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Would a hung parliament bring about unity?

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Tim Donovan | 22:03 UK time, Sunday, 2 May 2010

Houses of Parliament. Getty Images
Sunday before the election and thoughts turn, as they do, to a roast dinner and a hung parliament.

The potatoes are peeled but what could come next in parliamentary terms is more difficult to unravel.

One lesson from the last hung parliament in 1974 may be important to remember in terms of the formalities.

Ted Heath and the Conservatives, although they had lost their majority (winning more votes than Labour but gaining fewer seats) constitutionally had the right to try to form a government with support from the Liberals. They couldn't so Harold Wilson stepped up to the plate.

But 1974 is less useful as a guide to 2010 because the prevalent factors are so different.

Conditions today are unique. Who could ever have predicted that one of the worst recessionary crises in modern times would combine with an expenses scandal which shook the foundations of representative government?

As a result many voters go to the polls with not only their bank balance and pay slip in mind, but faith in the process itself and what's in it for them.

This could be potent, though no-one's quite sure how it will reveal itself.

Tired but unavoidable is the mantra of 'time for a change'.

But you increasingly hear at the moment the argument that now is not the time for a change from one set of rulers to another so much as the time for a change in how we're governed.

This may be the real significance of current polls and should naturally be of deep concern to Labour, but surely more so to the Conservatives who - it's so far indicated - have patently not yet won people over and capitalised on what has been a gift of an opportunity.

One argument then gains strength. If the economic prognosis is so grim, and confidence in the body politic so weak, how do people bring about a situation where new approaches are tried?

In short, and putting it at its most dramatic, do emergency conditions demand and require emergency responses? Does a national crisis warrant a government of national unity, of sorts?

The question is whether a coalition government could supply that if the voters could only lay their hands on the magic formula for a hung parliament?

It would be a good time to take stock for a few months, runs the argument. Let's see if it works and sensible tough approaches can be adopted consensually to cut public spending AND raise taxes. And then, of course if necessary, let's have another election.

The Conservatives issue dire warnings about the perils of a hung parliament, the danger of shady deals done behind closed doors, a further disempowerment of the people.

Others say the outcome could be the opposite, not least in this 24-hour news era, where every deal and quid pro quo would be analysed to death before the cameras on the green in front of Parliament.

But would government grind to a halt? Or would less hasty, more focused government ensue?

The Conservatives have also warned of the effect of a hung parliament on the financial markets and the likely pressure on the pound?

Others ask whether our brilliant City brains might not take a more profound and textured view of what constitutes firm government.

Incidentally, interesting questions arise about the hedge fund backgrounds of many important Conservative donors and key political figures running things in London now.

What could and would the Conservatives do, for instance, to rein in the speculators at a time of any further financial meltdown?

The links are close, the world small.

The Conservatives' treasurer is Stanley Fink. He's given them tens of thousands of pounds and is the ex-head of one of the world's biggest hedge funds, the Man group.

His predecessor at the Man group is Harvey McGrath who is currently chairman of the London Development Agency, the mayor's economic arm, which has already made hundreds of thousands of pounds of savings and efficiencies and has recently, for instance, signalled a reduction in the programme which supports childcare subsidies for poorer families in work.

Kit Malthouse, deputy mayor of London, is the finance director of a company that invests the profits made by hedge fund managers.

And one of the firm Alpha's founding shareholders is David Harding - another Tory donor - whose hedge fund Winton Capital recently, according to the Financial Times, made colossal amounts from 'betting' on a fall in the pound.

There will certainly be a lot of 'advice' available to David Cameron and his chancellor George Osborne from the pre-eminent financial players who have made the Conservatives their party of choice.

For lessons in coalitions there's Germany. And much closer to home. As the Politics Show reported today, eight local authorities in London are currently run as coalitions. Those who crave this kind of administration say the world doesn't appear to have caved in.

The question is whether such times - of economic uncertainty and voter disillusionment - require conventional certainty and the unadulterated programme of one party in government.

On present indicators, both Labour and the Conservatives could have the whip-hand on the basis of a mandate as small as 35 percent of, say, the 70 percent (optimistic) of people who vote.

Mind you, on how to get a hung parliament, we can't help.

You're on your own on that one.


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