(A guest blog from ifF colleague Toby Eliot – with few editorial tweaks…)
In the run up to this year’s general election I’m hearing, with increasing frequency, the message that, at all costs, we must avoid the chaos of coalition. On the face of it that sounds sensible but my growing frustration is the assumption that certain electoral results would lead to chaos. Surely those elected should get on with delivering consensus government?
I watched the Sunday Politics on BBC1 this week (something I normally try not to do) and the ‘avoid chaos’ message came across in two different debates.
In the local section of the programme a parliamentary candidate from a mainstream party responded to a question about more independents being a good thing by saying that unless you had recognised groups, at all levels of government, to pass budgets you’d get chaos.
Then in the final discussion about the possible results of the general election all three commentators predicted a hung parliament and two suggested that a re-run election in the following 12 months was likely. The message is clear. Avoid the chaos by voting for recognised groups – unsurprisingly the view these parties are promoting.
Here’s my beef with the argument. Firstly, my experience of working with a group of independents in Frome has been that we can make decisions because we discuss compromise and agree to disagree. We don’t need a party manifesto, leader or shared ideology to bind us into a way of thinking. Why shouldn’t all forms of government work in that way?
Secondly, what is it that would cause the chaos? What is it that would stop our elected representatives from listening to the arguments of others and reaching consensus or compromise? If you’ve watched any of Inside the Commons on BBC Two you will have seen individuals from different parties cooperating across a range of issues. So in the event of a hung parliament, or a no overall control council, why couldn’t these people behave like we all do in our family and professional lives and work with, rather than against, each other? It’s only the parties – that exist to acquire power – that demand they can’t make it work.
In other words, the parties are telling us that chaos is a bad thing but without the parties the chaos doesn’t exist!
Finally, a re-run of the election? That’s pathetic. We’re asked to vote for individuals, most of whom belong to political parties, within the constraints of our slightly backwards electoral system. Our collective decision returns a group of individuals elected to parliament. It’s their job to sort out how that works. They have no mandate to come back to us and say ‘we don’t like your decision, make a different one.’