Saturday, 8 May 2010

So What Happens Now...? Cocktails & Coalitions



This is quite long, so if politics bores you, please feel free to skip this post - come back on Monday for a yummy cookie recipe instead!

You're still here? Okay. Let's start with a recap of the past couple of days.

On Thursday, the UK went to the polls in a General Election. I went to vote at 7am (as soon as polling opened), spent most of the day writing Java code (just like any other day), and then went to a friend's house to spend the evening/night/morning watching the results.

The surprise news story of Election Day was the people who were left queueing outside at 10pm when the polls closed, and were turned away without getting chance to vote. I've never known anything like this before, and it provided a suitably dramatic backdrop as the results trickled in.

The first announcement came just before 11pm, and I managed to stay awake until 4.30am to hear that there was a new Conservative MP in my home constituency. My husband didn't go to bed at all.

By the time the final constituency finally announced their result on Friday afternoon, it was clear that no single party has managed to take a majority of the seats. (We knew this might happen.) For the first time since 1974, we had the much-anticipated 'hung parliament'.

So, what happens now? That Evita song is stuck in my head, because "another suitcase in another hall" is quite appropriate - the big question on everyone's minds is whether Gordon Brown stays in Number 10. By virtue of being the current Prime Minsiter, Gordon Brown gets the first chance: he stays as Prime Minister for the time being, and unless he resigns, the Queen will invite him to form a Government.

(Note for my American readers: anything the Queen does in this circumstance is dictated by convention, she doesn't just get a free choice of who's in charge.)

Mr Brown could try to form a Government either by attempting a minority government (a risky strategy), or by forming a coalition that can command a majority in Parliament. If he doesn't think he can do either of these, he will step down as Prime Minister, and the Queen will invite someone else to try to form a Government. In this case, that invitation would be extended to David Cameron (leader of the Conservative party); the general rule is that it should be whoever has the greatest chance of forming a successful Government. Cameron would then have the same options: a minority government, or a coalition.

In reality, discussions have already started, and there are a few possibilities in the coalition space. Our host for the election night party had created a number of coalition-themed cocktails, made with mixtures of appropriately coloured ingredients - and that's sort of how it all feels right now.

Party cocktails
A yellow Lib Dem cocktail, and a blue Conservative one

There are 650 seats in the House of Commons, requiring a majority of 326. The current numbers of MPs, and their respective shares of the vote, are as follows:

Conservative30636.1%
Labour25839.0%
Liberal Democrat5723.0%
Others2811.9%

Of course if the Conservative and Labour parties got together, they could command a crushing majority - but that's incredibly unlikely to happen.

Once the current situation became apparent, Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said that the Conservatives (as the party with most seats and most votes) should have the first opportunity to form a Government - so the Conservatives and Lib Dems are currently in talks. Their combined 363 seats (306 + 57) would be more than enough for a stable majority.

Those two possibilities (the unlikely Conservative+Labour, and the currently-under-discussion Conservative+LibDem) are the only two-party options that have enough votes to form a majority without involving smaller parties.

If it was down to me (which it's clearly not) I'd be looking to form a short-term alliance to deal with the current financial situation and settle the markets, while leaving all the less-pressing issues on the table for later discussion. But this is politics, and reaching any kind of consensus is never simple.

If Labour wants to form a coalition, even with the Liberal Democrats on board (and it's not guaranteed they could get this), they would need an extra 11 seats from some of the smaller parties to have a majority.

On the other hand, if the Conservatives could find 19 seats from the smaller parties and independent candidates, they could form a coalition even without Lib Dem support.

If no group of parties can form a comfortable coalition, and minority governments look sure to crumble, then they could go back to the Queen and ask for another dissolution (i.e. another election). But would anyone in the UK vote differently in light of their local results...? I wouldn't, but maybe some supporters of minor parties, in marginal constituencies, would be persuaded to change their vote.

The only thing that's really clear is that we live in interesting times right now...

Heartfelt thanks if you read this far. If you have any questions about the process, I'd be more than happy to try and clarify.

28 comments:

lostinsophistication said...

I found this an exceptional post; very informative. Coming from abroad, British politics puzzle me somewhat, and it has been hard to find some things out on my own. Therefore I was very pleased to see -- and read -- this post. It did clear up some of the questions I had. Thank you! :)

smilla4blogs said...

Fascinating and helpful post for people on my side of the Atlantic. What would be a reasonable time frame for Mr. Brown to form a government?

Tabor said...

Thanks for the specifics and the clarification. Clearly I did not know as much as I should have. Politics are all a mess everywhere it seems these days. Looking forward to seeing how the Brits work things out.

Courtney said...

