Friday, May 7, 2010

UK: Tiny majorities

Divisions of the United KingdomImage via Wikipedia
So the exit polls were remarkably on the money, after all. It's been nothing but the phrase 'hung parliament' and constant discussion of its possible repercussions for the past 24 hours.

It is, of course, true. No party was able to achieve a majority in the parliament of 'the united Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland', the political entity whose unweildy name is an indication of its complex politics.

People in the UK confuse the rest of the world in how they use the word 'country'. England, Wales, Scotland and perhaps northern ireland or perhaps the island as a whole... these are all 'countries'. What then is the UK? Well, I have no idea. But it has a parliament, even if it lacks a football team. If you're a fan of devolution, consider the following: if these were truly distinct countries, and if we were looking at four parliaments instead of one, there'd be little talk about hung parliaments and plenty of talk of clear, decisive mandates. Consider the following:
  • In England, the Conservatives took 297 of 532 seats, or 56%.
  • In Scotland, Labour took 41 in 59 seats, or 69%.
  • In Wales, Labour took 26 seats in 40, or 65%.
  • In Northern Ireland, the DUP took 8 seats in 18, or 44%.
Only one hung parliament in four, and as we all know, Northern Irish politics are always different. In fact, though, why stop there? Let's look at the regions of England, too:
  • North East: Labour took 25 seats in 29, or 86%.
  • North West: Labour took 47 seats in 75, or 63%.
  • Yorkshire and the Humber: Labour took 32 seats in 53, or 60%.
  • East Midlands: the Conservatives took 31 seats in 46, or 67%.
  • West Midlands: the Conservatives took 33 seats in 59, or 56%.
  • South West: the Conservatives took 36 seats in 55, or 65%.
  • South East: the Conservatives took 75 seats in 84, or 89%.
  • Eastern: the Conservatives took 52 seats in 58, or 90%.
  • London: Labour took 38 seats in 73, or 52%.
Nine further results, nine majorities: ranging from 90% Tory to 86% Labour...

It's rather famously not news that Labour do well in the North, and in Scotland and Wales. It's not news that the Tories do well in the South, outside of London. Behind the appearance of a radical restructuring of British voting trends lies a lot of business-as-usual. But over the near future, there will be a lot of talk about mandates acceptable to the British people. The illusion of a very divided electorate falls apart when you look region-by-region. Both the Conservatives and Labour do have firm mandates: only regionally.

And the truth is that it might have been a poor showing for the nationalists in Scotland and Wales, but in the likely event that they will find themselves ruled by what, in their own territories, is barely more than a fringe party... well, that will only fan the flames of separatist rhetoric.
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