Sunday, May 9, 2010

The UK election

Well, as we know the British election resulted in what the Brits call a "hung parliament". Myself, I prefer the more value-neutral term "minority parliament", but that's just me. (Interestingly, the British expression is not known to have been used before 1974, according to this article). Now Nick Clegg has said that he'll give the Conservatives the first opportunity to make a deal with him, given that they won the most votes as well as seats. However, one of Clegg's demands is electoral reform, something that the Conservatives are very leery of, so Brown may yet get the chance to hold onto power. Gwynne Dyer has a pretty good summary, but there is something in his article that I take issue with:

Clegg is talking to Conservative leader David Cameron first, since his party got the largest number of seats and votes, but Cameron’s best offer is "an all-party committee of inquiry on political and electoral reform". He cannot offer more, because his own party won’t let him.

This does not make a lot of sense politically, since Labour, not the Conservatives, is the greatest beneficiary of the current voting system. But there I go again, expecting rational self-interest to determine political choices. The real reason that the rank and file of the Conservative Party hate the idea of change—any kind of change—is because they are conservative.

While I agree with Dyer that Cameron won't be able to offer more, I don't agree that Labour is the biggest beneficiary of first past the post. In terms of seat count alone, Labour does indeed benefit more than the Tories do, but in order to successfully govern under PR a party has to have potential coalition partners. Both might have a shot at the support of the Lib Dems, but under PR there'd be other parties represented in the House as well. And I suspect that Labour's base would be a lot less uncomfortable with them forming a coalition with, say, the Greens than rank and file Tories would be about a coalition with the BNP or UKIP.

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