Monday 19 April 2010


I’m not at all sure why the British cannot cope with minority governments or hung parliaments or with coalitions. Mrs Thatcher apparently said that it resulted in weak and ineffectual government and people believed her. Now it seems Ken Clarke, a man I admire, has warned of market problems if there is not a strong government with a comfortable majority.

I’m dubious about this. Why should it be? Germany, the world’s 3rd largest and strongest economy is run by a coalition. Other European countries like Denmark and Holland have coalitions and yet are strong and well run. Scotland had a coalition for 8 years and now a minority government, but everything has gone well enough. Sure Bills have been lost, and compromises made, but that is the will of parliament and parliament is the will of the population.

That is what we, the people, voted for. So be it. It means of course that politicians have to work together for the good of the country. Live with it.

I was cheered then by the remarks in the “Caledonian Mercury” of a reader J R Tomlin, who points out that the experience of Canada also suggests that coalition government may not necessarily be weak government.

She points out that Canada for the past 3 years has been run by a minority government with a hung Parliament. They have exactly the same voting system as the UK.

She goes on to say that the country recovered from the recession fastest, that no Canadian banks had to be bailed out and that the predicted growth rate for the economy is greater than any other G7 country this year. The Canadian $, she points out, has reached parity with the US$ and is still going up. Additionally unemployment is down.

No two countries are the same. Their economies are based on different employment, different materials and different demands. It is hard to transfer economic predictions of one to another. Even within the UK there are vast differences. But the Canadian system is close in many ways to the UK system (except for their willingness to treat small parties with respect. Their debates include ALL parties and, of course, entail two languages). If they can cope 3 years into minority gove
rnment doing better than any other G7 country, why oh why can’t Britain?

Ms Tomlin concludes that all the nonsense about the pound and markets going into freefall due to a hung parliament are just plain old lies.

Yes. I agree Ms Tomlin. And, if that is what we vote for, then that is what we should get. No running to Buckingham Palace to ask the Queen for another election after 6 months, because they are not sufficiently good at coping with not getting all their own way all the time. They are always telling us that we must learn to cope with change. It may be that they will have to as well.

Pics: The 'Three "Wise" Men'; 'The Three "Wise" Monkeys'; or is it 'Dumb, Dumber, and Dumbest'


  1. I think a hung parliament would be the deathknell for the UK. No decisions would be made about how to deal with our debt ( £175Bn per annum with the prospect of £1.4trillion debt in 3 years time) as each party would want to spend spend spend in order to keep everyone happy.
    Holland isn't stable and it's govt frequently collapses due to weak govt. It collapsed after the Srebenicia massacre and it collapsed recently over the muslim murder of a free speech campaigner.
    Caledonian Mercury is a satellite of Johnston Press and it's website should be ignored and not publicised. It gets a free mention on Newsnight and has unlimited funding. When did your website ever get mentioned despite higher hit rates ?

  2. Forgot to say. Holland isn't a country. It's a part of The Netherlands. A bit like calling the UK.. England

  3. Annon: while technically correct it is considered acceptable usage to refer to the Netherlands as Holland. Incidentally Whitaker’s Almanack 2010 refers to the Netherlands as “a stable democracy” and no mention is made of the collapses you list. Perhaps your definition of the word “collapse” is somewhat more akin to their word for “normal”. However, if the country is an ungovernable basket case, and you know better than Whitaker’s perhaps you would like to e-mail them so they can correct the 2011 edition:

  4. Also I lived in England for many years and believe me a large number of them do refer to the UK as England. Including the Prince of Wales who I once saw emerge from a Scottish stately home and say to camera “what a lovely English summers day”. What good eyesight the prince must have considering England was about 300 miles away.

  5. I wonder what Crown Prince Willem-Alexander refers to his own country as? But as North and South Holland are only provinces and not separate nations like Scotland and Wales doubtless he does not make the same idiotic mistake as our own dear unelected head of state to be.

  6. Anonymous said...
    Forgot to say. Holland isn't a country. It's a part of The Netherlands. A bit like calling the UK.. England

    Well blame the Dutch tourist board for using the term "Holland" when courting English speaking tourists. (The incorrect use of Holland is reinforced by the Dutch Tourist Board (VVV) who refer to the Netherlands as Holland in its English Language Literature and on their main website,

  7. Tris I see your point by using Germany as a comparative country when writing about the potential situation regarding a hung parliament in the UK, however I do have one concern and that is the Westminster parliament isn't really set up for coalition governments.

    I think the German parliament might be modelled around proportional representation which would make coalition governments easier to implement than in the UK. (Westminster).

    I so happen to think it would be good to see two of the main UK parties strike a deal with each other to form a gov and like you say (Give the people the parliament they voted for) but my concern is that we need a stable government to take on the debt and all 3 main UK parties have completely different ideas on how to tackle the debt and this uncertainty could trash the markets and any recovery.

