Monday, May 10, 2010

The Aftermath of Britain’s General Election

Summary: The election is over, but what comes next is still uncertain.

On Thursday, nearly 30 million Britons - over 65% of the electorate - cast their ballots for a new Parliament after the most exciting campaign in a generation.

So far, 649 of 650 seats in the House of Commons have been decided (the remaining seat has a postponed election due to the death of a UK Independence Party candidate, but is considered safe for the Conservatives) and the Conservative Party has the largest number of seats in the chamber.

Except they do not have a majority - so now there’s a hung Parliament.

The Conservatives - led by David Cameron - did manage to get a 5% swing to their favor (over their Labour rivals), and picked up the largest number of seats for their party in about 80 years. At the end of the night, the Tories came away with 305, Labour with 258, and the Liberal Democrats with 57.

Overall, the Tories gained 96 seats, while Labour lost 91, and the Lib Dems - surprisingly - lost 5.

So what happens next?

When the results became clear, Nick Clegg - leader of the Liberal Democrats - announced that he would give the party with the most number of seats the first chance at forming a coalition government with his party. As a result, Cameron and Clegg have been in negotiations almost continuously since Friday.

We expected the Tories would either form a minority government, or that a coalition government would be formed between the Lib Dems and Labour. The biggest bargaining chip under a Tory-Lib Dem arrangement would be electoral reform favoring proportional representation - as opposed to the first-past-the-post system.

The Tories hate the prospects of proportional representation, however, because it means they would never be able to form a majority - Labour and the Lib Dems (both of which represent the “progressive left”) could always form a coalition government under those circumstances. Thus a Tory-Lib Dem coalition seems unlikely, especially when the Lib Dem’s party rules require Clegg to have considerable support from his party’s members when reaching a deal.

On the flip side, Clegg knows that forming a coalition with Labour would not necessarily be a popular decision. Labour, and their leader - Prime Minister Gordon Brown - are very unpopular at the moment. Of course, any sort of deal those parties reach would probably require Brown to retire (Labour MPs are already calling for that) but it would demonstrate that this up-and-coming party is willing to side with the loser of the big two.

Regardless, the current talks between Cameron and Clegg have been going well according to the parties involved, and an outline of a deal has been completed. We’ll have to wait and see what happens next.

How does this relate to U.S. politics?

The American political situation is not too different from the British one as of last week. Incumbents are not popular, the economic recovery is slow, and the media predicts a bloodbath for the left-leaning majority party in 2010.

At the end of the day, however, it could have been a lot worse. Labour actually did better than expected by pollsters, polling analysts, and the popular press alike.

The Tories made a 5% swing against Labour and managed to take a plurality of seats.

If Republicans make a 5% swing in this year’s midterm elections - however - it won’t be enough to take Congress.

In the House of Representatives, the GOP needs to take about 40 seats - about 9.2% of the chamber - in order for John Boehner to be the next Speaker. In the Senate they need ten seats - 10% of the chamber - to make Mitch McConnell the new Majority Leader.

Perhaps it’s comparing apples to oranges, but as a Democrat, the results in the U.K. give me hope for what’s to come.

UPDATE: Gordon Brown announced today that he will resign as Prime Minister and leader of the Labour Party. Apparently Nick Clegg has contacted Labour, seeking talks with the left-of-center party, despite the progress made during negotiations with the Tories.

Brown said "As leader of my party I must accept that that (the election result) is a judgment on me. I therefore intend to ask the Labour Party to set in train the processes needed for its own leadership election." This helps open up the possibility of a Labour-Lib Dem coalition. They'd still be short of a majority in Parliament, but with more seats than the Conservatives, they could still form a government together.