British politics have become more interesting to me this year than American politics. Probably due to a new British friend, but still, interesting.

mel said...

the sort of thing has happened lately in canada a couple times. it's a mess, and we ended up having way too many elections in a few short years.
personally i like the new style of ballot that has been mentioned and is used in some places around the world - a ballot that allows you to vote for your first choice member, but if the vote a clear loss, who your 2nd choice would be.
ie. in canada i vote NDP - they never win in my riding, so my 2nd choice would be liberal, just so the conservatives don't get the win because the "i-care-about-social-issues-not-just-money" vote is split. interesting...

Everyday Kathy said...

I was listening to this story on the radio yesterday... some how it is reassuring to me that other governments are having difficulties and it isn't just an American thing...

We are definitely living in interesting times!

Kathy over at Everyday Bliss

Writing Without Periods! said...

Although the politic situation is very interesting and I'm trying to keep up...the really important thing is...I want one of those blue drinks you pictured. :-)
Love the post.
Mary

ScoMan said...

Maybe the people queued up at 10pm would vote under a double dissolution and that would give a clearer outcome, but I think it would be plan C or D.

Labour here has had a minority government since the last election (they've tried forming a coalition with the Greens, and whilst it usually works sometimes the Greens will vote against them if they feel strongly enough) and every time Liberal and the independants vote against them, they threaten a double dissolution.. to which the Liberal party usually says "Be our guest, we'd welcome that"

We have our next election in November though, so things may well change then (although in the polls it was 52% to 48%, so we may still be in the same boat)

iamagrownup said...

I LOVED this post. LOVED IT! It was a great education on Parliament and frankly I didn't understand much of it until now.

Bucksome said...

As an American, I found your explanation fascinating. I wish we had more than 2 viable parties here.

The cocktails were pretty as well :).

Thanks for welcoming me to SITS.

allison said...

I'm impressed that so many people turned out to vote. We have quite a voter apathy problem here.

Kazzy said...

I read the whole thing! You know, politics everywhere seem to be messy lately. Everything will work itself out eventually, but in the meantime, drink up!

Louiz said...

That's a very clear and concise description! There was a very high turn out this year, and a lot of the people who turned up, queued and got turned away were first time voters in this area, although whether that makes a difference I don't know.

MJ said...

The Lib Dems have 23% of the vote but about 10% of the seats. Our system is so broken it's ridiculous. I really, really hope Clegg doesn't back down on PR.

Joann Mannix said...

Your present compelling political scene reminds me of our Bush/Gore fiasco of several years ago. I live in Florida and our state was the epicenter of the madness. I wish your nation all the luck in the world sorting it out. It won't be easy, but in the long run, may the best man win. In the meantime, the colorful drinks will help.

Chef E said...

I am a bit confused even while hubby is trying to explain it at this moment to me, but I did catch BBC while on our trip and saw where someone was rallying for votes and this elderly woman was asking him questions, and then they caught him on recorder dissing the woman for bothering him- what a wuuss he was!

I say drink the yellow, more tropical, and pretend your somewhere on a gorgeous Island- blue scary

Did I just encourage 'escapism'? LOL

carma said...

I've been hearing some of this on the tv news, but not sure what to make if it all...the drinks are lovely though :-)

Mary said...

This was a fascinating post giving those of us not part of it real insight into the election. Well done! Blessings...Mary

A Cuban In London said...

'Of course if the Conservative and Labour parties got together, they could command a crushing majority - but that's incredibly unlikely to happen.'

Didn't they say that Blair was the heir to Thatcher's throne? :-) If he was still around, that little bugger would have wasted no time and tried to hook up with Cameron.

Fascinating post. You have detailed the election system so well that you deserve your very own slot in the next prime ministerial debates. Stand aside, Dimbleby! :-D

Greetings from London.

Dave King said...

A pretty comprehensive recap. Good to have after so much froth and bubble - by which I don't mean the cocktails!

I think the 3 leaders are showing leadership at the moment, it's the media, I think are letting us down.

Good post.

JoeyRes said...

Such a foreign system yet it seems to be working just as inefficiently as the American way! We had an election not too long ago where we all stayed up election night and still didn't know what was going on. Makes you wonder what would have happened if everyone got to cast their vote.

Magimom said...

Interesting times indeed! Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment on my blog!

Pink Martini said...

Coming over from SITS to say hello. Love the cocktail analogy. :)

christine said...

what a lovely, clear post to explain our system - not having a tv license, and never listening to the radio, I hadn't realised that some voters had missed out!

JDaniel4's Mom said...

Were you shocked when he resigned yesterday?

Dedene said...

Thanks so much for explaining this to a political idiot. I've seen on the news, Cameron and Clegg being all lovey-dovey now that they've come together. I wonder how long all that will last.
I'm relieved to hear that the Queen does not make up her own mind about forming the government.

samsstuff said...

Very interesting post! I love reading about politics (& cookies) so this post wasn't at all boring to me. This seems like it could be quite a long, involved process.

Happy SITS Feature Day!

Jessica said...

Hi!
Great Blog! Happy Feature Blog!

http://sahmommyblog.blogspot.com

Jessica

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