Popular wisdom has it that Britain is on the verge of a hung parliament for the first time since the 1970s. Opinion is divided as to whether this is a good or bad thing. The public seem to be rather pleased with this state of affairs while the Tories are horrified at the idea. Clegg the Kingmaker is understandably thrilled while Gordon Brown seems surprisingly open-minded about the idea (although that may be more him resigning himself to the fact that he’ll have to invite the Lib Dems into coalition in order to hang onto power rather than any principled conviction).
What has changed since the last era of hung parliaments is the increase of de facto presidentialism. Prime Ministers have adopted an increasing presidential style over the last few decades, and the media’s obsession with presidentialising our political system has recently culminated in the ongoing Presidential Prime Ministerial debates.
What is peculiar about our emerging Presidency is that it is still wrapped up in a formally parliamentary package. It seems we have all the disadvantages of a US-style presidential system with none of the advantages: a checks and balances system and a directly elected executive. Yet if we enter a period in which hung parliaments become the norm (whether as a result of a stronger third party or from some form of proportional representation) there is a grave threat to representative democracy. A hung parliament will mean that the ability to choose the Government even indirectly will be removed from the electorate entirely and it shall become the exclusive domain of the Liberal Democrat leader. It will become effectively impossible to oust the Government of the Lib Dems choice.