Let’s take a moment out of the back and forth of the campaign to think back to 2011. The AV referendum battle was well underway, and the doomed Yes campaign were making their case for a highly dubious electoral system.
Here’s Vince Cable in the Independent on Sunday, just before the vote occurred:
“AV probably does mean more coalition. And coalition does involve shedding the baggage of tribalism. Former opponents have to work together on a common programme. I currently work with George Osborne to deliver a credible economic policy. Even more improbably, Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley have worked together to deliver peace in Northern Ireland. Labour worked with the right-wing enemy, Winston Churchill, in wartime. In Scotland and Wales, parties are working together, locally and nationally, while competing at Westminster. This is grown-up politics.”
It was an interesting argument. How much more positive things would be if voters knew that the parties would inevitably have to be “grown-up” and enter into new coalitions. How grateful voters would be to escape the dark days of tribal majorities.
Of course, mercifully Yes to AV fell flat on their faces and their chosen electoral system never came to pass. But it’s worth comparing the misty-eyed prophecies of how enthusiastic everyone would be for a system of eternal coalition to the reality, now that most polls imply another hung parliament next week.
Are voters cheering in the streets for “grown-up” compromise between parties? Are they enthused by the prospect of a new government’s policies being agreed behind closed doors by politicians rather than chosen by the people? Does the idea of one main party or another having to compromise to tease out support from a minor competitor drive the electorate into an ecstasy of positivity about the “new politics”? If there is a street party underway in response to these possibilities then I have somehow missed it.
That is because the idea was bunkum from the outset. People tend to vote for what they like, not for what they like to be watered down. They are excited by the prospect of government following their wishes, not at the prospect of it failing to do so.
Coalition can be necessary. It can be essential. It can be the right, or indeed the only, thing to do, depending on the circumstances. Conservatives are pragmatists and thus enter into them if needs be. But let’s never pretend that such an arrangement is what anybody will cast their vote for next week.