A hung parliament will not be a danger to Britain

Neil Clark: The Tory media are scaremongering – a coalition could be just what Britain needs

BY Neil Clark LAST UPDATED AT 18:51 ON Wed 5 May 2010

It'll be the end of the world as we know it. Britain will be plunged into severe economic crisis. There'll be a run on the pound and we will suffer the same ignominious fate as Greece.

So go the dire warnings propagated by the Tory media of what will happen if Britain's voters fail to fulfill their patriotic duty and give David Cameron an overall majority in Thursday's general election.

But like other right-wing tactics down the years, it's a claim that doesn’t bear close scrutiny. The notorious 1924 'Zinoviev letter', threatening Communist agitation, turned out to be a forgery. The warnings in 1983 that a nuclear-disarmed Britain would leave us defenceless against a Soviet invasion, and the Sun’s front-page headline in 1992 - "If Kinnock wins today, will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights" - were scaremongering ploys of the lowest order.

Far from being a national disaster, there's a strong case for arguing that a hung parliament - which on the eve of the election is an odds-on bet at some bookmakers - would actually be very good news for Britain. Let's take a look at the historical precedents.
 
It's simply not true to say that the last time we had a minority government propped up by the Liberals - in the 1970s - it was an abject failure which led to 'paralysis', as Dominic Sandbrook maintains in Wednesday's Daily Mail.

The 1977/8 Lib-Lab pact, which sustained James Callaghan's Labour administration in power, was in fact extraordinarily successful: during that time both inflation and unemployment fell and the general economic outlook improved considerably.

And what on earth was wrong with Britain's wartime coalition governments? Did they lead to weakness and instability? Those who argue that 'strong' single-party governments always out-perform 'weak' coalitions really ought to get out more - at least across the English Channel.

Can anyone seriously maintain that Britain, with its 'strong' governments over the past 30 years, has been better governed than the likes of Germany, Austria and The Netherlands, where coalitions have been the norm? The Cameron-backing press conveniently neglects to mention that the Hellenic Republic doesn't have a 'weak' coalition ruling the country, but a supposedly 'strong' one-party government.
 
As I argued in The First Post last week, a hung parliament, with the Liberal Democrats holding the balance of power, would mean a greater chance of a change in our antiquated and undemocratic electoral system, which in turn would reinvigorate our entire political system.

Not only that, it would also act as a break on political extremism. While David Cameron likes to present himself as a Macmillanite 'One Nation' Tory, with his repeated calls for a 'Big Society', the fact is that hardcore Thatcherite ideology, given a 'progressive' gloss with a dose of social liberalism, remains at the heart of his party's programme.

A majority Conservative government is likely to press ahead for the 100 per cent privatisation of the Royal Mail, in state hands since 1516, as well as cutting inheritance tax for Britain's 3,000 richest families and slashing corporation tax to 25 per cent.

In foreign policy, the Conservatives, due to the influence of the party's strong neo-con faction, headed by probable Defence Secretary Liam Fox, are likely to adopt an even more hawkish stance on Iran than the present government, with a very real danger that Britain could become involved in a potentially calamitous military conflict with the Islamic Republic.

But if it turns out the Tories require Lib Dem support to stay in power, they might have to water down their plans to sell off the Royal Mail (Lib Dems advocate a sale of a minority stake), and rule out British involvement in any US-led attack on Iran (as the Lib Dems have done in their manifesto).
 
It's interesting to speculate how different things might have been if instead of winning an overall majority in 2001, Labour had needed Lib Dem parliamentary support. Britain's involvement in the Iraq war would probably have been avoided and we would now be fighting an election with a genuinely democratic voting system. On top of that, we'd also probably have a much fairer tax system - the Lib Dems were already calling for a new 50 per cent top rate of tax nine years ago.

A none-too-subtle cartoon by Mac in Wednesday's Daily Mail shows Britannia walking blindly over a cliff on a route marked 'Hung Parliament'. The route in the other direction, which leads to broad, sunlit uplands, is marked 'Strong Government'.
 
From where I’m standing, the signposts are the wrong way round. ·