Leading article: A hung parliament would not be a disaster for Britain

Such an outcome at the next election could even have potential benefits

Related Topics

The latest opinion polls suggest that a hung parliament is a real possibility after the next election. They also suggest that the public rather likes the idea. According to a recent survey, almost half of voters would like the next government to be required to work with one of the smaller parties to achieve its legislative agenda.

This is an indictment of Labour and the Conservatives. The public evidently does not relish the prospect of outright control for either of the two largest parties, even those who are prepared to vote for them. The finding is also an indictment of our first-past-the-post electoral system. A hung parliament is an outcome that electors cannot directly vote for, despite the fact that it is what many would prefer.

There is a powerful and ingrained prejudice among our political, financial and media elite against hung parliaments; an assumption that a lack of a single party with a commanding majority would be bad for the country. Yet it is by no means clear that such an outcome would be a disaster. It is often said that the financial markets will panic if no single party is returned with an overall majority, pushing up interest rates. The scare story is that the lack of a clear winner would result in political stasis and fiscal incontinence. This is a narrative the Conservatives have been energetically talking up in recent weeks in the hope that voters will be scared back into their camp.

Yet the idea that a hung parliament would lead to economic meltdown is a misleading piece of conventional wisdom and a confirmation of the fact that the financial markets' understanding of Westminster is often rather unsophisticated. One foreign bank suggested recently that a coalition administration involving Ken Clarke, Lord Mandelson and Nick Clegg could be formed to take Britain into the eurozone. This is purest fantasy.

The markets are just as misled if they believe a hung parliament will mean political deadlock on the deficit. The Liberal Democrats have the most detailed proposals for reducing government spending of all the three main parties. The idea that Mr Clegg would wreck any attempts to tackle the deficit as the price of his party's support for a minority government is sheer nonsense.

And even if one believed that investors have a good grasp of the mechanics of British politics and are justified in arguing that fiscal stasis would result from a hung parliament, are financial markets not supposed to be forward looking? Would they not have already "priced in" their fears of what could follow such an election result, both in the interest rate charged on government bonds and the sterling price?

The potential benefits of a hung parliament have scarcely been mentioned in public debate. Yet these are real. A fiscal consolidation budget approved by more than one of the main parties could, paradoxically, enjoy greater public consent. A more consensual political process could result in better governance in a host of areas. One-party rule has hardly been an unalloyed blessing for Britain these past three decades.

There is no shortage of reasons to be concerned about Britain's economic future, from the sustained weakness of our economy, to the health of the banks, to, yes, the inevitable pain that will arise from reducing the deficit. But the prospect of a hung parliament should not be one of them.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture