The current situation in British politics and why America should care

Last thursday we Brits had a general election. But the three main parties, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and New Labour, whose leaders David Cameron, Nick Clegg and the incumbent Prime Minister Gordon Brown respectively, failed to gain an overall majority, which led to what’s known as a Hung Parliament.

Because we have a ‘first past the post’ system, where a certain number of seats in the elected chamber must be won before any party leader can go to the Queen and ask to form a government, we now have a situation in which both the party with the highest number of votes and the party with the second highest number of votes must try to do a deal with the third place Liberal Democrats to secure enough seats to form a ruling coalition.

Clear as mud, right? Well—it gets better. The Liberal Democrats have, since their inception in the 1970s, cited electoral reform as one of their main constitutional pledges. Specifically, they see the ‘first past the post’ system as giving an unfair bias towards the two bigger parties while also making it nearly impossible for the electorate, as current events corroborate, to elect ‘none of the above’. Their proposal to rectify this is that, in line with almost every other country in Europe, with whom Britain now has intrinsic economic and cultural ties, we in the UK should adopt an electoral system known as Proportional Representation, or PR.

The party who polled the second lowest number of votes, Gordon Brown’s Labour Party, knowing that if they could form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats would remain in power (albeit without a clear mandate from the electorate), immediately offered to put a referendum on PR in the Queen’s speech. All well and good, you might assume? But the LibDem’s have always maintained that in the event of a Hung Parliament they would first have to consider proposals from the party who polled the highest number of votes under the current system—and that means negotiating with the party whom they have the least in common ideologically—David Cameron’s Conservatives; who are openly hostile to a great many of the LibDem’s core polices on immigration, defence and taxation.

Why should America care? Well, whatever happens in the next 24-48 hours, the reason why we’re in this situation in the first place is that an MP’s expenses scandal, which saw members of Parliament from all three of the main parties dragged through the tabloids for weeks on end, each accused of effectively stealing millions of pounds a year from the UK tax payer, can only be resolved by a root and branch reform of the way we have done things in this country for a very long time. And Nick Clegg, the man who now finds himself in a position to potentially deliver this reform, has rather impressive credentials among exactly the sort of people Americans don’t generally warm to.

For starters he’s an atheist and he leads the Liberal Democrats, a party whose name alone if the Murdoch rightwing press are to be believed, is interchangeable with Homosexual Abortionists. “Look!”, Glenn Beck will cry, “Liberal Democrat. LD. Lucifer Delivers! It’s so clear, don’t you get it?!”

Then there’s the fact the LibDem’s warned Tony Blair’s government from the off that George Bush’s invasion of Iraq was illegal, would result in the deaths of thousands of innocent people, cost billions and worsen our relationships and reputation in the Middle East for decades to come.

Ignored, but undeterred, the Liberal Democrats continued to gain momentum among the 18-25 year old demographic. Then their economics spokesman, Vince Cable, by far one of the most experienced members of Parliament in matters of finance—way out-qualifying both the Conservative opposition and ruling Labour Party Chancellor of the Exchequer—predicted years in advance that a global financial meltdown was a matter of when not if, which would lead to a deep recession in the UK and the rest of Europe. Indeed Vince Cable’s proposed reforms to the banking system later forced some of his most ardent critics to admit would have shielded the UK taxpayer from the brunt of the impact on the housing and lending markets had they been implemented at the time he was saying we needed to.

So we have a finance secretary who actually knows what he’s talking about, an anti-war humanist with polices that are, heaven forfend, sensible and realistic and an electoral system so broken as I write this no-one is actually in charge of the country, despite that we’ve just had a general election with a record turn-out among young and first-time voters and it now looks like the only way to fix it is to do what the Liberal Democrats have been arguing for since 1973. The fix, to use an American parlance, should be a no-brainer.

How-fucking-ever. The ultimate decision isn’t really with Nick Clegg at all, it’s with The 1922 committee—since it is the Conservative party who need to ‘borrow’ the least number of seats from the third placed LibDems to form a ruling coalition. In brief, The 1922 committee is basically made up of every ‘stereotypical British toff’ you can imagine. The sort who use phrases like, “it’s political correctness gone mad”, because they’re not allowed to call foreigners “darkies” anymore and who think the country’s gone to the dogs because they were forced to sell another helicopter when one of Daddy’s factories had to close down and move to India.

The notion that this ultra conservative steering committee, who effectively dictate the policy which the Parliamentary Conservative party peruse, would consider any of the LibDem’s core policies in exchange for support in a ruling coalition is, frankly, ludicrous. Made all the more-so thanks to one final very British irony. The total number of votes cast across the UK for the Liberal Democrats was 6,827,938, for which they secured, under the uniquely unfair ‘first past the post’ voting system, just 57 seats in the house of commons. Whereas the Conservatives, who polled a total of 10,706,647 votes—a difference of just 3,878,709 to the LibDems—won 306 seats, for just a 36% share of the vote to the Liberal Democrat’s 23%. So even though the LibDem’s technically won more votes than ever before, they actually lost a number of seats compared to their performance in the last general election and so have even less bargaining power than they had before to argue in favour of electoral reform.

Sometimes I think they want us to fail.


4 comments on “The current situation in British politics and why America should care

  1. You could not have said it better!!
    In Canada we have the same system , and the exact same crap happens, Im thinking of moving to Mars.
    Although any snowy country like sweden or norway will do.

  2. They say under P.R the M.P would see their ties to their constituency lessened, which would obviously be ideal for the future E.U regionalisation of our country.

    Much as that worries me however, I am so tired of my vote being meaningless so I welcome it anyway. I think any fringe voter would.

    Nice summary of everything that’s been going on. The only thing I’d add is that the British Nationalist Party more than doubled their vote to 560,000. This seems to reflect a growing trend throughout Europe, and in the event of another election within the next few monthes under P.R they would gain their first M.P’s.

    Interesting times right now. I’m still not sure whether I should get out while I can!

  3. This is an often made point, Michael, but as you also point out the benefits of even tighter integration with Europe outweigh the negatives of having racists represented in the house of commons—because then, at least, they would have to qualify their beliefs in open debate with those in the vast majority who can just as easily expose the fallaciousness of their policies. Plus I’d doubt very much the fringe parties would do as well in a system where voters grade their preferences, as opposed to vote for just one party over all the others.

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