A hung parliament offers a political way forward

By Anthony Barnett
15 Apr 2010

Yesterday and today, a number of individuals and organisations (including openDemocracy and Ekklesia) have been launching an online campaign to encourage people to vote for a hung parliament – one where no party has an unassailable overall majority.

The aim of Hang ’Em (http://hang-em.com/) is to get as much support as possible to prevent David Cameron's Conservatives from taking over, while making sure that Lord Mandelson and Gordon Brown do not ‘carry on as usual’.

We need as many Green, independent candidates, SNP and Plaid Cymru MPs as possible. We want to open up the political system and defy the political class. We have got to renew democracy in Britain. They won't, so hang 'em until they do.

I am used to those who get called ‘trusted and experienced observers’ in politics saying “it isn't possible.” Given their influence and dedication to making sure it isn't possible, they are probably right for this election, although you never know. And in the case of a hung parliament where the major obstructers of change would be forced to ‘deal’, the solid polling evidence is on our side.

Something like Hang 'Em is vital. Otherwise, the result is likely to be massive abstentions and those not voting will once again be the silent and powerless winners in numerical terms, and losers politically.

In this campaign, something has changed. To put it personally, I have been involved in campaigns from protesting against the war in Vietnam to Charter 88 to last year's Convention on Modern Liberty. All have been wake-up calls. They have appealed to both the government and the people to replace one course of action with another.

Hang 'em is different. We, the people, have woken up to the fact that the political class is rapacious, lying and incompetent and we want our country and democracy back.

Hitherto those experienced experts saying “it will never happen” went on to say “the people are fundamentally happy with the way we run Britain”. They were right. And I had to admit this through gritted teeth. Now, my jaw is relaxed. The political class may still be in charge, as conceited and shortsighted as before. But they know they have been found out.

When the expenses crisis broke in 2009, PM Gordon Brown said he always knew trust had to be "restored". Opposition leader David Cameron called for "power to the people", no less. As Timothy Garton Ash, one of our most distinguished international commentators, wrote in the Guardian it was "a constitutional moment", meaning one where the way we govern ourselves should have started to change.

It didn't. They missed the opportunity. They let off steam but didn't pour the kettle.

As a result, Hang 'Em (http://hang-em.com/) is one of a number of campaigns from Power2010 to Progressive Parliament seeking to make the constitutional moment happen the only way it now can – from below. The more we co-operate in this, the better.

And if all the various independent and Hang 'Em campaigns were really successful they would make Nick Clegg prime minister. I think the Lib Dems should go for it. Yet they seem to think the idea is too radical. They say the right things. I'm sure they'd do many of them in power. But they behave too much like just another party.

I believe the Lib Dems should support the Greens in the two or three seats they could win in return for Green support in all Liberal Democrat marginals. They should say to the SNP in Scotland, and Plaid Cymru in Wales, that they will fight them like anything in future elections but this time given the crisis they should make electoral pacts.

They won't. It is as if they think they are the only pluralists (note the irony). It's a great pity and no one should expect gratitude if Hang 'Em were to succeed. But in the present circumstances many would see it as a welcome relief if Nick Clegg became prime minister (and wouldn't the Labour and Tory bosses be cross!).

Such a scenario is very unlikely indeed. What is inevitable unless we start to do something about it now, is that the political class will reshufle the pack, get the agreement of the media that it has "cleaned up its act" and carry on as before. Thanks to the internet and social media we can challenge this. If we can grow 'hang 'em' through to the election we can demonstrate that it will soon be possible for voters to change the rules of the game and refuse the frankly insulting non-choice the two main parties are putting before us.

The first start is to become a fan of hang 'em on facebook or sign up on its website.

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© Anthony Barnett is a founder of openDemocracy (www.opendemocracy.net/) and plays a leading role in the blog debate forum OurKingdom (http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom). He was the first director of Charter 88 from 1988 to 1995 and co-director of the Convention on Modern Liberty - with which Ekklesia was involved as one of a range of partners - in 2008-9. Anthony is a leading political commentator and has contributed to a wide range of magazines and journals, including the New Statesman, for which he recently penned 'Hang 'em high with this election' (http://www.newstatesman.com/uk-politics/2010/03/labour-brown-british-bri...). He has written, edited or co-edited a range of influential books on geopolitical, constitutional and democratic issues.

You can get involved in the Hang ’Em ‘hung parliament’ initiative here: (http://hang-em.com/)

This article is adapted and extended, with thanks, from one also appearing on Guardian Comment-is-Free.

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