Thoughts On The 2010 British Election

It seems to me that the recent political experience in Britain, full of uncertainty concerning the future and questions about the very system British voters had participated in, has been ready for some sort of upheaval for a little while. David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, is now Prime Minister, but everything seems new. Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, is the Deputy Prime Minister, and thus we have a colation – five or so members of the Lib Dems will be in the cabinet – and this sort of thin doesn’t happen very often. The last time Liberals were involved in government was the War Cabinet, between 1940 and 1945 (clearly special circumstances), and before that the last time was 1922.

But it feels like there is too much shock, horror about all this. The political system of First Past the Post, otherwise known as a simple plurality, is quite an archaic way to elect member of parliament. It requires voters to put a tick or cross beside one candidate’s name on each ballot paper in a constituency, and then the candidate with most votes wins. Sounds simple. But what it means is that a seat can be secured and retained with only 35% of the vote, provided no other party’s candidate can secure a higher percentage. It is inherent within this system that the total number of votes in the polity, the entire country’s votes, when counted may reflect a will of the people starkly at odds with the number of seats won by the respective political groupings. If party A wins 51/100 seats all with results way under half the votes in each electorate and party B gets 49/100 seats, but absolutely slaughtered their opponents in most of their electorates, then B probably has a lot more total votes than A does. This cartoonish example would still mean that A is the party in power, with a majority of 2.

A system like this encourages minor parties and independents to win seats, as an absolute majority (50% + 1) is not required, just the largest total. Preferences are not required. Just the most votes. It is a wonder, given the economic circumstances, following the Global Financial Crisis, were always likely to fragment the system to a degree, and to see voters expressing their discontent and disappointment with all main parties, that the results were even more favourable for the Lib Dems and smaller parties.

Perhaps David Cameron and his Tories were too arrogant too far out from the election, as they seem to have assumed that an unpopular Labour government would be ousted and that could only mean a seamless transition to the Treasury benches for themselves. But they reckoned without the full potential of their old-fashioned system to serve up a result quite impossible to predict with any degree of certainty. Indeed, it was not impossible that a Labour-Lib Dem coalition could have been formed, although Gordon Brown could never have remained PM. That was a sticking point. And there were many others.

And so there will likely be fixed terms and other electoral reform, but probably no proportional representation, and Gordon has been shown the door. That’s the one perplexing thing in this whole maze of issues that continues to perplex me: Mr. Brown was unpopular, that’s obvious, but how could he be that unpopular? The economic problems aren’t his fault, he wasn’t responsible for politicians from all parties getting caught with their snouts in the trough, making bogus expenses claims, and he didn’t send troops to war with Iraq (although he was part of the Cabinet which made this decision). Don’t the people who say they hate him really – deep down, if only they could admit it – want to give Tony Blair a bloody hard kick in the gonads? For lying to them … and for pretending that he wasn’t like all the other politicians, when in fact his totality of his act marked him out as someone far worse, as he was a better actor and could make you believe he really felt what he was saying, when perhaps he felt nothing.

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