrangement.

Meanwhile the Tories had chucked out Grocer Heath for being too leftwing and selected the Grocer’s daughter to be their new leader. Meanwhile (2) the trades unions gave us the ‘winter of discontent’ at the end of 1978 which did little to endear Labour to the voters.

James Callaghan had taken over as Prime Minister from Harold Wilson (Chancellors of the Exchequer sometimes do you know) but eventually lost a confidence motion in 1979 by a single vote (I remember hearing it read out on the wireless, TV hadn’t then reached inside the Commons). The turkeys voted for Christmas was his explanation, I think he meant the daft Liberals. So we had an election earlier than he would have liked.

And Mrs Thatcher won. So that’s what you get from hung parliaments. Nice eh?


At 11:04, Blogger cassilis said...

Clare Short's lunacy aside I'm not sure there is any genuine appetite for a hung parliament - feels to me more like a tactical device employed by those on the right of the Labour movement to counter any suggestions that the party move to the left.

In essence they probably understand the picture you paint which is precisely why they're talking it up - not to bring it about but to avoid it.

At 13:00, Blogger skipper said...

Chances are Dave would lead the biggest party after the next election, sit tight for a while without a formal coalition- Lib Dems wouldn't agree one anyway- and then call another election to garner a working majority.

At 10:19, Blogger Hughes Views said...

Cassilis - I'm sure you're correct - but I do like posting my little anecdotes from the bad old days!

Skipper - if this morning's Telegraph poll were repeated at an election and if the electoral calculus site's method is reliable, the Tories would be '22 seats short of a majority' with 304 to Labs 273 and Libs 40. But two and a half years is an awfully long time in politics ...


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