Andrew Scadding mulls over the implications of the hung parliament on the charity sector.
First of all, remember the great American quote: "The people have spoken – the bastards!" We are in for a period of uncertainty, which is bad for fundraising and especially bad for charities like Thai Children's Trust, operating overseas. We are already struggling with massively increased foreign exchange costs, and uncertainty can only make things worse.
It will be a few days before we know whether there is to be a continuing Labour government with Lib-Dem support, a new Tory government with Lib-Dem support or a minority Tory administration. Of these, in my view, the worst option (but possibly the most likely) would be the last. It would prolong the uncertainty because it would almost certainly guarantee a second election later this year or early next. The danger here for Mr Cameron is that the Lib-Dem share of the vote is actually increased although they have lost seats, so it looks as though there is a very solid third-party vote – and a new election may not produce a different result. In fact the public may be annoyed by being made to vote twice, and could take it out on the Tories. But the fact that the Lib-Dem vote has increased only marginally does not represent a huge vote of confidence by the public in three-party politics.
It will be very interesting to see how the new House of Commons works. We have seen huge numbers of MPs leave under the shadow of the expenses scandal, and others have been dismissed by their electors. Others again have been kept in place against the tide because they are good MPs. The character of the House will be changed beyond recognition by the biggest influx of new faces since 1945. These may be people who are less prone to ‘always voting at the party’s call and never, ever thinking for themselves at all’. So it may be a House which is less prone to go out on a limb over issues like the poll tax or the Iraq war. I would welcome that.
In my view, the best way forward in the medium term at least would be one or other of the coalition options so that there is a degree of security, a clear parliamentary programme and space for a new government to deal effectively with the pressing economic challenges. Maybe the electorate has a sense that that can best be done by consensus rather than confrontation. Maybe they have a point. We in the third sector need a healthy economy as much as does business or government. People – including local and national government – can only give us money, or spend money with us, if they have it in their pockets. The next few months will be lean and difficult.