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Be careful what you wish for

Reg Hoare

As Spain – much like the UK, prepares itself for yet another general election. Hispanophile Reg Hoare questions if the ‘least worst option’ of a hung parliament is really the UK’s best option.

As the UK General Election campaign kicks off in earnest, a hung parliament is the joint favourite outcome with the bookies (alongside an overall Conservative majority) and is likely to remain so as we move closer to 12 December. One suspects there are many in the electorate and Westminster bubble who view a hung parliament as a least worst option; as an antidote to what many consider as the increasingly extreme positions of the Conservatives and Labour, and as a middle ground that ensures compromise over conflict.

However, one should be careful what one wishes for and the Spanish experience is a very good reason to be wary of hung parliaments – in the last five years, its two party system has fragmented, ravaged by scandals, splits and nationalism / populism. Whereas it consistently produced governments with overall majorities in the forty years following Spain’s return to democracy in 1977, since 2015 recent general elections have consistently produced hung parliaments – resulting in four general elections in four years and an impotent caretaker prime minister being in situ since the April 2019 general election, unable to form a government.

Spain’s fragmented party system is now populated by its traditional conservative / labour equivalent main parties (Partido Popular and PSOE), a Momentum style spin off (Podemos), an old style Liberal party along Jo Grimond era lines rather than Lib Dems (Cuidadanos), the nationalists (principally Catalan and Basque) and the latest splinter group, a eurosceptic UKIP/BXP equivalent (Vox). To make matters worse, since April, Podemos has now splintered in two, spawning yet another new party (Mas Pais) to further dislocate the vote!

And never the twain shall meet; the electoral maths has turned out to be irreconcilable with neither the parties of left or right having enough deputies to form a government – hardly surprising when the prime minister tried to form a government with just 123 out of 350 deputies in the Spain’s rainbow parliament. And thus it is no surprise that there is another election taking place this weekend to try and resolve the deadlock – but guess what, the latest polls suggest yet another hung parliament and no end to the deadlock.

Spain’s rainbow parliament

 

This is neither good for democracy or governing. And it could be what awaits the UK on 13th December and into the future.