Good post, Hugh. Indeed, many countries do govern very successfully with coalitions.
Interesting that you mentioned ignoring the wishes of the electorate - good point. It doesn't say much for our politicians if they can only govern if they're able to completely ignore for the next 5 years everyone who didn't vote for them (by having an overall majority).
Some of my thoughts on our first past the post system:
If you have one of the parties being ineffective and unelectable (Labour 1980 to 1997, Conservatives 1997 to ?), then the party in power can stick two fingers up to anyone who doesn't vote for them, and the party that the opposition are supposed to represent have no representation for many years. And once those parts of society have been alienated, then that alienation stays for a long time. For instance, will Labour ever bother to compete for the rural vote? Would David Cameron even bother visiting some of the regions that were so depressed during the 1980s?
And when the parties are at level pegging, the representation doesn't seem better. Now that the tribal socialist/capitalist thing from the 1980s is gone, parties have become more precise with their analysis of voters and they hone in on a particular demographic at the peak of the bell curve, which is the 'Basildon Man', 'Wiltshire Woman' etc that the press like to put in their headlines, and the election machine goes into overdrive to attract this person. So the whole election campaign becomes focused on some crappy little floating voters who want:
-better schools and public services
-but at the same time, lower taxes
-cheaper petrol so they can afford to drive back and forth from Sainsbury's in their 4x4
-some retarded gumph on immigration
You can see why young people become disinclined to vote.
Abers made some good points about the economy. Before Nick Clegg started to become prominent, Cameron and Brown spoke only about the economy. How pointless! Every country in the world has spent huge amounts of cash to prop up the banks and pump money into their economies. Now, they have to cut public services and raise taxes to pull back the money. End of story! Why bother whiffling on about whether VAT or NI is going to be raised? Now Clegg has pushed the boundaries a little, other policies are now being discussed, and the two parties are trying to reach out to more people.
The major achievement of Clegg, for me, is that he's encouraged large numbers of people to register to vote. Excellent stuff.
Personally, I think that the worst possible outcome would be a small overall majority for the Conservatives. This is what happened to John Major. A small number of extremely unrepresentative right wingers held an enormous sway over the country which caused a lot of resentment towards the Conservative party. In the end, after the party whip was withdrawn from the eurosceptics and a couple of MPs died, we ended up with a hung parliament anyway.