No-one, least of all me, is saying the election was good for Labour. The result appears to reflect the genuine uncertaintity of the British people – no clear majority and no clear winner, even under our unfair first past the post voting system. The 2010 election will, I hope, put paid for ever to the myth that first past the post produces “strong” government, ie one party as the clear winner.
Hung parliaments are not as rare as we may think. There were five during the twentieth century, the last of which occurred after the February 1974 general election. A student political activist at the time, I remember it very well, as I am sure does Lib Dem MP and current negotiator Chris Huhne, who was a member of the Oxford University Labour Club at the same time as me.
The election of February 1974, conducted against a backdrop of industrial strife and a three-day working week, took place in special circumstances very different from today’s economic problems
If there are any lessons to be learnt from that time, the Lib Dems would do well to remember that the then Liberal Leader Jeremy Thorpe stuck to his guns on electoral reform, the issue which caused his talks with the incumbent Tory Prime Minister, Edward Heath, to collapse.
Labour leader Harold Wilson, who had been Prime Minister between 1964 and 1970, was then invited to form a minority government by the Queen. The next few months saw a difficult and unstable “Lib-Lab” pact until a further general election was held in October 1974, resulting in a single figure majority for Harold Wilson.
If this shows anything, it’s that minority governments or governments with small majorities are bad news. To use the current parlance, I would say that because of their instability, in the national interest minority or small majority administrations should be avoided at virtually any cost, especially at a time of economic downturn when grasping financial markets can create extreme havoc.
For the record, Britain’s first hung parliament in the 20th century was in January 1910 when the Liberal Party were elected under Prime Minister Herbert Asquith and governed as a minority. The party sought a bigger mandate at the polls in December that year but failed to gain a significantly different number of MPs. They then governed as a minority with the support of the Labour Party and Irish Nationalists until 1915 when Prime Minister Herbert Asquith formed a wartime coalition.
In the general election of 1923, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin’s Conservatives had more seats than the Labour Party in a hung parliament but stepped aside for Labour Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald. Baldwin’s tactics were rewarded when they were returned to power in a landslide victory less than a year later in 1924.
Later that decade in 1929, the minority Labour Government, again led by MacDonald was supported by the Liberals. However, in part because of the Great Depression, Prime Minister MacDonald formed a coalition government including Conservatives, some Liberals and a small number from his own party. This ”National” government went on to win the 1931 and 1935 elections.
While not created as a result of a hung parliament, our most famous coalition was formed by Winston Churchill to bring all political interests together during the Second World War. As a matter of interest, there was also a second coalition government during World War One put together by Lloyd George. It continued until 1922, having been re-elected in the general election of 1918.
Congratulations to Labour in London
To return to the present day, Labour in London can take some heart from the results in the capital. The parliamentary results showed only a 2.5% swing away from Labour to the Tories while it was 5% across the UK as a whole.
Congratulations to our 37 Labour MPs:
Margaret Hodge Barking
Rushkarna Ali Bethnal Green and Bow
Harriet Harman Camberwell and Peckham
Malcolm Wicks Croydon North
Jon Cruddas Dagenham and Rainham
Tessa Jowell Dulwich and West Norwood
Stephen Pound Ealing North
Virendra Sharma Ealing Southall
Stephen Timms East Ham
Andy Love Edmonton
Clive Efford Eltham
Teresa Pearce Erith and Thamesmead
Alan Keen Feltham and Heston
Nick Raynsford Greenwich and Woolwich
Diane Abbott Hackney North and Stoke Newington
Meg Hillier Hackney South and Shoreditch
Andy Slaughter Hammersmith
Glenda Jackson Hampstead and Kilburn
Gareth Thomas Harrow West
John McDonnell Hays and Harlington
Frank Dobson Holborn and St Pancras
Mike Gapes Ilford South
Jeremy Corbyn Islington North
Emily Thornberry Islington South and Finsbury
Joan Ruddock Lewisham Deptford
Heidi Alexander Lewisham East
Jim Dowd Lewisham West and Penge
John Cryer Leyton and Wanstead
Siobhain McDonoag Mitcham and Morder
Jim Fitzpatrick Poplar and Limehouse
Chuka Umunna Streatham
Sadiq Khan Tooting
David Lammy Tottenham
Kate Hoey Vauxhall
Stella Creasy Walthamstow
Lyn Brown West Ham
Karen Buck Westminster North
Congratulations also to all Labour Party councillors and members who worked so hard in the London Borough elections. The results were excellent. Labour now holds 16 London Borough Councils:
Barking – all 12 previous BNP councillors were defeated. Labour now holds all the Council seats
Brent – Labour gain from Conservatives
Camden – Labour gain from no overall control (NOC)
Ealing – Labour gain from Conservatives
Enfield – Labour gain from Conservatives
Harrow – Labour gain from Conservatives
Hounslow – Labour gain from NOC
Islington – Labour gain from NOC
Waltham Forest – Labour gain from NOC