Forget hung parliaments. This is the general election result which is truly scary.

by Stephen Tall on March 31, 2010

For the last month the opinion polls have been suggesting a hung parliament is the most likely outcome of the forthcoming general election. This has spooked some of those “pin-striped Scargills”, who would much rather their Tory friends were able to start slashing public spending without the restraining need to build consensus ahead of what will be inevitably painful cuts.

It’s an odd argument: in previous serious crises, whether war or depression, most people in Britan have recognised the need for petty tribal differences to be set to one side. After all, we are supposed to be all in this together.

But in the last day or so, there seems to have been a slight upswing in support for the Tories on the back of Alistair Darling’s third budget. It’s far too early to say yet that it’s a real trend, but still – it looks more likely this week than it did last week that the Tories will sneak back in with a slim majority.

And that’s the result that should worry everybody.

Let’s have a look at a possible result to illustrate the problem. Let’s suppose, for sake of argument and neatness, the Tories poll 40%, Labour 30% and Lib Dems 20%, with Others sharing the remaining 10%.

On the basis of uniform national swing, the Tories would be just short of an overall majority. But, in reality, it’s quite likely they would do well enough in the key marginals to sneak over the 326 seats threshold needed to form a majority government.

Which means we are looking at the inexperienced David Cameron and George Osborne taking over the running of Britain and her economy at a delicately fragile moment – and being beholden to a handful of Ulster Unionists and right-wing Tory backbenchers for keeping their party in power.

Just a few weeks ago, President Bush II was driven out of political retirement to make a direct plea to the Tories to take a firm line with their Northern Ireland electoral partners. Meanwhile, the new intake of Tory MPs will be the most hardline Thatcherite batch ever elected.

It’s a truly frightening thought: this country’s government too weak to exert any real authority, held to ransom by special interests and unrepresentative idealogues. But that’s the reality of what a first-past-the-post general election may well deliver.

In contrast, coalition government with electoral reform and fixed-term parliaments delivers stability, and politicians with a popular mandate to govern effectively – as happens in Germany, and almost every other democracy in the world.

The general election result that seems most likely, and which would be most damaging for this country, would be a small Tory majority. If you want strong government – government able to deliver on a policy programme that commands majority support – you must hope for a hung parliament.