As we wake up to the prospect of a hung Parliament, there is much argument about who would have the “moral authority” to rule the country. Constitutionally, the answer is clear: the standing Prime Minister has the first opportunity to create a coalition government that gains the acceptance of the House. But the Conservatives are making the argument – superficially sensible – that, as they have the most seats, albeit not a majority, they should have first chance at creating a workable government instead.
Something important seems to have been forgotten amidst all the speculation: an important moral argument as to why a Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition is more in line with the people’s will than a minority Conservative government.
The most important difference between the three parties throughout the campaign was on the question of cuts in public spending. The Conservatives were alone in endorsing the idea of immediate cuts this year, whereas both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats believed that taking money out of the economy now could jeopardize the recovery, and instead proposed waiting until 2011.
On this key difference, the Liberal Democrats and Labour are agreed. In both their manifestos they state caution about making cuts too early, and on this crucial election argument on which the Conservative Party made their case – do we cut now, or do we wait until 2011 – the British public appear to have spoken: they do not want cuts in public spending this year, as the Conservatives are offering, and have voted majoritively for those parties which endorse continued investment in 2010.
This is a vital matter in terms of who gets the moral authority to form a government now, as the issue itself is specifically time sensitive. If a minority Conservative government took power and forced through immediate cuts that have been rejected by the majority of the population, where is the democracy there? More importantly, as, traditionally, coalition governments in the UK seldom last longer than a year or two, does it not make perfect sense to establish a union of collaborative parties this year who agree, along with the majority of the country, in the direction that the economy should be going now? Then, if that government fails, if their popular economic policies falter and get us into trouble, the Conservatives have a fair and demonstrable argument a year from now to hold a vote of no confidence, win an election, and introduce their immediate austerities. They do not have that mandate now.
There is also another important area of policy agreement: electoral reform. If this election shows anything, it is that our first-past-the-post system is absolutely useless at truly representing the views of the people. Indeed, the very party who so vehemently oppose electoral reform – the Conservatives – on the basis that only first-past-the-post politics can provide strong governments, are today realizing that this simply isn’t true. On numbers alone, they have seemingly “won”, but their chances of forming a strong government are absolutely nonexistent, yet still they refuse to consider the idea of proportional representation. The people are desperate for this outdated system to be scrapped, and it is only the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party who have been proposing electoral reform, not just today, when it is politically convenient to do so, but in their manifestos.
On the two major issues facing our country today – the economy and election reform – the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats share a joint, and publically endorsed, vision. The Conservatives stand alone, and their policies on these issues – when looked at collectively – have been roundly rejected by the majority of people, giving them absolutely no moral authority to rule.