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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Gordon Brown should be given first chance to govern in a hung Parliament

As a hung Parliament appears more and more likely in the UK election, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party have been a bit shy about saying what sort of deal they will make. The Labour Party has indicated that they are interested in working with the Lib-Dems, but the Lib-Dem leader, Nick Clegg, is not going to reveal his strategy until his hand is dealt. The outcome of the election, popular vote and seat distribution, is still very much up in the air. Really, the Conservatives and the Lib-Dems are wise to refuse to speculate.

One issue that I have with Nick Clegg’s current position on a hung Parliament is his assertion that Gordon Brown should not be allowed an opportunity to make a deal before he is removed from office:

Senior civil servants have made it clear that, in the event of a hung parliament, Mr Brown would remain as Prime Minister, even if he did not have the most seats, and would be given time to try to stitch a deal together. 

The Lib Dem leader said: “It would be preposterous for Gordon Brown to end up like some squatter in No 10 because of some constitutional nicety.”

It is not just a constitutional nicety. Like most of the British unwritten constitutional rules, there is a sound practical reason for giving the current Prime Minister a chance to govern.

Consider what happened in Belgium in 2007. The various political parties could not bridge regional or ideological differences to create a coalition government. The result was that the Belgium state did not have a government for more than a year. Now this may sound awesome to a libertarian, but really what it meant was that civil servants, not elected politicians, were forced to make the policy decisions that could not be put off.

The UK system has a built in method to avoiding this problem. The fact that Mr. Clegg bashes this method reflexively shows a certain shallowness in his political philosophy. Mr. Clegg is making his name by calling for democratic reform, but reform for reform sake is not a good thing. Any reformer must be prepared to acknowledge and defend what is good about an institution as they struggle to change what is bad.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on April 21, 2010 in International Politics | Permalink


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