In any case, no-one votes for a government of any stripe. All anyone gets to do is endorse a given candidate in their local constituency. After that it’s a case of letting the national chips fall where they may. Hari, however, complains that it’s all most unfair that the people – for whom he presumes to speak and whose opinions he appears to know – have been robbed. ~Alex Massie
What is interesting about Hari’s lament is that it is very nearly a perfect British copy of the frequent Republican complaints that Obama has been governing in such a way that he is at odds with our “center-right nation” and that he has also been going against his own campaign promises. During the last sixteen months we have heard endlessly about Obama’s alleged “betrayals” of his “moderate, pragmatic” campaign and his pursuit of a “radical left-wing agenda” in defiance of the preferences of the majority. Republicans have been making these charges quite often despite the obvious “centrist” governance the administration has offered so far. The purpose of these charges is not to describe political realities. The goal is to re-define the political landscape and set down markers for future elections, so that there are ready-made ideological explanations for what happens later. It is no accident that these complaints have usually been coming from supporters of defeated, deeply discredited parties that are opposed by more than half of their countrymen.
Hari would essentially like to ignore that 70% of the British electorate voted for parties other than the one in power, and he would prefer instead to have a “democratic voting system” in which that overwhelming rejection of the ruling party is somehow thwarted or undone by the maneuvering of coalition negotiators. In the final weeks of the British election, I saw many arguments coming from the British left, almost all of them being made by Labour supporters, that the division of the British left between Liberals and Labour could and should be repaired, but this was little more than wishing away an unpleasant, inconvenient reality. Quite apart from the self-interested motives both parties have in perpetuating the divide, this division endures at least partly because there was and continues to be deeper reasons for it. It is legitimate to point out that the center-left won over half the vote in Britain, but that does not automatically translate into a mandate for a coalition arrangement that would have effectively re-elected the party most voters wanted thrown out.
It is a curious thing to watch supporters of parties recently routed in elections turn into ardent advocates of plebiscitary democracy, as if their cause would be aided by the sort of direct popular voting they now claim to want. Give them a few poll results and enough time, and they will invent fascinating stories in which their opponents, who actually received the majority of the votes, are constantly and outrageously flouting the will of the people. Of course, show Hari a different poll result on the majority’s views on immigration, for example, and see how long he cares about “what the British people want.” Republicans have convinced themselves, or at least pretend to be convinced, that the American public has recoiled from massive government spending and Obama’s domestic agenda, but aside from ambiguous and potentially misleading poll numbers on the majority’s view of the health care bill there is no evidence for this. They keep claiming this in the hope that the midterm elections will appear to vindicate this ideological claim, regardless of the real reasons for the election result. So far, as Massie notes, Clegg has made the terrible mistake of actually following through on his pledge to support the party with the most seats and votes, which is to say that he is being accused of treachery for having kept his word. This is basically how Republicans have responded to Obama when the President has pursued the policy initiatives he spent the better part of two years saying he would pursue.