Saturday, May 8, 2010

A hung parliament for Britain

Britain is going to have a hung parliament. Here are the results:

Here's what could happen:

First Past the Post is more of a racing game than a democracy. As we can see the Liberal Democrats got 23%. However that's bairly a fifth of the seats that Labour's 29.0% have. First Past the Post is pretty archaic. It seems that Clegg is talking to differnet parties and pushing for electorial reform. The Tories wont have it, in my view. They have a long history of taking democracy from smaller parties and enjoying it for too long. Labour pretty much has to if they want to keep having power. BBC's political editor Nick Robinson had some thoughts on this: "While [Robinson] doubted the Lib Dems would take up the offer of a formal coalition, they might be prepared to let Mr Cameron govern by not voting down the Queen's Speech or Budget. Taking that option would allow them not to be tainted by decisions they did not like."

Right now there is a pull between Britains finances and getting a much better democracy. They can have both. There is concern that a hung parliament will not address the UK government's debt. The pound fell quite a bit as some stock brokers didn't like the prospect of a hung parliament. International ratings agencies Moody's and Standard & Poor's however say that the hung parliament verdict would not affect their top-level assessments. Moody's said the unclear outcome "does not directly threaten" Britain's coveted AAA rating. S&P said that the nation's AAA long-term sovereign rating with a negative outlook was unchanged. "The complexion of the new government is not, in itself, a factor for us," said S&P. "Instead, our focus is on whether the government's fiscal consolidation plan to be unveiled in due course is likely or not to put the UK government debt burden on a downward trajectory over the medium term."

However this opportunity for electorial reform does not come around once in a blue moon. It comes once in a blue eclipse. It's been over 35 years since Britain last had a hung parliament and it seems Labour will accept electorial reform if they get a coalition deal. The Conservatives have offered an "all party committee of inquiry on political and electoral reform", but no promise of reform. For Britain's sake I hope they can have the democratic freedom we have here.

The NZHistory website can share with us why New Zealand changed to MMP from FPP: "As critics pointed out, the FPP system tended to create Parliaments quite different in composition to those that the voters appeared to want. The answer, some people argued, was a system of proportional representation in which each party's share of the seats in Parliament would be close to its share of the overall vote." It's not rocket science. People want their vote to mean something and it usually hasn't in Britain for a long time, until today. As well as this:

"In the early 1990s Jim Bolger's National government found itself under increasing pressure to respond to public demands for electoral reform. It agreed to hold an indicative referendum (that is, one that was not binding on the government) on the issue on 19 September 1992. That date, incidentally, was the 99th anniversary of the signing into law of New Zealand's last great electoral reform – the women's suffrage legislation of 1893." New Zealand only got MMP after hard pressure in a small country with both parties still wanting to hold power. It was a power game and a hot issue. Labour or National in the next election could of used a binding referendum policy to win in the 1995 election. It was a political deadlock. For Britain's size, this reform opportunity is a chance they may not have again for many years.

As the UK's ex-prime minister Harold Wilson said, “A week is a long time in politics.” If we take that view, 35 years is nearly an eternity. That is why I doubt Nick Clegg will back down on reform. It would go against everything him, his party and other small parties fought for for years. If the Conservatives didn't sort out a electorial reform deal they would look irresponsible to the public and seem childish. They would be seen as not sucking up their pride and doing the deal. However for Cameron to promise reform it seems to me would seal his political death as the Tory leader. A Labour-Lib minority government maybe a possibility.

Here's a fancy chart from The Institute for Government (page 17) adapted for the UK elections:

The Institute for Government charity can give us some thought on how a minority Labour-Lib Coalition could work: "Our research suggests that minority governments can be successful if they do not seek to govern as if they were in a majority. In other words, it becomes necessary to develop good relationships with opposition parties, and to be prepared to debate, to negotiate and to compromise." Should a labour-liberal democrat minority coalition happen, they might spend the next six months trying to create electorial reform. Then they could hold another election based on a chosen system like Preferencial Vote or MMP. That'd be after this term however, Labour wanting to enjoying whatever amount of power they have now.

Happy to hear that Caroline, leader of the UK Green Party won in the Brighton Pavilion region.

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