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Pressing the Political Reset Button

You don’t hear it said often but coalition governments have a record of success across the world, says Merlene Emerson

The new year has begun with the major parties starting their election campaigns in earnest, even though Prime Minister Brown has hinted that we should discount a March election.

Political pundits have, meanwhile, been speculating that with the reduction of the Tory lead to single digits there is a solid prospect of Lib Dems holding the balance of power in a hung Parliament and creating a coalition government.

Is this a good thing? Well, I would suggest that it’s a lot better than an unopposed government capable of taking us into illegal wars, making alliances with European extremists or giving failed bankers an unconditional £700 billion hand out.

In a coalition, the Liberal Democrats could well be the stabilising influence; the voice of reason that ensures the electorate get what they want, not just what they’re told.

It can, and has, worked elsewhere. Scotland managed pretty well with a Lib Dem Labour alliance from 1999 to 2007. Many in England can only envy the free domiciliary care there, and students graduating without the burden of punishing loans as currently enjoyed by our Scottish neighbours.

At the local government level, there are many local authorities up and down the country which are successfully governed by coalitions involving Lib Dems where no Party has secured an overall majority (take Southwark and Brent Councils in London for example, or Birmingham City Council in the Midlands).

Other countries with successful minority governments include Canada as well as New Zealand. And just to show how far we have been left behind, more than 70 other countries (from Australia to Venezuela) have introduced proportional representation as the preferred method of counting votes as this is indisputably a fairer way of ensuring that every vote counts.

Political analysts have pointed out the simple arithmetic under the current voting system: the Tories will need to win 117 seats to achieve a simple majority, and up to 140 for a working majority.

In percentage terms they will need close to a 7% swing from Labour before they will have a majority of Parliamentary seats. It is interesting to note that Margaret Thatcher only achieved a 5.3% swing from Labour in 1979. Hence speculation over the likelihood of a hung Parliament have been revived.

Idealists may squirm at the thought of Liberal Democrats forming a coalition with Euro-sceptic, self-serving Tories. There are clear areas of differences, of values and of priorities. At the same time, despite a shared progressive agenda with Labour, their penchant for an autocratic approach has always been anathema to the more liberal-minded.

However politics is about finding solutions and forging alliances where necessary. After all the Liberal Democrats were born of the old SDP-Liberal Alliance before the two became one in 1981. A coalition government including the Lib Dems could be the best opportunity for Britain to start afresh with introduction of fairer taxes, green investments and real electoral reforms.

Incidentally, Paddy Power have recently cut their odds on a hung Parliament from 5/2 to 9/4. Let’s hope that the trend continues as the parties set out their stalls and more people find that they like what they hear from us. Echoing Nick Clegg’s new year message: “2010 must be the year we press the political reset button”.

Merlene Emerson is Lib Dem candidate for Hammersmith

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