Who’s afraid of a hung parliament?

Although eight of the last UK polls show the Conservatives failing to win an overall majority, the extent to which the parties are still in denial over the possibility of a hung parliament in amazing. Part of it is about refusing to contemplate anything but total victory, but genuine fears of imminent disaster lurk in the background, with the markets plunging the UK into financial crisis the moment the exit polls are declared at 10 o’clock on election night. The problem affects more than the political class. The effect on the markets could be serious if the financial masters of the universe join in any fit of the jitters.
Two neutral-minded think tanks the Constitution Unit and the Institute for Government have taken on the task of trying to soothe fears and ease anxieties by showing how to handle transitions and run a minority government without damage to confidence and good government. CU director Robert Hazell says the Westminster veterans shouldn’t look down their noses at lessons to be learned from their former imperial offspring and, yes, even from Alex Salmond’s minority government at Holyrood.
David Owen, once the enfant terrible of British politics who split Labour to form the ill-fated SDP-Liberal Alliance that eventually merged into the Lib Dems (though without him), has more ambitious ideas for a hung parliament.

On the Today programme, Owen gave a plug for the website Charter 2010 which explores hung parliament themes. He seems to be hankering after a new centre ground again, broader than any one party, to govern the UK for the next four years and tackle the financial crisis he believes will be prolonged. “ Some people are afraid of a hung parliament, and a coalition, or minority government “ says Owen, “ But if public opinion is seized by it the parties would find ways of doing it.”

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

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