Sunday 5 December 2010

Hanging in the Balance

I have bought, but not yet read, David Laws's account of the formation of the coalition,"22 Days in May." However, I'm already enraged (that's not too strong a word) by the title of his second chapter, "First moves in a hung parliament." If we Liberal Democrats won't use the positive and more accurate term "balanced" to describe such a parliament, who on earth will?

I have no prejudiced objection to the importation of American terms: many of them are both accurate and evocative. "Credit crunch" is from the US. One of my favourites is the "hot potato theory of money " (you hold it or you pass it on.)

The term "hung" is inaccurate in relation to parliaments, and evokes the wrong reaction. It is a US description applied to a jury unable to come to a decision. Its use in relation to parliaments therefore implies that they too will be hamstrung and unable to decide, and so it has entirely negative connotations.

"Balanced" by contrast, is positive. It implies, first, that the parliament more accurately reflects the opinions and wishes of the electorate than does a majority for one party based on on minority of the votes, and an even smaller minority of those entitled to vote. It also implies that, as a result of negotiations between the parties forming the government, decisions will be more balanced and reasoned than if left to the unchallenged dogmatic beliefs of a minority.

With all its faults, there is evidence of this balance from the coalition. We are to have a referendum on voting reform. It is not to be on STV, which Liberal Democrats would prefer, but AV is certainly an improvement on the first past the post, so the referendum is better than nothing. Wholesale second chamber reform is going to happen, whereas, left to the Tories alone, it probably wouldn't have, and all Labour achieved in 13 years with a thumping commons majority was minor tinkering.

Vince cable's tinkering with the Browne proposals for student fees is certainly an improvement on the original, ( though it does not, in my view justify Liberal Democrat MPs' breaking their pledge to vote against any increase. A pledge is, after all, a pledge - even stronger than a promise in a manifesto.) Without Liberal Democrat intervention the Tories would probably have introduced the Browne proposals without any cap at all, and with the "pay back" threshold left at £15 000

So here's an appeal to Liberal Democrats to ignore the ill informed media crowd and recognise and name a balanced parliament for what it is: a balanced representation of the views of the people.

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