Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What do you get if no one wins a majority?

Robert Skidelsky, a member of the British House of Lords, is Professor emeritus of political economy at Warwick University, offers this analysis of the prospects for a hung parliament. Since he wrote this, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has said if no party won a majority, he'd negotiate first with the party that won the most seats.

Britain’s No-Win Election?
With Labour trailing the Conservatives slightly in opinion polls, the British election on May 6 could well produce a “hung” parliament, in which neither major party obtains a majority and the Liberal Democrats hold the balance of power…

[T]he Great Recession... keeps Labour in contention, particularly in the light of the Conservatives’ pledge to start cutting public spending the moment they take power.
This makes people anxious for their jobs. Most people… are instinctive Keynesians, even if they have never heard of John Maynard Keynes. At some level, they understand what Keynes called the “paradox of thrift”: if households and firms are forced to reduce their expenses, and the government simultaneously cuts spending, unemployment will rise, because one person’s spending is another’s income, and the outcome will be less spending and less income all around…

Public spending cuts come more naturally to Conservatives, and they have – despite their lack of candor – attempted to make a virtue out of this necessity. The Conservative manifesto ‘An Invitation to Join the Government of Britain’ is merely a grandiloquent way of saying that under a Conservative government the people will have to look after themselves.
Labour, by contrast, argues that immediate spending cuts would wreck the recovery – that the hole in the economy, not the government budget deficit, is the problem needing most attention...

[N]either major party can afford to blurt out the awkward truth: how much deficit reduction any government can achieve will depend on what happens to the economy over the next five years, and no one can say anything for certain about that.

So the main parties vie with each other in their promises not to cut public services. Labour will not cut spending on unspecified “front-line services.” The Conservatives will not cut spending on health, international aid, and defense, similarly leaving unclear just where the cuts will be made. Only the Liberal Democrats are committed to a big cut: scrapping Britain’s nuclear submarines...

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