    If Labour don't win the election outright then I'm afraid the only alternative is an outright Tory victory.

    Nick Glegg did well in his 90 min scrap with the other two UK leaders but I need a bit more than a staged managed soap opera to be convinced that the Libs are a serious contender to run the UK.

  8. I think a large part of the problem with the Westminster parliament is that the first past the post system means that 75% of the seats never change hands and so the people with those seats get to think that they have a job for life and so get into the habit of doing nothing for their constituents, take on other paid work or sell themselves around to lobbyists, think they are a cut above everyone else and worst of all inflate their expenses to the point of stealing. PR would make seats a lot less safe and would mean they have to fight for their votes and actually do something.

  9. And the consequence of 75% of seats never changing hands, and the vast majority of those seats being won on a minority vote is the total disengagement of much of the electorate. Nae wonder some see the election as a soap opera - it only happens on TV, not in their polling station.

  10. Munguin and Sophia Pangloss! I agree in all my entirety.

  11. Anon: Death knell and UK in the same sentence is music to my ears. Bring it on, as a wee wifie once said.

    The Netherlands (I see you refer to them as Holland too, we probably all do), may not be strong like the Thatcher government was strong, but when I was there the trains ran on time, the streets were well paved, the people polite and do you know waitresses in cafés could manage to take orders in Dutch, French, English and German, so they must be able to teach them something in schools.

    Now then, what would you give to live in a country like that? Perfect? No. Better than this place? Yes. And why? Because instead of stuffing their pockets with money, taking jobs in the City, writing for papers, doing radio and tv programmes, advising this and that, trotting off to Washington to appear in the Rose Garden and generally poking their ill-educated and under-experienced wee noses in everyone and anyone’s bloody business so that they can avoid the dreadfully unglamorous world of social security and pot holes, their MPs might be out of a job tomorrow, so they actually work, for their constituents.

    I don’t know anything about the ownership of the Caledonian Mercury, but that was a good story in my opinion and it was a good comment by Ms Tomlin, and you have to try to give a reference, hence the link. I doubt that this wee thing gets higher hit rates than the Mercury, although they are going up and up!

    I apologise to all Netherlanders. I know how deeply annoying it is to have your country called by the wrong name. I was watching “The Forth Protocol” the other night and noticed that the writers had decided that it was “Russia” and “England” that were the protagonists. I bet the Estonians, the Georgians and the Scots and Welsh wish they’d known that. It would have saved them an awful lot of money

  12. Conan: Thanks for the heads up. How misogynistic of me to assume that she was a he. My apologies to Ms Tomlin.

  13. Munguin: Thanks for doing that research. Saved me a lot of work. I actually had no idea. I thought that the names were interchangeable.

    The fuss over Holland and the Netherlands actually drew attention from the main thrust of the article which was Canada. A G7 country, a parliamentary democracy with a FPTP system left as a legacy of British dominion status, and different provinces, or states within the state. I imagine much more diverse than the UK because of its immense size, its cultural differences, with French-speaking provinces and of course First Nation population and languages to content with.

    However, Canada manages. I wonder why.

  14. Allan:

    I guess that no two countries are totally comparable. There are always differences that make comparison difficult.

    And you’re right about the UK. Blair’s legacy is a mixed up bundle of inequality. To be fair to him he started off with a mélange and it wouldn’t have been easy to make a federal state out of the UK.

    A large kingdom in its own right (with a Celtic nation as part of it: Kernow); a small kingdom in its own right with its own laws; a principality, sharing all its laws with the large kingdom; a province of someone else’s country with entirely different laws and needs. It’s not where you would want to start.

    But then that’s typical British. Blair was ordered to do something by the Council of Europe, he did, but it was a cobbled together mess designed to be as weak as it could be.

    But I’m pretty sure that we could manage with a coalition. Well, we could if we had enough skilled politicians. We probably don’t, but learning on the job would concentrate their minds most awfully well. If we gave up running the world at America’s coat tails and concentrated on running the UK, then maybe it would work.

  15. I think you will find that just about any agreement ever made between the UK and any other country wil be called The Anglo French German American Whatever,and never UK, Britain British

  16. there is no election talking place in Britain, the election is only taking place in England, to paraphrase Thatcher, the SNP have been starved of the oxygen of publicity and it looks like it is working very very successfully

  17. Munguin, Sophia and Allan.

    The fact that nothing ever changes, that it doesn’t matter what I vote, is one which we hear over and over and it’s quite right in so many places.

    In some seats as we all know, the proverbial red rosette on a cabbage would do the trick; on others the same cabbage with a blue rosette would be just fine. That simply disenfranchises all the rest of the people in that constituency.

