What effect would a hung parliament have on war and peace?

IssueMay 2010
Feature by Matthew Biddle

Recent opinion polls suggest an increased likelihood of the 6 May general election resulting in a hung parliament, something last seen in 1974. In order to avoid this, one party must win a minimum of 326 seats. The Labour party will forfeit its absolute majority if it loses 24 seats; the Conservatives will only achieve an absolute majority if they gain 116 seats. Otherwise, a hung parliament results and smaller parties gain value as the two major parties try to pass legislation.

Kate Hudson, chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said this could actually benefit the peace movement.

“The best-case scenario is a situation where one of the other parties was in a position where they could bargain for a better position on war or nuclear issues,” Hudson said.

Most analysts agree the Liberal Democrats would be in the best position to influence policy in the event of a hung parliament.

In the nuclear debate, the Lib Dems have stated their opposition to a like-for-like replacement of the current Trident missile program, though they do support maintaining a nuclear deterrent. Other parties, like the Greens, advocate a completely nuclear-free world, but are unlikely to be in a position of power. Hudson said the Lib Dems could back Trident’s inclusion in the upcoming strategic defence review, if they see defence policy as a top issue.

The main issue for most Lib Dems is electoral reform. Angie Zelter, founder of Trident Ploughshares, said a move towards proportional representation could actually pave the way for other key political changes, such as in military policy.

“A hung parliament would certainly be better than Labour or the Tories [getting a majority] as long as the Lib Dems would be in a position to push for changes we’ve been waiting for, like proportional representation,” Zelter told PN.

Still, not all are convinced that a hung parliament would have much impact on war and peace issues. Ann Feltham, parliamentary officer for Campaign Against Arms Trade, said she’s unsure there would a substantial difference between a hung parliament and a major party winning a majority because the major parties’ military policies are not radically different.