Do voters ‘choose’ coalitions?

Sometimes, even supposedly inoffensive statements demonstrate how commentators like to manipulate the truth to suit their political agenda.

One of the more vapid clichés that regularly does the rounds is that the electorate deliberately ‘voted for a coalition’ or that ‘voters chose not to give one party an overall majority’. The implication being that when everyone voted they were in some way consciously voting for a hung parliament. A good case in point comes in today’s Observer from Andrew Rawnsley:

“For Mr Clegg and his party, the long-term point of being in coalition was to prove to Britain that it could be a stable, effective and attractive form of government. A descent into a permanent condition of seething acrimony, punctuated by furious shouting matches and parliamentary defeats, will discredit the very idea of coalition government. Voters will not be minded to repeat the experience, which won’t be good for Lib Dem hopes of being in office again.”

Statements like this are extremely common in mainstream political commentary. The voters ‘chose’ the “experience” of coalition government last time.

Erm, no we didn’t.

In an election people vote for the candidate they like the most (or in my and many other cases despise the least) because they want them to win. Considering that when we enter the polling booth we have no idea how most of the rest of the population is voting, I’m puzzled at the suggestion that we somehow all voted in a coordinated way and the outcome we were left with was somehow deliberate.

Maybe this is a wild shot in the dark but I’m guessing that most people who voted Tories wanted a Tory government, and most Labour voters wanted (or were prepared to tolerate for fear of a worse alternative) a Labour government. Ditto the Lib Dems. A hung parliament wasn’t the objective, but that is what we ended up with. That in no way implies that that was anyone’s desired outcome.

The coalition agreement came about from a combination of the vagaries of our first past the post electoral system and the state of the economy. Many voters in their ill-informed naiveté thought that kicking Labour out and replacing them with a party further to their right was the answer. Others foolishly voted for the Lib Dems, not realising that (with a few honourable exceptions) they are liars, dissemblers and opportunists who will say and do anything to win votes.

Descriptions like the one used by Rawnsley are beloved of our ‘centre-ground’ commentators. Basically they take the current situation and try to suggest that it was the ideal or intended outcome, despite such a suggestion being self-evidently fatuous. But it’s a rather clever intellectual device for defending the status quo, and one that leads many in the commentariat to argue that the coalition has a mandate for its policies, despite the fact that the Tories got just over a third of the vote on a 65% turnout at the last election and the Lib Dems went into that election explicitly opposing many of the policies they are currently voting for in parliament.

Ascribing wisdom and foresight to the choices of voters may seem very progressive, but in fact it is deeply patronising when that is clearly not what has happened.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Rob
    Jul 15, 2012 @ 15:24:17

    My wife and I we’ve been married forty years said you have to vote, you always vote you will regret it. Down I go and I looked at the ballot paper and decided to vote for all of them, they are all the same career politicians and all of them in my area had cheats at the expenses, so I gave them all a vote walked and have no intention of bothering again


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