The British Parliamentary Election took twelve days to count (the pace was so slow because British laws stipulates that after each ballot the vote-counters must drink a full cup of Twinings and salute the Queen before proceding to count the next ballot.) The results weren’t very surprising (though I lost a $50 bet as I predicted Plaid Cymru minority government.) Some thoughts on the results and what happens next:
- Ed Balls was reelected.
- The Conservatives gained 3.8%, the Lib-Dems gained a paltry 1% and the Labour Party lost 6.2%.
- The Sinn Fein, an Irish nationalist party won 5 seats, but they don’t actually show up to the HOC, this reduces the amount of seats a party needs to form government.
- British parliamentary tradition dictates that, even though the Conservatives won a plurality of seats the most recent Prime Minister, in this case Gordon Brown, gets the opportunity to try to form a coalition. Though David Cameron has offer Nick Clegg/the Lib-Dems the opportunity to join the 306 Conservative MPs in a coalition government he is going to respect that tradition an allow Brown the attempt (which will most certainly fail.) It is jarring to see a Conservative Party in an English-speaking parliament that respects constitutional tradition and procedures.
- A non-Conservative coalition is possible. It would probably be formed between the Labour Party (258 MPs, 29% of the vote), the Lib-Dems (57 MPs, 23% of the vote), the Green Party (1 MP, 1% of the vote), the Scottish National Party (6 MPs, 1.7% of the vote) and Ireland’s Social Democratic & Labour Party (3 MPs, 0.4% of the vote) for a 325 seat majority (representing 55.1% of the electorate.) This would be difficult for many reasons: it would be a 5 party coalition with each party many ideological fissures, Labour did very poorly in England proper, winning more than one hundred fewer seats than the Conservatives, a coalition government without the Conservatives would not represent the core of the U.K and with several regional nationalist parties demanding money for their regions their could be a huge backlash, Gordon Brown didn’t win the election (there is really no way to dispute that) so it could be unseemly for him to try to remain PM.
- Nick Clegg/the Liberal-Democrats have made it crystal clear that they wont enter into any agreement (formal coalition, or ad hoc bill-by-bill support) without an agreement from their partner (Conservative or Labour) to change the U.K.’s voting system to so-called “Proportional Representation.” It is not just their leader who is a stickler on this issue but the MPs who make up his party seem resolute. Tory leader David Cameron and his party are against PR. The Conservatives’ manifesto says they will make all ridings the same size but that is the extent of Conservative electoral reform. This is just the first of many policy divides between the Conservatives/the Lib-Dems (the European Union, taxes, immigration and crime are just a few of the others) so it is not a given that a Cameron-Clegg coalition would be more stable than a polyglot Labour-LibDem-SNP-GP-SDLP coalition. The CC coalition isn’t that bizarre in Europe, from 1966 to 1969, and again from 2005 to 2009, Germany was governed by a “Grand Coalition” comprised of the CDU/CSU and SPD parties which were ideological on different ends of the spectrum, this produce a more moderate government.
- Conventional wisdom is that Gordon Brown/the Labour Party only supported electoral reform as party of a deathbed conversion. That is quite false, Brown campaigned on changing the electoral system in the U.K. but he was sensibly against “Proportional Representation.” The U.K. election results signal a clear 63.9% of voters supporting reform but only 23% being definitely in favour of “PR.” Commentators are correct when they predict that the U.K. is now entering into a national debate on electoral reform and the essence of democracy no matter which party/parties form the next British government.
- As Canada’s system of governance is modeled after the British system perhaps we should be having the same debate on the efficacy of our system?
- Coalition is not a dirty word in the U.K. They are lucky that their leaders are intellectually honest enough not to distort the fact that coalitions are just one facet of parliamentary politics.