    In other constituencies where the winner wins by 300 votes, and there 3 or 4 people standing, the seat is taken by a minority of the votes. My own, very good MP had something like 14,000 votes for him and 25,000 which were, if you like, against him. In my case, as the guy is SNP that’s fine. My vote has been effective. But these 25,000 votes are as of nothing. The people may as well have stayed at home and watched the telly.

    No wonder some of them do.

    There’s enough more to be said about the way that Westminster behaves to discourage voters to make a post of its own. And maybe sometime I’ll cobble something together on it.

    In the meantime remember that people who travel second class in a train are different from MPs. That’s a thought that should keep you smiling through the rigours of the day.

  18. Yes Anon, always Anglo. I remember when I was working in France and we were sitting in a café after work discussing politics, as the French are liable to do, I would be asked for the “anglo-saxon” point of view.... Grrrrrrrr. Needless to say I would tell them what I imagined the “anglo-saxon” view would be, then I’d tell them what mine was.

    I'm not going to be defeated by Labour's Broadcasting Company. I'm working for an SNP victory. Just got my window stickers this morning....

  19. tris /mungin

    I didn't mean to upset you over the Holland issue. I expect that they use " Holland " in their advertising because they are aiming at particular markets who don't know what " The Netherlands" means. Holland conjures up windmills and tulips etc. Advertising isn't rocket science.
    You can look up the massacre at Srebenicia where Dutch UN troops allowed Miladic to murder 6,000 muslim civilians. The report into the tragedy led to the dissolution of the Dutch government due to the shame. The failure to protect Dutch citizens against hate murders also led to the dissolution of parliament.
    Stable democracy is quite an all embracing beast. Uzbekhistan can be said to have a stable democracy.
    The Netherlands will eventually be hoisted by it's own petard ( I normally try to avoid cliches like the plague but I like that one). It's coalition governments have let every fruitcake have a say in running the show and it will now be the first country in the West to become an Islamic state. It already has no go areas for non muslims ( similar but worse than in the UK ). It's open border lassaiz faire approach to immigration and it's support for every right ever known has led to some of the population having to flee the country for their own safety from those who now want an Islamic state.
    I wish the Caledonian Mercury well but I won't be reading it until it's funding is known. And like the BBC it is too tainted with cronyism to the Labour Party and support of the Union. I wonder if Jackie Bird, Tam Cowan and Jim Trainer who all write for The Daily Record will get guest spots on the Mercury ?

  20. Anon: You didn’t upset me. I don’t get upset. Neither does Munguin, I imagine.

    Any point of view is welcomed here as long as it is expressed in reasonably moderate tones and isn’t likely to cause offense to other readers.

    Holland/The Netherlands was really a side show from the Canadian argument. But this “strong” government Thatcher or Blair style is always the argument for not having PR or coalition. It appeals to the “Rule Britannia” in the population. We must have STRONG government for the benefit of the people. It’s mainly for the benefit of the politicians who actually never have to persuade the parliament of anything.

    Blair was elected with thirty something percent of the vote; he had a HUGE majority; there is a whipping/patronage system which meant that almost all of that huge majority would vote for what he told them to.... or else; he had an “upper” chamber which was powerless because it’s not elected and he stuffed it with his placemen, some of them too disreputable for a back street brawl, never mind a house of nobles; he had a head of state who could advise, encourage and warn, because she’s not elected. So he pretty much had it his way. That’s strong government. Great!

    What kind of a mess are we in, remind me, after all that strong government?

    There are no go areas even in Scotland. Try Glasgow. Or Ireland....Belfast, Derry. Strong government hasn’t got rid of that. I live in a town where there are ex-council estates, and lads, and even girls from one estate can’t go into another estate because they will be beaten. We have Catholic and Protestant schools and the kids arrange gang fights between them, despite religion being pretty far down their agendas.

    All this strong government hasn’t stopped that.

    On Friday and Saturday nights all over the UK town centres are no go areas for anyone who is sober. Vomiting in the gutter or up “closes” is the order of the day. My mate out into his garden a few weeks ago on a Friday night and caught a drunken girl peeing against his bin. And she was irritated at being interrupted. Look the wrong way and you are in hospital. What is strong government doing about that?

    If weak government would have meant that we couldn’t have followed war monger Bush into Iraq and slaughtered hundreds of thousands of innocent people, I’d go for that right away.

    As Munguin and Sophia said earlier, maybe they’d work a bit harder if their jobs were on the line.

    As for the Mercury, I pick from it what is interesting and in my opinion reasonable and balanced. If I see the likes of Bird or Wark writing for them, I shall be more dubious. To date I’ve not found it particularly biased. They give old Elmer Fudd a hard time.

