Voting for a Hung Parliament

Although newspaper headlines towards the end of the 2019 election campaign are predictably partisan, several influential voices have advocated voting for the smaller political parties and moderate candidates – to lead to another hung Parliament.  It is time to think about the future of British politics.

The Monday newspapers are reflecting people’s feelings in a deeply divided country.  The Daily Express headline, Boris: The Last Chance to Save Brexit and Britain, encapsulates the problems.  It highlights the presidential style of this campaign, emphasising Boris Johnson’s charisma (whilst hoping that his well-documented personality flaws will be overlooked).  It also connects to many people for whom Brexit has become integral to their sense of personal identity, in opposition to a liberal elite that they feel has let them down for decades; it is ironical that such people would consider voting for a party which has a cabinet composed of old Etonians and devout believers in free markets.  The headline also appeals to a nationalist determination, in the words of the song, that “Britons never, never, never shall be slaves” – forgetting that ‘collaboration’ is not the same as ‘slavery’.

There is a striking convergence of opinion on the need to rediscover the middle ground in British politics:

  • The Economist leader, Britain’s nightmare before Christmas, supports the Liberal Democrats: “Next week voters face their starkest choice yet, between Boris Johnson, whose Tories promise a hard Brexit, and Jeremy Corbyn, whose Labour Party plans to “rewrite the rules of the economy” along radical socialist lines.”
  • The title of the New Statesman leader, Britain deserves better, is self-explanatory.
  • Sir John Major, a previous Conservative Prime Minister, has “urged people to re-elect” three moderate Conservative MPs who have been expelled from the party: Major urges support for ex-Tory Brexit rebels.
  • Similarly, Tony Blair, a previous Labour Prime Minister, has called on voters to save Britain by supporting moderate MPs.

None of these commentators, though, addresses the difficulty of shifting politics towards a less polarised state.

If Boris Johnson wins an overall majority, the country will immediately leave the EU but would remain in a transitional period for some time.  Numerous contentious issues would have to be resolved, as noted by the Economist, “Get Brexit done”? It’s not as simple as Boris Johnson claims: “next year promises to repeat 2019’s experience of missed deadlines and cliff-edges to no-deal”.  And the polarisation in British politics would be deepened, not resolved.

Anyone wishing to bring the country back together would first need to prevent the Conservative party from winning an overall majority – by tactical voting, for whoever is best placed to defeat the Tory candidate in their constituency.  This might mean voting for Labour in some cases, but there is little risk of Jeremy Corbyn winning an overall majority; Parliament would be able to clip his wings.  More seats for smaller parties would result in proper negotiation.

There are then two options for resolving the impasse presented by another hung Parliament.  Firstly, the two main parties need to reform themselves.  Corbyn’s resignation, having lost many seats, might allow the Labour Party to move back towards the centre-left.  Boris Johnson would be forced to negotiate in a hung Parliament, so would not be able to adopt such a hard Brexit position; his party should try to rediscover its roots in Burkean Stewardship.  As Robert Saunders remarked, in The closing of the conservative mind:

“British Conservatism has broken with three of its most important traditions. It has stopped thinking; it has stopped “conserving”; and it has lost its suspicion of ideology”.

Secondly, it is possible that a confirmatory referendum might be exacted as the price for getting his deal through, as suggested previously on this website: Brexit compromises.

A deeper reform of the system would be to move towards a limited form of proportional representation, which the smaller parties would probably enthusiastically support.  This would lead to coalition governments in future.  Negotiation would be necessary and extremist views would be very unlikely to prevail.

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