Political Promise

Clegg’s Catch 22

In Matthew Wheavil on May 9, 2010 at 9:09 pm

The House of Commons has been hung out to dry.  Perhaps you’re reading this full of anger and dismay at the situation – our nation has no leader, our country and currency is doomed. Or maybe you’re a little more like Ian Hislop or myself. You feel like dancing and that this is exactly what the people wanted i.e. none of the above.

The fact is, this British election result is one of the most democratically sound outcomes for decades. Even with Clegg-Mania, the political academic in me still predicted a commanding Cameron victory or even a Conservative landslide. But the result… is just about exactly what I hoped for.

The British electorate has proved everyone wrong and should be immensely proud. Go on, whoever you voted for, pat yourself on the back. You know deep down, Cameron and Brown were both not what you wanted (especially post expenses) and now you get to sit back and watch them squirm.

On the front of the Newspapers today, the images were tremendously enjoyable. Seriousness of occasion aside, the leaders of the three main parties standing there, faces looking dreadfully unhappy, under a lot of pressure. The public, with no idea what’s going on inside their heads, can be rest assured, a Hung Parliament is an appropriate punishment for all the corruption of the past year.

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But let’s get serious – the people have spoken and performed their democratic duty.  It is now up to the politicians to save Britain.  No more rhetoric, no more airbrushed posters. No more debate squabbling and no more spin doctoring.

They must get their heads down, look at every option and come to a conclusion that provides a precarious Britain with stability. Nothing is predictable right now. Not if you are a journalist, political academic, man in the pub or even God.

The danger is that the spectre of the 1970s will re-emerge; that we will face a weak Government and another immediate election, leaving the country in a wreck.  That was a ridiculous time of division. Not just between the parties but within the parties. Labour could not agree with themselves in 1974-79, never mind with other parties.

There has to be unity this time. Division is one of the most powerfully destructive forces in politics. To use extreme examples: Northern Ireland of the past and the present day Palestine and Israel conflict.

So this leaves Nick Clegg in… believe or not, one of the most unenviable positions in Britain. The weight of pressure on his shoulders to make the right decision and make it quickly is a hefty responsibility.  

Clegg is locked in a catch 22 –What if he goes with the Tories? He might please (most of) the electorate by siding with the party who received the largest share of the vote and the most seats. That seems democratic, doesn’t it? Well yes and no. It probably is the MOST democratic outcome but let’s take a look at the percentage vote for each party here, the cornerstone of any democratic definition.

Conservatives:  36.1% (306 seats) Labour:  29.0% (258 seats) Liberal Democrats:  23.0% (57 seats)

 Now for a Maths lesson (my weakest subject!)

Democratically speaking:

  Tory + Lib Dem = 59.1% of the British people

 Labour + Lib Dem =  52% of the British people

 Alas, both outcomes are on principle eligible to govern – As long as over 50% of the electorate is represented in the Government, then it is completely democratic. (Though the number of seats each party has is a slightly different story and adds further complication!)

But the majority of the media won’t let the public see it that way. There will be uproar in the Sun, Times and a few other newspapers if nice Mr. Clegg says no to Cameron.

In a way, they’ll be right – If Clegg decides to dump Dave and get in to bed with Gordon, he’ll be pleasing 52% of Britain instead of 59.1%

 – Still the majority either way.

But ideologically speaking, the Liberal Democrats are closest to Labour: proportional representation being the most tantalizing carrot.

Self-interest and party ideology come into play here more than anything. Clegg is stuck between two (or even three) choices: Go with the Conservatives, get a Government quickly, save the markets, get his party a couple of cabinet seats but then… leave his party and supporters divided and bitter.

If Nick Clegg decides it’s in his best interest to please Rupert Murdoch, the Media and the Conservative voting public, we could see a Government tomorrow.

Perhaps David Cameron will back down and offer a proportional representation referendum. This is what Cameron should do to provide Government unity and keep the British economy alive.

If Cameron doesn’t make that offer then Clegg has to be brave and firm in his beliefs to leave Tory talks and open dialogue with Labour. He should then attempt to negotiate proportional representation, probably a replacement for Gordon Brown and have another election under a fairer system that will shake the House of Commons up and remove it from its current state of paralysis.

But then… if there is a Lib/Lab coalition, it’s still a minority Government because of the way the seats add up (I’ll hold off on the maths lesson this time!)

Lib/Lab = more seats than Tories alone but not enough to reach a Commons majority. Thus, the ‘others’, such as SNP, Plaid Cymru, DUP and SDLP come into play. The regions of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales would then have a degree of control over Britain.

 They would also have control if Cameron ends up with a minority Government.

 It’s a ridiculous complicated mess isn’t it? Bit of a reflection of the recession and people’s attitudes perhaps.

 If you have got as far as this through the article, well done, give yourself another pat on the back. Now go lie down, have a cup of tea and maybe wait for a week and see what state we’re in then. Again, nothing is predictable.

Matthew Wheavil

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  1. As Nick Robinson predicted last night – we’ll definitely have some development within the next 48 hours.
    With things as vague as that, it’s a good time to find a sunny corner of a field and enjoy the hiatus. Just look on it as an extended count.

  2. A good week to be an anarchist!

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