Opinion poll raises spectre of hung British parliament
The latest opinion poll in Britain showing the opposition Conservatives six points ahead of the ruling Labour party has raised the possibility of a hung parliament with no one party having an overall majority and a return to the kind of political uncertainty not seen since the 1970s.
Kenneth Clarke, the Conservatives’ business spokesman, said earlier this month that a hung parliament at this point in the economic cycle would be a disaster, an assertion his boss David Cameron was quick to try to play down after the latest survey.
The fact is that a landslide Conservative victory, which at one point had appeared inevitable with polls showing Cameron’s party 20 points ahead, now looks far less likely after Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s best opinion poll showing in almost a year.
The Ipsos MORI survey in the Observer newspaper showed Labour on 31 percent, the Conservatives on 37 percent and the Liberal Democrats on 17 percent. The last British election to deliver a hung parliament was called in February 1974 by Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath. His decision to call a snap poll in the face of labour unrest and economic turmoil disastrously backfired. A second election in October 1974 allowed Labour’s Harold Wilson to turn a minority government into a small working majority.
The fresh glimmer of hope for Labour came against a backdrop of confidence in economic recovery, a Labour by-election victory and signs the Conservatives were struggling to win over floating voters. Labour, in power since 1997, has suffered from the longest recession on record, a scandal over lawmakers’ expenses and military losses in Afghanistan. A general election must be held by June 3.
“I do think that in the middle of an acute national crisis a hung parliament would be one of the biggest disasters we could suffer … that would be a bigger danger than a Labour victory,” said Clarke, one of the heavyweights of the Conservative party and a former finance minister.
“Fear of City Turmoil if Election Delivers Hung Parliament,” was the Daily Telegraph headline prompted by Clarke’s comments over an article that referred to the “potentially devastating effect such a result could have on the financial markets at a time when the economy is on a life-support machine.”
Asked whether he agreed with Clarke, Cameron told the BBC: ”Not really, no. Ken has his own way of explaining these things. I think frankly anything is better than another five years of this Labour government.” He added: “I am working night and day not for a hung parliament, but for a majority government.”
Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, which may hold sway in a hung parliament as the second main opposition party, commented after the latest poll: “It’s a great thing that we’re going to have a major debate where a lot is at stake.”
What causes the greatest concern is the potential impact on the bond market, where the British government borrows by selling gilts, wrote Andrew Porter in the Telegraph. “A stalemate at Westminster could see market confidence drain away completely, leaving the U.K. facing a buyers’ strike as no one is prepared to buy gilts. After that, the only place to go is the International Monetary Fund.”
Do you think Britain is heading for a hung parliament? Would this undermine British economic recovery and what would be the consequences? Are critics ofa hung parliament simply not used to a coalition government in Britain where a hung parliament is a rarity?