Stable coalition will end UK confusion

EDITORIAL

The UK would now be best served with a coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Hopefully, Gordon Brown will let them form it.

The UK likes to boast its electoral system always yields clear political majorities. But this time it didn’t. Thursday’s British elections have resulted in a hung parliament. As no single party controls a majority in the House of Commons, British politicians are forced to lower themselves to forming a coalition.

That won't be easy. Not just because these politicians have never done if before, but also because the elections’ results are complicated. British voters have done well at sowing confusion.

After 13 years in power, prime minister Gordon Brown's Labour party has been voted out. The party retained just 30 percent of all votes, but is has not been wiped out when it comes to the number of seats it still controls.

The Conservative Party, with opposition leader David Cameron at the helm, have been unable to profit fully. They garnered 35 percent of all votes and took back more seats than they have done since 1931, but they failed to attain a majority in the House of Commons.

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Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats disappointed by failing to attain more than 22 percent of votes. In the heat of battle, they even lost some seats.

Though the definitive results have yet to be confirmed – partly because in many districts margins are so narrow recounts are required – one can safely ascertain that, this time, the British electoral system failed to deliver. A failure is not without risks in these times of crisis. On the morning after the elections, the pound began a steep drop in financial markets.

How long the confusion will last is uncertain. British custom, in the event of a hung parliament, is that the sitting prime minister takes the initiative in forming a new government. On Thursday evening, Brown made it clear that he would not give up without a fight. Looking at vote tallies alone, a coalition between Labour and the Liberal Democrats would be an obvious choice.

But in the House of Commons, such a government, led by a disappointed party that has just been severely punished by voters, would only be feasible with the help of a few nationalist parties from Wales and Scotland. It seems an unstable option. Hopefully, Gordon Brown will follow former prime minister Edward Heath's example. In 1974, Heath allowed opposition leader Harold Wilson to take charge when he ended up with a hung parliament after being defeated in the elections.

Cameron and Clegg could create a simpler coalition. But that will require a bit of grovelling on the part of the Tories first, because they rejected such a possibility during the campaign. Policy-wise, the Liberal Democrats will also have a larger gap to bridge with the Conservatives then they would with Labour. When it comes to cutbacks, administrative reform and European cooperation, practical agreements between Clegg and Cameron seem far away.

Cameron would do himself a favour if he got used to the idea that Conservative hobby horses could soon become bargaining chips. Clegg has already fired the first shot. He has so far been unmoved by Brown's overtures, but has looked to Cameron instead, encouraging him to rise above himself.

Whether a two-party coalition between Cameron and Clegg will lead to a stable government remains to be seen, but right now it is the best and most realistic option for the UK.

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