The UK elections

Today we will briefly glance across the North Sea to the UK elections which have become uncommonly exciting.

Disaster strikes

Point is, dear reader, that the elections this Thursday might cause a hung parliament, that is, a parliament in which no party has the majority! Shock and awe! That such a thing could happen in our lifetime!

This seems to be a disaster of the first order. If we are to believe what we read, hung parliaments will cause serious financial problems because ... well, just because! Just see what just happened in Greece (well, no, PASOK has an absolute majority there) ... err ... in ... well, France (well, they don’t have serious problems right now) ... oh, whatever. Just take our word for it.

Anyway, we confidently expect that, in case of a hung parliament, criminality will explode, blooming gardens will become barren wastelands, strikes will be the order of the day, riots will make the big cities one disaster area, the banks will lose money, volcanos will erupt (oh no, that already happened), and the British Isles will slowly slide into the sea. (That includes the Republic of Ireland, I’m afraid. Life’s not fair.)

Coalition

Still, some politicians are planning ahead. More in particular, LibDem leader Nick Clegg seems to have adapted to the possibility of coalition government quite well, and his basic message is that he prefers a coalition with the Tories.

That’s logical (at least, from a Dutch point of view that takes coalitions for granted). The LibDems stand for change, and that means they can’t afford to team up with the party that has been in power for the last 13 years.

Still, he backtracked a little later on, and didn’t entirely rule out Labour. That’s logical, too. Although everything points at a Tory/LibDem coalition, Clegg is wise to keep his options open and keep Labour in the background as a threat to David Cameron in case the negotiations don’t go well.

Of course, Clegg’s greatest strength is that the only other option, a Labour/Tory coalition, is out of the question. Thus he takes the position D66 can only hope for in Holland, and can basically decide which coalition is going to rule the country.

(Incidentally, Clegg’s mother is Dutch. I found a interview with him in Dutch, and he is fluent and accentless and sounds ... like a politician! One wonders if he also inherited the natural feeling Dutch politicians have for coalitions. It could help him greatly in the months ahead.)

Electoral reform

A key LibDem point is electoral reform, and this might become a serious negotiation point, and possibly even a deal-breaker. It will be interesting to see whether anything happens at all, and if so, what kind of reform the LibDems have in mind.

This Guardian overview gives some clue as to what the LibDems and Labour want. The LibDems want a Single Transferable Vote system, while Labour feels more like an Alternative Vote. Since these systems amount to the same in single-seat constituencies, I assume the LibDems want larger constituencies with more than one seat while Labour wants to stick with the current constituencies. As to the Tories, they don’t want any reform at all.

Labour
234 seats
Tories
215 seats
LibDems
146 seats
UKIP
14 seats
SNP
10 seats
Green
6 seats
Dem Unionists
5 seats
BNP
4 seats
Plaid Cymru
4 seats
Sinn Fein
4 seats
Ulster Unionists
3 seats
SDLP
3 seats
Respect
1 seat
SSP
1 seat

Thus it doesn’t look likely the UK will copy the Dutch system, and admittedly, it would be the total opposite of the current system.

For laughs I calculated the results of the 2005 elections if they had been held under the Dutch system, and you can see the results here. The UK would already be governed by a coalition.

One warning, though: if the UK really would use the Dutch system, or even the LibDems’ STV system, the number of votes for smaller parties will rise. The current system heavily penalises votes for, say, the Greens, the UKIP, or the nationalists, and that penalty would be removed by any other voting system.

Thus there is little danger that a LibDem victory now would mean that the LibDems will remain in power for all eternity. I read that theory somewhere (can’t find the link), and although in a pure three-party system it makes sense (either Labour or the Tories win, and the winner invites the LibDems to a coalition), the fact that the Brits can more easily vote for fourth parties means that eternal LibDem dominance is not going to happen.

Labour/Green coalition, anyone? Tory/UKIP? It will all become possible under a new voting system.

Time

Anyway, we’ll see. The only thing that bugs me is that of the three major parties, the Tories don’t seem to be interested in reform at all, which will mean that Clegg will have to negotiate hard during the coalition discussions.

That brings me to the last change British politics are likely to see: an increase in the time politicians need to create a government. Until now it seems to be a matter of hours: the majority party presents its new cabinet, probably goes to the Queen or something, and that’s it.

However, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tories and LibDems have to negotiate seriously about electoral reform and other topics, and that would extend the time considerably. If this were Holland I’d say they’ll take about one or two months or so to really negotiate, but it seems the British voters are not used to that, and might take exception.

Thus the coalition negotiations will likely be rushed, and that doesn’t help create a stable coalition. In fact, I wonder if this is one of the reasons why previous UK coalition governments sat only for months before new elections were called. You just can’t do a proper job of negotiating when you have only a week or so.

<— Article: Roman or red? | Where we stand now —>

This is the political blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer, in Amsterdam. It’s a hobby blog where he follows Dutch politics for the benefit of those twelve foreigners that are interested in such matters, as well as his Dutch readers.

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Comments (closed)

1 Posted by Frans on 4 May 2010 | Permalink

Ireland's already got a hung parliament, so it only makes sense that it would slide along into the ocean. :P I've been surprised to see how many British people seem to think that "the rest of the world" won't trust the UK anymore economically if such an event were to occur, even though it's the norm elsewhere.

2 Posted by Alejandro Moreno on 4 May 2010 | Permalink

ppk, you're an awesome political commentator.

I thought it was just your passion for your homeland's politics, but here I can see that you're just good at it, period.

Thanks for sharing!

3 Posted by Raphael on 4 May 2010 | Permalink

You seem to assume that it's certain that there will be coalition negotiations. Problem is, there seems to be some chance that in a hung parliament, the Tories will simply act as if they won and hope they can get away with it.

I don't know the details of the British system that well, but apparently, if Cameron can get himself appointed PM, the only way to remove him from office would be for the House of Commons to vote against accepting the Queen's Speech when the new Parliament opens, and *that* would trigger a new election. A new election, in turn, might backfire on the parties that voted against the Queen's Speech (Lab and Lib), and therefore, Cameron might hope that they won't dare to go that route.

There are some background informations on that topic at the Guardian, among other places; see, for instance, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/may/04/hung-parliaments-numbers-outcome , http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/may/04/history-of-hung-parliaments and http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/may/03/conservative-anger-rules-labour-cling-power .

4 Posted by Abi Sutherland on 4 May 2010 | Permalink

You need strikeout tags on "banks will lose money".

I used to work for a British bank which posted the largest loss in British corporate history in 2008.

(Excellent, fantastic, interesting article!)

5 Posted by Urbe Politicus on 5 May 2010 | Permalink

It is also possible that the Liberal Democrats will back a minority Tory government's bills on a case by case basis and sometimes negotiate with them over specific legislation.