Friday, May 14, 2010...8:30 am

Betrayal and coalition government

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Much furore on last night’s Question Time about the nascent coalition government – the LibDems “betrayed” their voters by jumping into bed with the ghastly Conservatives.

And now the country is being run by a party that was opposed by 74% of the electorate. It’s all so sordid and unprincipled. The politicians just did a deal to get power!

Or, to look at it another way, the government is made up of MPs from parties voted for by 17.5 million voters – or 59.1% of the electorate.

Let’s have a look at the votes gained in some past results.

  • 1906: Liberal landslide – 49.4%
  • 1931: Conservative landslide (but National Government) – 55%
  • 1945: Labour Landslide – 48%
  • 1966: Labour landslide – 48%
  • 1983: Conservative landslide – 42.3%
  • 1997: Labour landslide – 43.2%

According to the marvellous (and accurate enough) Wikipedia: 1931 was “the last election, and the only one under universal suffrage, where one party (the Conservatives) received an absolute majority of the votes cast”.

More people have had their democratic inclinations represented in the current government than in any single party majority government in the past century. So why are so many people so cross?

I think this is because many people don’t really understand the nature of our democracy. We don’t vote for a prime minister (take note, BBC political editor Nick Robinson), nor do we vote for political parties (no,really, technically, we don’t).

Actually, we vote for individuals (with party affiliations) to represent us in parliament. And given that we ought to have some sort of government after all that election business, it seems not unreasonable to expect them to come to some sort of arrangement to allow that to happen.

As for the accusations that the politicians just did a deal to get power – what on earth does everyone expect? Of course they did. They stand in elections in order to get power. That’s the point of elections. It’s what you have to do to actually, you know, form a government.

(DISCLAIMER: I’d quite like the government to do less running the country and more leaving us all alone to get on with things, but that’s just me.)

Also, people don’t have much of a sense of history. Our current experience of majority government followed by majority government time after time is relatively new. Look back before the Second World War and you see coalition governments and weak minority governments stretching back to Victorian times – in fact, to the start of our modern electoral system.

Frankly, if anyone gets that upset about the muddy compromise that is happening now in UK politics, I think they need to go and make a nice cup of tea and have a sit down. In the end, once you get past the tribalism, governments are much of a muchness. We’ll probably survive all the horrific betrayal of principles – until the next time.

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