The crisis and the mandate
As the struggle by the political parties to nudge a lead staggers to a close, the voters appear to have made two significant discoveries. For the first time questioning the voting system has pushed out beyond the confines of the Liberal Democrats and a few others to become a mainstream discussion.
The second discovery is that the socio-economic crisis is as grave as any since the 1920s. Fewer have discovered that whatever they feel now, they are in the front-line of those who will suffer what are the catastrophic consequences of the banker induced collapse of the global financial system.
Great national challenges have always required both the people and their leaders to pull together either formally or informally. An instance of the latter, whether for good or ill, has been the Conservative support for Labour’s decision to go to war in Iraq.
But a more parallel instance was the Second World War waged against the threat from Hitler. We have not required events in Greece to remind us of the scale of what faces the United Kingdom next – the battle with an annually accumulated national overdraft of some £71bn – adding up to a shocking £1.4tr.
The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is quoted in this morning’s FT as saying this of any attempt by the Conservatives to govern without an overwhelming mandate: “I think that’s a recipe for profound political and social tensions. Do they really think they can deliver those difficult changes by just turning up their noses at the result on Thursday and saying they have a right to govern regardless?” he asked.
Perhaps I was a pessimist to describe this year’s contest as a ‘none of the above’ election. Perhaps in reality it is an ‘all of the above’ vote. In other words, after the political classes have been caught at the trough each for him or herself, has the time has come for all to pull together in the interests of all?
Mr Clegg is quoted as wanting six cabinet posts, including that of foreign secretary. In other words – given that he is also NOT apparently making electoral reform a precondition, he believes in the need for a formal, strong coalition, not an informal weak agreement ‘to support’.
With polls suggesting an unprecedented third of voters still undecided, the outcome of this vote is still far too uncertain to attempt to call.
Only about 60 per cent of the electorate will vote. Encouragingly, the Telegraph poll today suggests the turn out may, at last, rise. Even so, no party is likely to secure more than just over a fat third of the votes of those who actually turn out.
That is nothing new in British politics. Why, Labour only secured 36 per cent of the vote in 2005 – no one challenged their right to absolute power. So this time around, in the aftermath of the breakdown of trust in politicians, will people find such a result less palatable than in 2005?