How to Break the System
John Lanchester · What if the Lib Dems win?
I never liked David Owen much – even by the standard of politicians, he always seemed to be a self-interested egomaniac – but his interview with David Hare in the Guardian today is interesting.
Owen’s most striking claim is this one:
I’m pleased that the great British public out there in their strange, almost instinctive way are groping towards a solution. They always do. The British electorate has got every election right in my lifetime, and I include the two in which I got kicked out.
Not sure I agree, but it’s an interesting way of putting it – and I suppose the last three elections at least can be said to have been got right, in that ‘we’ wanted the Tories out, then wanted Labour to have a big enough mandate to do the things it had promised to do the first time but hadn’t begun, then wanted them back in power because we couldn’t face the alternative but also wanted them to have had a nasty scare from the electorate and a reduced majority. What would getting the election right this time mean? I think the polls are starting to hint at an answer. Of the last 12 national opinion polls, four have shown the Lib Dems ahead, and one has been tied. Translated through the magic of our electoral system, that would leave the Lib Dems with the most votes and the fewest seats, Labour with the most seats and the fewest votes, and the Tories in the middle.
That result would break the electoral system. Nobody could defend an outcome with the top party coming bottom and vice versa. It would come close to breaking our unwritten constitution too. I’ve heard a theory that one reason there’s going to be a longer-than-usual 12-day gap between the election and the recall of Parliament is to avoid ‘embarrassing the Queen’. The fear is that Brenda herself might in some circumstances be seeming to choose the winner, when the electoral system had manifestly failed to do a fair job of it. Brenda could, of course, just invite Clegg and leave him to sort it out... yeah, right.
At least there’s a tentative glimpse of an optimistic scenario, in which the election result crashes the electoral system, and we get genuine structural reform as a result. Holding your breath for this outcome? Not advised.