Gordon Brown vs. David Cameron: real winner could be a hung parliament
Neither Gordon Brown nor David Cameron is popular with British voters. Elections this spring could result in parliamentary paralysis.
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All were measures aimed at expanding the British voters’ stake in their own political system. But well-intentioned as they were, not one proposed reform made it much further than the drawing board. As fall came, stories of corruption at home gave way to news of electoral chaos in Afghanistan, and the summer’s electric atmosphere fizzled. The constitutional moment, it seemed, had passed.Skip to next paragraph
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For months, it seemed as though the Conservatives would sweep to power simply by merit of “not being Labour.” But a prolonged failure to produce any firm policies has taken its toll – since November, polls have consistently shown David Cameron and his party struggling to garner the 42 percent of public support they would need to form a government. A Guardian/ICM poll released Monday shows the Conservatives drawing 37 percent, Labour with 30 percent, and Liberal Democrats with 20 percent.
As a consequence, Britain is potentially headed for its first hung parliament in over 30 years. Unlike other European democracies, the country’s political system isn’t designed to handle something like this.
The consequences could be dramatic. In a system accustomed to stable, majority government, hung parliaments generally end up both chaotic and short-lived. With parties often unable or unwilling to work toward consensus, political paralysis is a major risk. In an extreme scenario, Parliament could end up being dissolved unilaterally by the Queen.
There are fears that the ensuing period of instability would cause unemployment and national debt to spiral ignored and out of control, sending investors scurrying for the relative safety of the Continent. As one prominent Conservative put it, “a hung parliament would be one of the biggest disasters we could suffer.”
This may be true. But perhaps no less than a disaster is needed. Unlike the scandals of last summer, this will not be a crisis that can be quietly swept under the mat once public attention has moved on. The resultant sense of urgency could finally spur politicians across the political spectrum to recapture that constitutional moment and start work fixing Britain’s broken democracy.
Oliver Lough is a researcher at the New America Foundation.