Britain: a government-free zone?

One puzzle: given all the unhappiness with Gordon Brown, why didn't the Tories score a clear victory?
One puzzle: given all the unhappiness with Gordon Brown, why didn't the Tories score a clear victory?

It is now clear that the British election has produced no decisive result and that there will be a process of haggling to see who gets to run the country.

Even so,a couple of things are clear. One is that the Liberal-Democrat surge did not happen. They made a modest increase in their overall proportion of the national vote, up from 22 percent to 23, but they lost five seats, being left with 57 out of the total of 650. The televisual appeal of Nick Clegg did not translate into votes, and all the commentators who rushed to say that the TV debates and the rise of the Lib-Dems would revolutionize British politics have got some explaining to do.

Secondly, yesterday was not a good day for the 'ꀜFringe'ꀝ parties. The extreme right British National Party gets no seats: they did increase their share of the vote but it is still under 2 percent. The UK Independence party, dedicated to withdrawing Britain from the European Union gets no seats and 3 percent of the vote. The Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties made no significant gains.

Those who predicted that the era of two-party politics in Britain is over may well turn out to be wrong. The horse-trading now in progress between the Labour and Lib-Dem parties may possibly lead to a referendum on whether the country should change to a system of proportional representation which would give minority parties much more power. But even if it does, I would not be at all sure that the population will vote for it.

But neither of the two big parties has done particularly well. Gordon Brown'ꀙs Labour has lost over 90 seats and its share of the vote has fallen to under 30 percent. Cameron'ꀙs Conservatives have of course made large gains but they remain a minority party. In the circumstances — serious economic difficulties, a long period of Labour rule, and serious public dissatisfaction with Brown — they should have done better. It may be the absence of well-known and experienced senior figures in their party that has gone against them, and also some lack of clarity and conviction in their policy stance — in the modern jargon, lack of a clear 'ꀜnarrative.'ꀝ

There is some parallel with 1974, when the conservatives led by Edward Heath lost their majority, and Heath instead of resigning spent a few days after the election trying to woo the Liberal Party to form a coalition with him, just as Brown now seems to be doing. It did not end well for Heath, a figure like Brown who was good on policy but lacking touch with the public.

The one different factor now is that there is a closer policy affinity between the Labour Party and the Lib/Dems, a center-left party, than there is between them and the Conservatives who are to the right of center. But it is hard to see that the populace as a whole would think well of the Labour party for hanging on to power after losing so much support, or of the Lib-Dems for keeping them in power.

All in all, however it ends in the short term, this is not a good outcome for Britain, which needs a government with a clear and reasonably secure mandate. The fall of sterling and British Government bonds this morning tells its own tale.


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