A decisive majority at the polls is key in UK vote

February 9, 2010

MarkBolsom-150x150.jpgMark Bolsom is the Head of the UK Trading Desk at Travelex, the world’s largest non-bank FX payments specialist. –

Political debate exploded at the weekend after two national opinion polls revealed that a hung parliament is thought to be the most likely outcome of the general election, which must be held by June 2010.

It has also been widely noted that Kenneth Clarke, the Shadow Business Secretary, was so alarmed at the prospect of a hung parliament that he declared a Labour victory would be preferable.

A hung parliament looks like it could become a distinct reality, as voters remain confused or complacent about party policies. From an economic viewpoint, it is very difficult to distinguish between the policies of Chancellor Alistair Darling and Shadow Chancellor George Osborne, with both politicians backing away from full-scale spending cuts.

This seems to be because they both understand how close we are to returning to recession and that swingeing spending cuts would bring the possibility of a double-dip recession too close for comfort. Their tacit agreement on this point makes it difficult to differentiate and fully understand their economic policies. Certainly, neither have so far offered a credible plan for cutting the budget deficit.

But is the prospect of a hung parliament really so damaging? Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, has refuted its negative impact, saying that market concerns are “completely and totally irrational.”

Despite Cable’s view, markets hate uncertainty and a hung parliament would create huge political and economic ambiguity. Investors are concerned that a hung parliament would not have the sufficient leverage needed to pass legislation or would be unwilling to compromise, incurring unforeseeable delays in policy making.

Certainly, sterling would weaken significantly, although more against the U.S. dollar than the euro. The pound would also fall against higher yielding currencies like the Australian dollar and New Zealand dollar.

Against the euro, we may see a slightly different story. With the single currency so weak at the moment, it could be a tale of two underperforming currencies. While Germany, France and Italy appear to have a decent recovery underway, Greece, Portugal and Spain are still underperforming to a great extent and are in real trouble.

I don’t think they can still abide by their ECB Growth and Stability pact, which is supposed to promote financial discipline within the Eurozone. Although not publicly discussed, there must be some members of the monetary union that would like to see a two-tiered system for the alpha and beta economies. Hence, with such sustained economic uncertainty in the eurozone, the pound can only strengthen against the euro in 2010, even if a hung parliament becomes a reality.

Whatever the result of the election, it is clear that, regardless of a Conservative or Labour victory, getting a decisive majority is now the most important thing. Undoubtedly, our credit rating will be downgraded if the agencies don’t buy into a long-term plan to cut the deficit and a hung parliament will make forming a credible budget plan all the more complicated.

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How Vince Cable can refute the negative impact of a hung parliament and an Italian style govenment is beyond me. Except of course it is clear that politicians will do anything to gain or stay in power. How anyone could seriously want another four years of Labour is beyond me – they have delivered nothing except wars, corruption, massive immigration, a broken eduction system and a bloated inneficient state sector.Has no-one spotted taht Nick Clegg says vitually nothing of substance and when he talks of policy he is clearly on another panet. God help us if we have a hung parliament – collapse of sterling, agency downgrade and stock market collapse. I for one would advise my children tget work outside of the UK.

Posted by charlieboy | Report as abusive

As I head toward my sixties, I can only remember one hung parliament in 1974, which lasted a very short time. While ‘past performance is no guarantee of the future’ I’d have to say the odds on a hung parliament are vanishingly small. The biggest danger is voter apathy – a party called ‘None of the Above’ would get a landslide!
It doesn’t help, but I suspect that political uncertainty is far outweighed in the markets by economic uncertainty; the prize is there for the taking by any party that lays out a coherent economic strategy and policy set.

Posted by PercyPants | Report as abusive

For me, this article highlights how a focus on markets can lead to an incredibly blinkered view. The most important thing about *any* election is that it is representative of the people and with fewer than 50% of the people voting in a first-past the post system, we can hardly call it a democracy at all! What we need is root and branch reform of the voting system so that disenfranchised people can vote in a system they can believe in. A two or three party system no longer represents the complexity of modern society, nor the interests of important, yet marginalized voices, such as that of the ecological movement (or indigenous, displaced or suppressed peoples). A modern system must recognise the socio-economic complexity and not hide behind two-party ‘we-must-have-a-majority’ rhetoric.

Posted by Nicholas Hemley | Report as abusive