UK Election: The Aftermath.

Welcome to the election which everyone lost.  The voters have returned with a verdict of “none of the above”.

  • Labour have done as badly as they did in 1983, so they’re kidding themselves to say it’s anything other than a massive defeat. No way can Gordon Brown expect to stay in office.
  • The Tories have also lost. They were up against the most unpopular prime minister people can remember, in the middle of a recession, and 37% of the popular vote is the best they can manage. The verdict of the British people on them was “we don’t trust you guys with a majority, so we’re not going to give you one”.
  • The Liberal Democrats never expecting to form a majority government, but their goal was to get a big enough wedge of MPs to be able to form a majority with either of the other two parties.  That hasn’t happened, which is why they have also lost.

So now we’re in the post-election period while the parties investigate coalitions, and try to make deals. Commentators from countries with proportional voting (i.e. most countries) are bemused that so many people in Britain find this strange.  We seem to have three options:

  • A coalition (or some agreement short of a coalition) between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats. While the parties are right to enter discussions, I doubt that they’ll be able to hammer out a deal that both parties will be able to accept. The ‘Orange Book’ faction of the Liberals and David Cameron’s moderates may have something in common, but there are a sizeable section of both parties who’d consider such a deal to be anathema.
  • A minority Tory government, perhaps doing ad-hoc deals to get certain legislation through. At the moment I think this is most likely option, although it’s likely to end in a second election within a year.
  • A Lib/Lab coalition.  Sadly I think this is a non-starter; the numbers simply do not add up. They’ll be well short of a working majority, and nobody really wants to cut shady pork-barrel deals with the Scottish Nationalists or Democratic Unionists.
  • A grand coalition of all three parties as government of national unity, with David Cameron as Prime Minister. Possibly the least likely of all, and only justified if the problems with the economy are really as serious as some of the more apocalyptic commentators are suggesting.

Whatever happens next, we’re going to be living in interesting times. There’s been a lot of talk about electoral reform during and after this election.  Whether or not parties can work together successfully when no one party has a majority will be one test of whether or not both the British people and their politicians can deal with the results of an electoral system which would never give an overwhelming majority to a single party.

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5 Responses to UK Election: The Aftermath.

  1. It’s also the election that lost Americans.

    See, we were fine with it up to now: you’ve got two houses of Parliament, we’ve got two houses of Congress; we’ve got a President, you’ve got a Prime Minister; you’ve got a Queen, we’ve got a First Lady; we’ve got Republicans, you’ve got Tories; you’ve got Labour, we’ve got Democrats. As long as you don’t examine that too closely, we can pretend we understand British politics.

    And then a news story says the phrase “form a government” and Americans suddenly realize we really have no idea what’s been going on for the entire election. (American news articles tend to be pretty vague assuming you don’t understand the underlying political structure, and British news articles tend to be pretty cryptic assuming you already understand the underlying political structure.)

  2. Tim Hall says:

    you’ve got a Queen, we’ve got a First Lady

    OK, so I laughed at that one. Assume it was intended as a joke.

    Since the queen isn’t allowed to have any active role in governing the country, (last time a monarch got uppity, we chopped his head off) Britain is effectively a parliamentary republic. The voters elect a parliament, parliament chooses a prime minister. We have more than two parties with significant support (The third-biggest party, the Liberal Democrats, got 21% of the vote, far more than any US third party ever gets). Usually our electoral system ends up giving one party a majority in the House of Commons despite getting no more that 40% of the vote, but this time it hasn’t happened.

  3. “OK, so I laughed at that one. Assume it was intended as a joke.”

    Not specifically, though of course the whole matchup idea is somewhat amusing (to me, anyway). Queen/First Lady actually maps surprisingly closely from the USAn media perspective. It may be less so on your side of things; I don’t know how much and in what manner European news reports on the doings of presidential spouses. (And Mrs. Obama and particularly the children get much less press than past First Families, from what I can tell. I hypothesize that given the unusually young age of the children sympathetic press doesn’t want to intrude and unsympathetic press doesn’t want to humanize.)

    It was kind of funny, I almost threw in “We don’t have a queen-equivalent” as the exception that proves the rule, but then I examined my subconscious assumptions a little and that leaped right out at me.

    “The voters elect a parliament, parliament chooses a prime minister.”

    Same here, with the (fairly significant) exception that the voters elect the Electoral College quite separately from congressional seats. It’s the “form a government” thing, or better yet “attempt to form a government” thing that bewilders. Here, perception is that *the* government lumbers along regardless, and Presidential and Congressional components swap out periodically. Largely semantics again, of course, but it’s one of those things that makes an American ear go “wait, what now? Form a government? You having a revolution or what?”

    “We have more than two parties with significant support”

    Yeah, but Americans can understand that pretty well… some of our third parties get disproportionate press and all, so they’re well on the radar. And Everyone Knows(tm) that if Americans would vote their real desire instead of giving in to the fear of throwing away a vote we’d have a much higher percentage of a Libertarian/Green/Socialist/third-party-of-choice vote. So that bit isn’t all that unfamiliar, though the ramifications of plurality vs. majority perhaps are.

    (Also, by name I suppose I should have said “We have liberal Democrats, you have Liberal Democrats” since I *was* describing the vaguely-formed impressions of similarity, and name-similarity certainly trumps ideological-similary. Oh well.)

  4. Richard says:

    “None of the above” is he verdict of the electors, who probably favour some sort of coalition. A Lab/Lib coalition is more natural and could be viable in that the various nationalists would be unwilling to bring it down, fearing a subsidy-cutting government led by the Conservatives with few MPs outside England.

    Current references to presumably relatively right-wing Lib-Dems as “Orange Book Liberals” are interesting. I have before me the orange covered “Britain’s Industrial Future, the Report of the Liberal Industrial Inquiry” published in 1928 price 2s 6d. The Executive Commitee included ex PM David LLoyd George and John Maynard Keynes. Its 500 pages are well-informed but don’t seem to me particularly right-wing. It comments that “millions of people (in cities) are still powerless to escape … over-crowding, ill-health and degradation. Yet all the time individuals accumnulate or inherit great fortunes and … the prizes are awarded capriciously, with little regard either to economic service or to personal desert.” Plus ca change …. The report recommends tighter control of industry (without nationalisation), profit-sharing, minimum wages, redisributive taxation, more public expenditure (on roads, health, education), more open Budgetary policies and many other ideas, some but not all of which have been adopted in the past 82 years.

  5. Richard says:

    What colour is an orange? I shgould have made it clear that current references to an Orange Book relate to a set of Lib/Dem essays in 2004. My 1928 book has yellow covers that age has made more orange-like.