Hung, drawn and not quite sure what happens next

Nor is the people’s judgement always true;
The most may err as grossly as the few.

Well we managed to bugger that all up quite nicely. Instead of a nice, smooth handover of power with Tory-Boy Cameron gurning for the cameras as he moved into No10 while Gordon Brown packed the tea chests and moved out, we have got ourselves a hung parliament. And all because the electorate had the temerity to turn up and vote the way it wanted to.

We have a new Prime Minister, a new deputy PM and a cabinet made up of mostly Tories and five LibDems. Nick Clegg, he of the sterling TV performances, has been even more the man of the moment and he held the aces – I just loved the helicam shots of his car being tracked through the streets of London on TV last week. It was like an episode of Police, Camera, Action. I can’t work out whether Clegg’s been having the time of his life, flirting outrageously with both sides or has bitten off more than he can chew and will end up compromising all his advantages away, pleasing no-one.

It’s right that the leader of the party that won the greatest number of seats is the one with the top job, but it’s also right that Cameron understands that he didn’t get an absolute mandate to govern. The wounds of the Thatcher years went deep and are not easily forgotten.

Whatever our hung parliament brings, this election threw up another plain fact. A change is required in the way we currently place and count our votes.

A system that was put in place in the Victorian age – when you had to be over 25 and a man to be able to vote – is no longer the best, most efficient way for a modern society that is used to getting and giving its information and decisions immediately.

Yes, people had enough notice and should have been able to get themselves to the polling station during the 15 hours that they were open. But in every other election, they’ve been able to go to work and pop in to vote on their way home. I have never voted and been one of more than about half a dozen people doing so at one time. Some polling stations ran out of ballot papers which means they didn’t check the print order against the numbers on the electoral roll.

I don’t know enough about the technical issues surrounding these things but it strikes me as bizarre that I can do all my banking, shopping and personal communications online, but still have to go into a little booth, by myself and put a cross next to someone’s name, using a pencil attached to a piece of string.

Having to turn up to vote in person, polling card in hand, is supposed to limit the chances of electoral fraud. But a 14 year old boy voted Lib Dem this time round because he’d been sent a polling card. What’s all that about?

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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