Monday, May 3, 2010

UK: Divide by three

David Cameron is a British politician, Leader ...Image via Wikipedia
Probably my last post before the UK general election. Looks like the Tories will come out on top after all. The race is for the basement, really: will the LibDems keep their lead above Labour, or will they drop back down at the last minute?

Well, when I say 'drop back down', I certainly don't mean to pre-campaign levels. It's too soon to say for sure ow permanent it is, but it's starting to look like we're seeing the entry of the LibDems as a real major player - something they've veen threatening to do but failing to do ever since they were the Liberal-SDP coalition. Whatever your opinion on the LibDems, there are two things I'm willing to say: (1) they are the true story of this election campaign, and will be remembered as such, and (2) bipartisan politics no longer exist in the UK - in fact, they never really did, but it was always convenient to act as if they did.

YouGov at the moment has:
  • Conservatives: 35%
  • Labour: 28%
  • Liberal Democrats: 28%
  • Other: 9%
I think it's ridiculous to look at this stat and say anything other than 'the Tories have a significant lead over their rivals', but I bet you'd find that that lead is not that far outside the margin of error, and that theoretically all three parties could be polling exactly equal numbers: disregarding that not-small 9%, the other 91% might be evenly split between three parties. It's a given that it will be, at the very least, almost evenly split.

While I see this as a sign of a healthy democracy (to say nothing of frustration at the 'politics of old'), it does create a problem, hopefully a short-term one, for the politics of Westminster business-as-usual. There's much hand-wringing about the political insecurity of a hung parliament, but I think that the first thing the UK will need to do as of 7 May is get over their fears of a hung parliament: there's a decent chance that they'll never have another majority government.

I don't see this as anything to fear, but hopefully the UK will find its political maturity more quickly than Canada, where people continue to believe that coalition governments are less democratic than a party that fully two voters in three voted against claiming any kind of mandate to act alone. Whoever wins on 6 May (and it will be David Cameron) will have no mandate: he will start in office with the knowledge that far more people voted against him than voted for him. And this is patently ridiculous: the moral authority to govern a people descend from the notion that the people consent to being governed by you. In its absence, all you have is totalitarianism.

Unless, of course, you can increase your mandate by finding a way to be inclusive in parliament: to work together with at least one of the other 'big three' parties (and a few of the others would help too) in order to develop the sense that you are leading the country not as the leader of a party with support in the thirties but as the leader (spokesman) for a group of parties that, in combination, represent the majority of British voters. It's only logical.

Will it happen? Well, Cameron's not the right person to launch the next stage in British parliamentary procedure, but it does fall to him. What will happen? Let's wait and see.
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