The result of the forthcoming General Election is not in much doubt it would seem. Eight different polling organisations’ latest polls are shown above, and the similarities between them are so much more striking than the differences. It appears that we will be going through the motions of a process which is to a large extent predetermined on 7 May. The election result is not where the uncertainty lies.
However, the day afterwards, when the general public no longer has any say in what happens, is still deeply uncertain. Although the parties have all let us have their manifestos, details about how they would behave in the event of a distribution of seats which seems to be largely already decided in most cases (presumably because the parties think we might vote differently if we knew) are very sketchy. Does this meet the definition of democracy, ie a system of government by the whole population? The Electoral Reform Society would say not. I would argue it does.
If the election result is largely as expected what would it tell us about the views of the electorate? I think it would tell us:
- They don’t want austerity on the scale of 2010-12 again (which is one reason why the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats together don’t appear likely to get a majority);
- They are not as obsessed with immigration policy as the two main parties think they are (which is why they seem prepared to vote for a range of different approaches to managing immigration with no approach commanding majority support);
- They don’t want a referendum on whether to stay in the EU (which is why the Conservatives and UKIP together will not be able to get a majority); and
- They don’t support the current student fees system and don’t believe it is indistinguishable from a graduate tax (which is another reason why the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives together seem unlikely to get a majority).
There are probably several other attitudes amongst the electorate that can equally well be divined in the negative in a similar way (the BBC summaries of the parties’ positions on a range of issues can be found here), but the point is that a finely balanced pattern of parties of the type we look likely to end up with does not represent an inability to make a decision. It does however represent a determination not to allow any single party to make decisions. That seems to meet a reasonable definition of democracy to me.