Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Frantic over nothing

Over in the UK, the media, the politicians, and the public service are frantic over something we in New Zealand take for granted: the prospect of a hung Parliament. The next election may see no party holding an outright majority, leading to uncertainty about who will form the next government. And this could lead to a constitutional crisis, a run on the pound, The End Of The World As We Know It.

Bullshit. As we've seen in 15 years of proportional representation in New Zealand, it leads to none of those things. We haven't elected a government with an outright majority since the introduction of MMP. But then, we have a well-developed caretaker convention which is activated every election, and we spent some time developing conventions around government appointment which remove the uncertainty from the process (short version: public statements by party leaders determine confidence. If none happen, then Parliament sits and votes on it, and the chips fall where they may. But we've never got to that stage yet, because its always been clear enough who had the confidence of the House). The UK doesn't (hence the running around like headless chickens). The "Mother of Parliaments" is so used to autocratic rule that its institutions can't handle the alternative. Another example of how their democratic cloak is more than a little threadbare.

As for that alternative - and the cooperation, consultation, and policy moderation it brings - it probably looks exactly like TEOTWAWKI to FPP-politicians champing at the bit for their turn at absolute power. But the people of the UK seem quite keen on it. Which raises the question: why doesn't Parliament give them what they want, a fair electoral system producing a hung parliament and coalition or minority government as the norm rather than the exception? Or would that be too democratic for the UK's tastes?