Thursday, 6 May 2010

UK Election 2010

It's polling day in the UK for the 2010 general election. The 3-way race between Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats (itself a surprise outcome from the televised leaders' debates) has widened, and it looks likely that the Conservatives will "win" in terms of seats, even if it fails to secure an overall majority in the House of Commons. If the result is a hung parliament, then the Conservatives (or perhaps, wildly unexpectedly, Labour) could try to govern as a minority government (which is what the Scottish National Party has been doing in the devolved Scottish Parliament), or form a coalition.

So what coalitions are on the cards? The party in the strongest coalition-forming position is the Liberal Democrats, the centre-left pro-European party. Though the third largest party in a 2-party system, they're set to increase their share of the vote even if this doesn't translate well into an increase in seats due to the First-Past-the-Post system. Their natural coalition partners would be Labour, but it would be politically difficult for them to support a government that seems to have lost the support of the public, and Nick Clegg (the LibDem leader) has said that the LibDems couldn't support Gordon Brown as Prime Minister if Labour come third in the popular vote (though this could translate as second or even first in terms of seats).

It's a strange way for the LibDems to think about coalitions if they want to break the old system, as they've claimed. In a proportional representation voting system, coalitions are likely to become the norm, and the test of legitimacy would be whether the coalition had the majority of voter support, rather than that of the leading party, which is the old logic that the LibDem's language seems to indicate they follow. Still, they have left the possibility of a coalition with Labour open, even if Brown's head is the price. Such a coalition would make more sense than that of one with the Conservatives since they're both progressive, centre-left parties that are more supportive of working within the EU than the Tories, and have similar philosophies on the approach (if not detail) on how to deal with the economy and tackle the deficit.

Yet they still might form a coalition with the Tories (which I think would alienate a lot of their voters - after all, if they are taking support mostly from Labour supporters, how long will their supporters stick with them if they are keeping a, perhaps Thatcherite, Tory-LibDem government in power?).

Apart from the LibDems, the Welsh and Scottish nationalist parties would be likely to support any government on a case-by-case basis, based on whatever concessions they can get out of Westminster. In terms of the Northern Irish parties, the unionist parties would be natural allies of the Conservatives, while the nationalist SDLP, a left-wing party, would be more likely to support Labour/Labour-LibDems. Sinn Féin would be a big opponent of the Tories - but they don't take their seats in the Westminster Parliament in protest against the Union and the Oath to the Queen.

The ideal outcome for me is a Labour-LibDem government, so I hope people will be voting tactically to ensure that the centre-left get as many seats as possible (though I want the LibDems to do really well in order to boost the chances of electoral reform).

I'm against the Conservatives for several reasons:

1. I find them grossly and dangerously constitutionally illiterate. Their opposition to the Human Rights Act (with no clear explanation for what they'd do differently) is populist and their attacks on judicial power are something I cannot support given the lack of constitutional checks on the Parliament. The judiciary have proven to be better defenders of rights than the Parliament under the Tories or Labour, and I doubt the wisdom of diluting their power further.

2. Their Euroscepticism. It's unclear what powers they want to repatriate, how, and what difference this will make. Nick Clegg highlighted the advantages the EU brings to policing cross-border crime, etc. It is likely that Cameron would be more pragmatic in government, but then again I cannot trust a party which cannot clearly argue for the good points and against the bad points of a project. I don't see any clear vision, and suspect that the populist posturing will make it harder to be pragmatic, and policy will be confused and even hostage to backbench MPs (who are very Eurosceptic in the Tory Party).

3. I believe a more gradual reduction of the deficit is better for the economy. Basically I'm agreeing with the Labour/LibDem assessment here. Additionally, though it has a few (lonely) good points in it, Cameron's "Big Society" appears to merely be a salve for Tory consciences as they cut deep into the public sector. A culture of mass volunteerism won't spring up overnight, and I don't believe that a Tory government has the time, policy consistency, money and vision to nurture such an expansion in civil society. He's effectively asking people to volunteer to do some of the government's job for them. (Though obviously the point is that they think that the government shouldn't be doing it anyway). Again, I can't support this.

However, I live in a difficult constituency. The 2 leading candidates are a joint unionist one (likely to be pro-Tory), and a Sinn Féin one (anti-Tory, but won't take the seat if she wins it). Therefore, the pro-Tory forces will be added to, or we'll get a vacant seat which will reduce the majority number the Tories need to get to form a government.

I guess I'll just have to vote with my conscience to boost the vote of a party I support, but who probably won't win, and keep my fingers crossed that a Labour-LibDem government will be the result of today's voting...


  1. I completely agree with your reasoning here. A friend of mine made a mathematical formula of his vote (preference over who would actually win) and I think that in itself should be a vote by everyone for electoral reform.

    That said, I think the result of this election will alarm the future government (whoever it may consist of) that change is desperately needed.

    The future government, Tory or LibLab, will realise that change is needed and they will do their best to provide it. Therefore I think the result may not be as dire as some may paint it out to be.

  2. Eurocentric and Mia, I broadly agree with your reasoning.

    The essence of the political philosophy of the Tories is the supremacy of Parliament, even if based on a minority of votes, over the rights of citizens.

    Eurocentric, your personal voting dilemma illuminates the absurdity of an unfair system of political representation.

  3. I think that the Tories could end up bringing in PR voting if it's a hung parliament and the LibDems sell their support well. Otherwise, I can't see the Tories bringing in positive political change - their subborn attachment to strong single-party government and Parliamentary supremacy leads on to the assumption that if they win, they have the sole right to force through whatever they want...

    My constituency dilemma is a little unique (as NI politics generally is in the UK), but it does show how strange it can become.

  4. Surely it's a non-issue for the LibDems to 'sell' their support to the Tories in exchange for PR. If they get PR then there will e another general election and new coalitions will be formulated.