  21. Ken Clarke has been borne out somewhat, because the markets have dipped since Clegg pulled out 29% in the polls [or so Newsnight tells me, and I believe it to be true].

    Clarke was also out campaigning in North Perthshire, a key marginal where we have the SNP on the run, so he may well have been electioneering- which is fair and well.

  22. Annon, but that is the way the Netherlands has been run since the end of the second world war and they have not been hoist by their own petard yet have they? Nor did they need a Thatcher revolution or a new Labour revolution to set them on a different track after the strong first past the post governments that the UK had lasted far too long ran out of things to reform, ran out of steam and became mired in sleaze. The Netherlands will doubtless talk their way through their problems in a sensible way.

  23. In fact apart from the Attlee government from 1945-1950 the only government that had a huge majority that did not make a huge mess eventually was the previous Churchill one during the war and guess what that was a coalition of all the parties.

  24. Munguin,

    I do think strong majority governance has delivered successes to this country. In fact if you applied PR system to say...the Labour goverment of Harold Wilson, you'd not have probably seen the dramatic 60s social legislation which...among other things...abolished the death penalty and legalised homosexuality!

    Dont be so quick to condemn strong government.

  25. Dean: I agree that the pound dipped, by a tiny amount incidentally. So? The pound goes up and down, it's the way that some people make money. So do the world's main currencies; the dollar, the yen, the euro. It is what the markets do. A few months ago we were expecting parity with the Euro and the pound, and it nearly happened, and then the markets changed.

    If there is not a strong government the pound will dip, then, when people think that they can make some money, it will go back up again. That's what it's all about. It's about rich people making money.

  26. Dear Conan

    "Er, JR Tomlin is a woman..."

    Does she have any books on flyfishing?

    Yours sincerely

    George Laird
    The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University

  27. Dean. Are we in a good state after all this strong government?

  28. Was that not Hartley George?????

  29. Dean, We've mainly had stong government for most of the last century.

    As Munguin said the best government we had was Attlee/Churchill and that was a coalition. Nothing else would have worked in the worst possible crisis.

    Strong government is good for short bursts. We needed the strong government of Thatcher in 1979 because of the mess that the strong government of Wilson had left. We needed the strong government of the 1997 Blair election to clear up the mess that Thatcher/Major had left.

    The fact of the matter is that strong governments run out of steam because they start with a reforming zeal and quickly run through their agenda and by the second term are looking for things to reform and by the third are hostages to whatever faction keeps them in power. In Wilsons, case the Unions, Thatcher/Major it was big business and privatisation and with Blair/Brown it has been the USA and the banks.

  30. Mungin..

    You're right they haven't collapsed yet but the writing is on the wall.
    Their govt collapsed in Feb over Afghanistan. Missed that one..

  31. Tris,

    The second Wilson government was not strong at all, in fact we had a minority government by mid 1970s! Thatchers government was given the electoral mandate and secure majority only because of the mess minority governance had left this country in. The dead unburied, the IMF disgrace, no that is what minority government gives the UK, and I want none of it.

    The markets need a strong government to reassure them, to save jobs, to secure the recovery- this cannot happen with a hung parliament disaster.

    As for the benefit of coalition government, perhaps- but Scotlands experience of that under the Labour-liberal coalition wasn't exactly a complete success now was it? Eight years of it, and Scotland had grown tired of the coalition system.

    What does that leave us with, except strong government via FPTP- where you elect your local MP, and he is YOUR MP.

  32. I agree a coalition with all the partys bar the conservative s as they are a destructive reactionary party of xenophobes(bit like the snp).

    and must be totally crushed to ensure we decent people can live without the fear of oppression by the Conservatives..............

    'Give me a hung parliament or give me death'

  33. Dean:

    Why does it do that to the UK, but not to the rest of Europe... ?

    PR works in Scotland. Even the list MSPs can be great. Shona Robison was an excellent when she was the list MSP for this arera.

    It's the person that counts. Some safe MPs don't bother with their constituents.

  34. Dean: you seemed to imply that you admired Wilson’s liberal agenda when a strong government from 1964-1970. That just proves the point Tris was making, we needed a strong government after MacMillan’s/Home’s stagnation. But after that agenda had run its course he simply clung to power from 1974-1976. And of course there was the Ted Heath weak government interregnum that led to two elections in 1974 until we got the stronger Wilson second government. Then after 1976 we got Callaghan who also clung to office using the unions to prop him up but that was just a continuation of Wilson. Mixed messages as usual Dean are you saying that from 1970-1979 FPTP gave us constant weak governments? If Wilson and Heath had had to sit down and work together who knows what might have been achieved.

  35. Niko. Is it time for your pills pet?

  36. Tris

    in the morning pet thats when!

  37. Just wondered... I was getting a bit worried there.