Here's how to hang parliament

Vote for a Change is campaigning for a hung parliament - it is our only hope.

Well those debates have made the race to Number 10 a little bit more interesting. But despite the Clegg bounce, the single most popular option at the coming election won't appear on any ballot paper. And that's because more voters want a hung parliament than any possible outcome come May 6th.

So with ballot papers not really helping us out, we've launched a tool to help voters make a hung parliament a reality.

The Vote for a Change campaign started trying to deliver a referendum on voting reform on the date of the 2010 General Election, but politicians were too slow to hear our call. We won the argument, but the big parties failed to get their act together to get the referendum passed in the last session of parliament.

Now we are faced with a General Election, and the prospect of yet another broken parliament. It's increasingly clear that none of the parties can deliver real change themselves. Either they can't or they won't. So what we need is a reforming parliament. And that means a parliament where no one party can ride roughshod over the others. Where the whips aren't all powerful. Where real change has a chance.

We still need supporters to Vote for a Change, but in this election, that means delivering that hung parliament.

Now some supporters have said to us "why don't you just back the Lib Dems?" Well the enthusiasm for Clegg's performance on ITV has forgotten the underlying logic of our flawed elections that got us here in the first place. It is more than possible for Nick to come first and third on May 6th, just as it's possible for Gordon to come last and first.

Now David Cameron's old tutor Vernon Bogdanor has already described the coming elections as having echoes of the "peers versus the people" struggle at the polls 100 years ago. We doubt his old student is listening, but our campaign is all about the People Power he preached about last week. Behind the abstractions, the pie charts, the endless parade of wonks are individual voters who don't have the power to deliver the politics of their choosing. We're asking them to work together, and to think and vote tactically.

Of course we wish voters weren't forced to vote with their heads rather than their hearts. But the logic of First-Past-the-Post often means we have to back a candidate with a realistic chance of winning to prevent a worse option. In this election voters will have to forget about individual candidates or parties and think of the big picture. Our shared goal of a hung parliament will require thousands of voters across the country to make our pledge and vote accordingly on May 6th

Some may vote for a party they've never have even contemplated supporting before. Some may wish to take a nose peg into the polling booths. We know this means sacrifice. But if we can deliver a hung parliament we're sure this will be the last time an organisation likes ours has to ask so much from its supporters.

Willie Sullivan is director of Vote for a Change

 

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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.