Following yesterday’s blog which showed that hung parliaments and coalition governments are not the rare species in these islands that so many politicians and commentators seem to believe, the time has now come to move on from academic analysis.
I have been absolutely entranced by the past four days of negotiation. Not being part of any inside track, I have had to make do with the television to which I have been glued, Evostick fashion, since Thursday night. Tearing myself away to come to Brussels yesterday was a real wrench, and I spent the evening in front of the BBC website, the nearest thing I was able to find to rolling UK news.
As I am sure is the case for many friends and colleagues, I have my own hopes and fears for the outcome of this extraordinary process. Obviously I don’t want the Tories anywhere near power. Indeed, if there is anything this election has demonstrated it’s that there are two very clear political philosophies in Britain, one to what we have come to call the right and one to the left, one regressive and backward looking favouring wealth and the other going forward seeking to bring fairness and justice into our lives.
Sadly throughout the last century the progressive side of politics was split Liberal-Labour, Labour-Liberal, Labour-SDP/Liberal and finally Labour-Liberal Democrat. It was this division that allowed Margaret Thatcher to lead the most partisan government since the Second World War which forced record levels of unemployment decimating swathes of industrial Britain. As if this were not enough we saw the introduction of the poll tax, the first flat rate tax since the 18th century not based on ability to pay. There were, of course, many more affronts to natural justice too numerous to list.
We now have the chance to end the right wing hegemony once and for all. Previous Labour governments have self evidently not achieved this. It was not until the Blair years that Labour won three general elections on its own, a rare blip brought about by a popular leader blessed with a strong economy. The 2010 general election was, I fear, a return to business as usual with the forces of progress split as they have been from Lloyd George onwards.
It has always seemed obvious to me that there is one straightforward way to put this right: a proportional voting system which would give political parties seats in the House of Commons reflecting their party’s share of the vote. We should never forget that in 1983 Thatcher received 42.3 per cent of the popular vote as against a combined Labour-SDP/Liberal total of 53 percent. The percentage of the votes in 1987 was uncannily similar – 42 per cent for Thatcher with Labour and the Lib/SDP on 53.5 per cent.
Since the 1980s we have also seen the rise of the nationalist parties plus the odd Green/Independent, another indication that politics is moving away from what used to be viewed as comforting certainties.
Given that Britain now stands at an historic crossroads, I think it would be absolutely criminal, a gross insult to the people of Britain, not to pursue an historic Labour-LibDem coalition with proportional representation at its heart. Labour should go all out to secure an agreement with the Liberal Democrats to give the British people the opportunity to get what they vote for. In this election the votes cast were 36 per cent for the Tories, 29 percent Labour and 23 percent Liberal Democrat, a clear 52 per cent mandate for a Labour-Liberal Democrat progressive alliance.
Working in Europe I perhaps don’t have some of the reservations about coalitions felt by many in the UK. I am also used to negotiation and compromise in the European Parliament. I truly believe it’s a better way to go about business than Britian’s adversarial system. Bring on the new politics.