So much has transpired since the 6th of May. The non-decisive general election has left us in a bit of a constitutional pickle, with the Tories 7% ahead of Labour in terms of the vote share, but short of enough seats to command a majority in the House of Commons. The predicted hung parliament has indeed become our political reality. Although Labour lost, its hold over most of London and certain other seats the Tories hoped to gain has meant that the latter party didn’t win a mandate to govern. Significant Conservative figures are vocalising their disappointment at the result, blaming the shambolic Tory campaign for their failure, as well as Cameron for agreeing to the televised debates. Ashcroft in particular is furious that he didn’t get value for his money! As for the Lib Dems, the polls bounce didn’t translate into tangible results; they somehow managed to lose a few seats (oh Lembit, how you won’t be missed!) and to only increase their vote share by a meagre percentage point. The public flirted with the notion of a three-party system, only to have a change of heart when it came to committing on the ballot paper.
Clegg is now in an unenviable position. He would probably taint his centre-left party by entering into an unholy alliance with, or giving confidence assurances to, a Tory government, which will have to make unpopular spending cuts in the near future. An additional problem is the ideological gulf that exists between the Lib Dems and the Conservatives. The two parties completely clash on Europe, immigration and the timetable for spending cuts. Conversely, Clegg can reach agreement on a Lib-Lab coalition, thereby forming a progressive government. Yet this outcome would ignore the fact that the electorate awarded the Tories with a plurality of the vote. Moreover, now that Gordon Brown has announced his plans to resign, it would mean a second unelected PM for this country – most likely in the form of Miliband. And smaller parties would need to enter this coalition to give it a seat majority. It’s questionable whether the Lib Dems want to be shackled to a party that people believe has outstayed its welcome in national government. Both parties are trying to entice Clegg with a referendum on electoral reform, but this alone is not offering a great deal, especially as the alternative vote does not necessarily produce a “fairer” result anyway.
It’s the party that won less than 10% of the seats that will determine who governs us, rather than the popular vote – how remarkably undemocratic. Will the government that emerges from the series of behind-closed-doors talks credibly be able to make the tough decisions that are needed in the coming months? Which party combination will be the most conducive to political and economic stability? What about the implications for our democracy and the national interest? These are the questions Kingmaker Clegg must seek to answer when he and his party decide between a) a deal with the Right which many Lib Dems and their supporters will find unpalatable and b) an alliance of the election losers. The choice urgently needs to be made, to take the country out of post-election limbo. Maybe flip a coin, Clegg?