Tuesday 15 January 2013

Counting The Votes And The Costs

When Cameron and the Coalition decided to fix Parliamentary terms at five years, did they have any regard at all for the longer sweep of history in the UK?  Since the beginning of the 18th Century through to the present there have been many times in the past when politics went into spasm and governments into paralysis.

The way out of this was to call a general election.  This was not always successful if the political breakdown was deep seated and persistent.  But there were times when the politicians, faced with a possible election, came to some sort of agreement or compromise.

In the deeper past coalitions, sometimes of unlikely partners, might occur and there were often movements of interest and support to contend with.  The 1920’s and 1930’s was a time of shifting ground and uncertainty.  This had the effect then of giving authority to the relatively recent professional civil service and Bank of England. 

After 1945 this changed and until 2010 there was no formal coalition of parties.  There was a period between 1974 and 1979 when not only did the Labour government go full term, but it relied on Liberal votes to keep it going before going down to defeat.  The problems in the Liberal Party in that period did not allow them to claim much power.

The conventional thought was that a system that delivered majority governments was necessarily good because it meant more stability and enabled politicians to exert some sort of democratic control. 

This was not necessarily the case in that both the majority parties had elements within them that occasioned strife and uncertainty.  Also, in the 1950 to 2010 period a surprising number of governments did not go full term between elections for a variety of reasons. 

One was that to go full term allowed too much scope for rebels or awkward squads in the parties.  Another was that it left too much to chance and untoward events.  Also, governments might begin to run out of steam.  Whatever the particular reasons it was reckoned that to decide the election date gave advantage to the ruling party.

What has been forgotten is that coalitions and fixed terms of office do not go together.  The ability to go to the electorate at any time has always been a useful corrective and safeguard for a government faced with a chaotic or impossible situation. 

In the USA and other places the endless squabbling, brinkmanship and wheeler dealing arising from the electoral systems may be a useful exercise in democracy at some times, but in crises or periods of real difficulty can be a handicap and an invitation to flawed decisions.  At least the USA system with rolling elections offers more opportunities for choice.

At present we are told that we have a Coalition government now beginning to disagree and dispute about more issues than it is in agreement with.  There is a Liberal Democrat Party that is neither Liberal nor democratic, actively blocking changes needed to readjust the electoral system to be more representative.

We are told by a former insider that the Government only deals with thirty per cent of its business the rest being left to rubber stamping European legislation etc. and to “updating” by a civil service that is not professional but interlocked with the lobby groups and other outside spheres of management.

There are all the signs that the Cameron government could soon go into a phase of stasis with no way out.  That the campaign for the next election has begun is not in doubt.  Only instead of perhaps the electorate making its choices within months we are stuck to 2015.  Worse, if that election does not resolve issues we are then still stuck until 2020.

So with a government that controls only thirty per cent of its current business and unable to make effective decisions in that sphere, it is an open invitation for all the either irresponsible or worse dogmatic destructive elements to make mischief.  Given the vulnerability of the UK at present this is very dangerous.

Another worry is that apparently the Labour Party is targeting one hundred seats in the House of Commons for priority attention.  A report suggests that the Conservative Party has a list of forty key seats.  So what about the other five hundred plus and their interests?

For either party to assume that in these the existing incumbents or their ordinary replacements are safe may not be wise in the event of further falls in the number of voters with perhaps a drift to activist extremes. 

Even so, the implication is that neither of the two major parties will attend to the actual full basis of their traditional support or their wishes.  This could mean that the next election will be fought to buy the votes of select minority interests who could swing the key seats.

Given the likely economic and political problems developing in the next couple of years we may then have both before and after the next elections governments that are in no way democratic, that do not really govern, simply applying political cosmetics to the flow of events, are locked into systems beyond their control and rely on a management cult civil service and agencies that simply go their own way.

And it all depends on being able to recycle the growing debt.  Tony Blair, it is said, has opened a market trading desk in his Mayfair offices.  Does he, I wonder, see the UK as a major sell option to boost his fortunes?

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