Just picked up a first edition of The Observer and it’s leading with Nick Clegg warning that Britain faces “serious social strife” if a government without a popular mandate starts wielding the public spending axe.
It’s certainly a novel twist on the standard arguments about a hung parliament. Clegg’s pitch is basically that a minority government would be good for the country because it better represents the split of the popular vote.
A narrow victory for the Tories or Labour would wreak havoc because they would be sacking public sector workers, slashing programmes and freezing wages after having secured as little as a quarter of eligible votes.
“Imagine the Conservatives go home and get an absolute majority, on 25 per cent of the eligible votes. Then they turn around in the next week or two and say we’re going to chuck up VAT to 20 per cent, we’re going to start cutting teachers, cutting police and the wage bill in the public sector.”
“I think if you’re not careful in that situation…you’d get Greek style unrest. And so my warning to people who think the old politics still works is be careful what you wish for.”
Not sure the big investors in UK debt see politics this way. But Clegg is picking up on something that is showing through in polls: many voters are so fed up with the main parties that they want a hung parliament. One survey put it high as 44 per cent. That may well change as Cameron and Brown warn of the dangers of an indecisive result. The warning over social strife is Clegg’s attempt at a counterattack.
Whether or not you buy Clegg’s main point (and I expect most political observers won’t) he raises some legitimate questions about the kind of mandate the next government will win. This campaign is hardly making clear to the electorate that Britain is facing the most sustained squeeze on public spending for 50 years or more. Clegg cites the case of Sheffield to make the point, but he could have chosen a lot of places.
“Suddenly these people will be told by a government that has no legitimacy [in the area] in their eyes that this government is going to slash and burn having promised them something else.”