The real meaning of Nick Clegg

The true significance of a breakthrough by Nick Clegg could be far greater if it extends beyond winning an X Factor vote for best performer. Vernon Bogdanor in the Times explains how both a hung parliament and electoral reform now look like serious runners and would change the shape of British politics more fundamentally than Home Rule for Scotland, Wales and NI. But there are dangers for the Union he argues, in the Conservatives’ plan for English votes on English laws. Vernon doesn’t say so but his case is a powerful argument for voting against his old pupil David Cameron.
Adds For the first Leaders’ Debate, the TV ratings were surprisingly good. I wonder if they’ll hold up for the other debates?

The first ever UK televised leaders’ debate attracted an impressive 9.4 million viewers on ITV1 last night, beating Coronation Street and EastEnders to become the most watched programme of the day.

Audience breakdown for the debate by quarter-hours

8.30pm: 8.758 million/36%

8.45pm: 9.459 million/37.5%

9pm: 9.896 million/38.6%

9.15pm: 9.593 million/37.3%

9.30pm: 9.324 million/36.4%

9.45pm: 9.261 million/36.4%

Vernon Bogdanor extrs
The general election puts into the melting pot not only the first- past-the-post electoral system, with its natural accompanying single-party majority government, but also the unity of the United Kingdom itself.
Until recently, the Liberal Democrats were the only leading party proposing a change in the electoral system, and their advocacy could easily be dismissed as special pleading. Labour, however, now promises a referendum in October 2011 on the alternative vote. This is a landmark event marking the first occasion since the war that a governing party has specifically proposed electoral reform.

If the electoral system is reformed then, of course, hung Parliaments will be the norm, for no government since 1935 has been able to win half of the vote.

The hung Parliament of March 1974 occurred at a time of rampant inflation, but the minority government that resulted was paralysed from taking remedial action for fear of losing the second general election that was to follow in October.
But there is another sort of hung Parliament, the sort that we saw in Scotland before 2007, where two parties — Labour and the Liberal Democrats — join together in a stable coalition, based on a written agreement, and with a definite time limit. That is the model that the Liberal Democrats hope to transfer to Westminster

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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