First published in Clarity: April 2 2015
The first Election debate is tonight. Let’s not kid ourselves into believing that the Paxman and Burley event last week was a debate. It was a Q&A. This week is the real thing. The podiums are there. The moderator is there. The candidate interaction will (hopefully) be there. And thanks to David Cameron, there will be seven candidates. Over two hours, the leaders of the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, and United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) will debate four questions. There will be two minute response from each candidate, and then 16 minutes of open debate.
Ignore the naysayers. It’s going to be a fantastic event. For the first time, the smaller parties will share a platform with Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats. It can only enrich our democracy.
Quite how David Cameron feels about the whole thing is not easy to measure. He wanted this seven way debate. And he got what he wanted. But if he treats the debate in the way he has treated the rest of his campaign so far, it might blow up in his face. Today, his advisers urged him to lighten the tone. In a startling comparison, they told him to follow the example of Franklin D Roosevelt, who won four consecutive Presidential campaigns during the Great Depression with a positive campaign and the upbeat song “Happy Days Are Here Again.”
“Our campaign is dispiriting,” a former minister was quoted in the Guardian. We have had this turnaround. We are not claiming it is a massive breakthrough but it has got better.’ It is a Roosevelt without using his theme song, Happy Days Are Here Again. People have been through a hell of a lot of pain – sacrifices have been made – but things are going to get better.
If the former minister contacted Cameron regarding his idea, then it doesn’t appear that Cameron got the memo. The Guardian has also stated that Cameron expects the debate to be an opportunity for him to stand above the cacophony of “minor, mainly left-wing parties, and impress on voters the danger of a left-led coalition. Without a strong overall majority, there would obviously be chaos. “The debate is being described in Tory circles as the X Factor for politics. The Tory strategist said: “The reality is that at the debate there will be a bundle of people, a cacophony of voices all trying to be heard. That is an obvious message.”
The Conservatives are right in one respect. Another hung parliament is not an unlikely prospect, and the country is not prepared. The Independent has highlighted that flaws in the Fixed Term Parliament Act could result in a constitutional crisis. As Parliament does not reconvene until late May, the Conservatives could come second and Cameron could still act as caretaker for up to four weeks, and a further two in the period between a successful vote of no-confidence and the instillation of a new government. This would leave the country without an effective government for 60 whole days.
“Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!” All of these things could, but will probably not happen if such a situation were to occur. The world record for a democracy going without an elected government is held by Belgium, which went 589 days without, because the Flemish and Walloon parties could not agree on policy to a sufficient degree to go into coalition with each other. During this time, day-to-day affairs of the country were overseen by a temporary government led by Yves Leterme, whose ruling coalition fell apart in the 2010 elections.
Leterme was caretaker for nearly two years, while the two larger parties battled out over everything “from Flemish collaboration during the Second World War to allegations of francophone cultural imperialism seeking to impose the Gallic language in Flanders.” The temporary government did not take big decisions regarding the budget, the national debt or foreign policy, but there was never a national crisis. Things ticked over quite well in fact.
Question? What should we take from this?
Answer. If the Conservatives do not win the election, and the opposition parties cannot form a government, then a second Glorious Revolution should be instigated, and Yves Laterme installed as the British Prime Minister. He seems a decent fellow. He breeds goats.