Monday, May 10, 2010

Interesting developments in European politics

Firstly, Gordon Brown has decided to take one for the team:
The British political landscape was transformed last night as an unbridled bidding war for power led to Gordon Brown proffering his resignation as prime minister in a dramatic attempt to secure Labour a power-sharing government with the Liberal Democrats.

Brown's surprise announcement on the steps of No 10 prompted an extraordinary Tory counter-offer to the Lib Dems: a referendum on the alternative vote electoral system, and a coalition government with seats for Nick Clegg's party in the cabinet. The proposed Tory coalition deal would last at least two parliamentary sessions.

The hurried Tory offer, previously seen as completely beyond the ideological pale for the party, was swallowed by shell-shocked Tory MPs.

Cameron said he would whip a vote in parliament to ensure there was a referendum on the alternative vote, but the Tories would then be free to campaign to keep first past the post in the referendum itself.

From the Guardian. If Clegg is as smart as I think he is, he won't bite on the "alternative vote" system, which is another term for instant-runoff voting. While it can be viewed as a special case of the single transferable vote system preferred by the Lib Dems, it is one in which proportionality is sacrificed for more local representation. To my mind this system is at best only marginally better than FPTP and under some circumstances can be worse (if introduced in Canada, for instance, it would likely lead to a never-ending string of Liberal majorities). I suspect that Clegg would probably rather work with Labour than the Conservatives anyhow, and with Brown out of the way he'll have more credibility making such a deal.

This isn't the only big thing to happen across the pond either. Angela Merkel just suffered a significant setback in Germany:

Results from Sunday's poll show Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) won 34.6 percent of the vote, down a full 10 percentage points from the last election in 2005 and their worst showing ever in the state. The center-left Social Democrats (SPD) were only marginally behind, winning 34.5 percent of the vote.

The business-friendly Free Democrats, the CDU's current coalition partner in North Rhine-Westphalia and at the national level, gained half a percentage point, winning 6.7 percent of the vote. The environmentalist Greens did the best, almost doubling their showing from the last state election, securing 12.1 percent. The Left Party won 5.6 percent, and is now poised to enter the NRW state parliament for the first time.

The election outcome means that the opposition Social Democrats and the Green party could narrowly form a governing coalition in Germany's most populous state with a slim one-vote majority, but would likely require support from the Left Party.

From Deutsche Welle. What's critical to this is that state governments appoint members of the Bundesrat, the upper house of the German parliament, and as a result of this Merkel is expected to lose control of that house. And a big reason for this is Germany's reluctant approval of the bailout of Greece, which pleased the markets but had a rather different effect on the electorate. We'll have to see how this goes; Merkel is not up for reelection until 2013, unless her coalition somehow collapses, so she could find herself stymied for quite some time by an uncooperative Bundesrat.

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