Saturday, May 8, 2010

The British General Election

When I brought up the New York Times this morning there was a video link to BBC live coverage of the British general election result chaired by David Dimbleby. I watched on and off for much of the day.

The first seat to bring in a result was in the Sunderland area. A young 26 year-old woman university graduate won easily for Labour but it was an eight-per-cent swing to the Conservatives. This day in 1928 saw the age for woman being able to vote dropped from 28 years to 21 years. It’s a safe seat. One day this young woman could be a Cabinet minister.

I wrote these two sentences yesterday morning. I became riveted by the drama. There were interruptions. A dentist’s appointment, nurse to change my forearm dressings, visitors (always welcome and take precedence over such viewing) and Xtra going down (it seems a regular Friday happening). But otherwise I watched.

That first result had an interesting harbinger – the Liberal vote was down one per cent. The pre-election polls had the Liberals doing well; coasting on good debates by their leader Clegg. But as the night wore on in Britain it became obvious, that while the vote was slightly up percentage-wise, they would lose seats to the Conservatives. Clegg would fewer bargaing chips than the he and the gurus had anticipated.

As anticipated Labour lost seats to the Conservatives. Especially in north England. But the voting was irregular. Some seats the Tories anticipated as easy gains were not taken. Others that were perceived as reasonably beyond their reach did fall. I think the calibre and reputation of the individual candidates counted. It was noticeable the electorate was hard on those involved in expense scandals, Rightly so!

The drama centred on whether the Tories would win outright in first past the post. As the night wore on it became increasingly obvious that they would not do so. The pundits then turned to the question of the next government. Spokespeople for the three major parties made predictions and staked claims. My thoughts turned to 1996 in New Zealand when Winston Peters became kingmaker. This stalemate, however, or is that moreover, occurred in the UK under first past the post.

Shortly before I went to bed I saw Clegg make a statement. The Conservatives had the largest number of votes. They should be given the chance to form the government. He had done the honourable thing. It looks like David Cameron will be the next Prime Minister of the UK.

Indeed a feature of the viewing was the decency, civilised behaviour of the whole process. It’s a strange world that British democracy. I think the Liberals will try to extract some form of proportional representation. I see Gordon Brown in this morning’s paper is offering to discuss the issue with the Liberals if they fail to reach agreement with Cameron.

Indeed it might be a good election to lose. Labour can pick a new leader and regroup. The new Government will have a rocky path and a further general election is a likely possibility. Austerity measures increase resentment. Coalitions mean uneasy compromise. Time will tell.

There is another aspect of the present first past the post system. The Conservatives basically represent England. They don’t represent Scotland. They don’t represent Northern Ireland. They are not strong in Wales. Electorally, increasingly there are two nations within one.

As you can read I had a good day yesterday.

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