Hung parliament or not, it seems certain that the UK is in for a rocky ride over the next few months. Regardless of who emerges as the final victor when Britons go to the polls on 6 May 2010, what is inevitable is that they will be faced with tough choices.
The priority has to be fixing the massive UK budget deficit which according to The Economist is currently standing at a scary 11.6% of GDP. A focus on anything other than this gap which is the largest since World War II will likely lead to grim consequences. If any of the ratings agencies downgrade Britain, the results would be economically and socially disasterous.
The latest UK election polls show the Tories, led by David Cameron, as capturing a nominal lead over Gordon Brown‘s Labour party. Following an unexpectedly good performance in the prime-ministerial debate, Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrat party is following closely behind. None of these three parties however have as yet provided any sort of clarity as to how they intend to employ public spending cuts and tax increases to address the budget deficit.
Given that the 2010 UK election is such a tightly contested one – in fact, the closest in the last two decades, the possibility of a hung parliament is a realistic one. This is a situation in which no political party wins an outright majority of seats. It would be a rare case in the UK as this does not often happen in countries with a combination of weak regional parties and a parliamentary election system based on single member districts.
So what if there is a hung parliament?
Besides the obvious level of uncertainty it creates, the timing would be less than perfect for the UK. The mood in the country is far from positive and having the UK bandied about in comparison with budget deficit disasters like Greece will not help increase optimism.
Interestingly enough, the financial markets don’t seem phased by the risk. Sterling is back in the low $1.50s after its brief adventure into $1.40s in March. Even British bond yields have decreased since the start of the year which shows some confidence in the country.
In practical terms, a hung parliament will usually force a dissolution of parliament, or the formation of a minority or coalition government. If it does happen, the UK can expect a period of behind-the-scenes party negotation in which an attempt to form a majority will take place. It will certainly not be first prize, especially given that Nick Clegg has backed out of his absolute precondition of making electoral reform a centrepiece of any hung parliament deal. The current system is unfair and the reform is much needed – Wonkie will join Caroline Lucas of the Green Party in her disappointment.
If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Wonkie’s Nick Griffin cartoon referred to in the cartoon above!
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