In the run up to the 2015 general election, perhaps the only thing that political analysts seem sure on is that we will not have an outright majority government for the next five years. Rather, we will once again be a country mired in political stagnation, led by a party without a parliamentary majority, whether that be via minority government or through coalition.
My question, however, is whether this is the defining signpost that our traditionally esteemed Westminster model of governance has been undermined, and fundamentally broken, by possibly the most collectively unpopular group of politicians ever? We cannot expect to simply stumble across majority governments if we have political leaders who, like Nick Clegg in 2014, are the ‘least popular in modern history’ (Huffington Post). I think Peter Mandelson put it best when he noted that the 2015 election is going to be an ‘unpopularity contest’; a political stalemate born out of public dislike of any and all of the political parties.
What’s the solution? Coalition? Benjamin Disraeli stated in 1852 that ‘England does not love coalitions’, and to this day his words echo the truth; only 29% of British people want another coalition government according to the annual British Social Attitudes survey, and their reasoning is sound. Our last coalition government served to turn both Nick Clegg and David Cameron into political pariahs, demagogues to those who voted them in. Whether it be Clegg being forced to retract his claims on maintaining the cost of University tuition, or Cameron stating that the coalition forced the government to make ‘compromises that are not necessarily in the long-term interests of the country.’ (With senior Tories highlighting Clegg’s blocking of human rights law reforms, welfare cuts and IT counter terror measures). The coalition served to drive our politicians further into unpopularity. If only the Labour party had avoided making their calamitous leadership choice on the 25th September 2010 which presented Ed Miliband as the face of their election campaign, this issue would not be present.
Mass unpopularity means an increase in the likelihood of another coalition; much to popular dismay. Yet, this is arguably one of the core reasons that the Westminster model is being failed by our politicians. First past the post and the Westminster system of governance is fundamentally based around strong, single party leadership. If we are to sink into a system mired by coalitions, why should we stick to a model which is not ideally built to accommodate them? Proportional representation and consensus government would at least give us coalitions built specifically and directly around the public vote similar to the systems of our European counterparts, rather than our current mix and match of political ideals.
Perhaps the only viable option remaining for the 2015 election is a minority government, something which has never ended in anything but tears in recent years. Notably with James Callaghan’s minority government falling through a vote of no confidence in March 1979, and towards the end of John Major’s leadership in 1996/7. Minority government is the peak of political stagnation, a true stumbling block for Westminster’s goal of ‘thesis + antithesis = synthesis’. The government can push nothing through because of the majority of the opposition, much like President Obama’s current situation in the USA battling against a Republican led Congress, meaning that ultimately, there is no ‘thesis’ strong enough to break through the barrage of ‘antithesis’. Minority government perhaps serves less to preserve the Westminster system than coalitions do.
I am a firm believer that the Westminster model is the best political system for balanced, efficient government. However, our politicians’ innate unpopularity (not helped by a continuously negative depiction in the media) has put its future in jeopardy. Have our politicians broken the Westminster model? It is looking increasingly likely.