Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Coalition Government

Opposites attract: new PM David Cameron, Smug Tory, with new Deputy PM Nick Clegg, GlibDem

Here we are, back again for an election update. I said I'd get back to you with the results.

I was right about a couple of things. First, the Tories did secure the most votes, the highest percentage of the overall vote and the most seats. However, as predicted, they did not get the number of seats in the House of Commons required for an overall majority. They needed somewhere between 319 and 326 seats, depending on how you slice it. If you don't have a majority, you cannot govern effectively. They attained 306. They gained a huge number of seats in the election, around 90, and it cannot be denied that they made a major accomplishment with this. There are those in the Tory party who are disappointed with the outcome, largely due to the fact that a few months before the election, the Tories were expected to sweep into 10 Downing Street with a huge majority. Some of the old guard Tories are distrustful of David Cameron's youth and distrustful of his election team and they feel he fluffed it. They didn't like his complicated messages that seemed to change a lot during the campaign. They would have preferred the simple, overly repetitious conservative messages about reducing the defecit while cutting taxes for the rich and the married and keeping out those pesky foreigners. Do I sound a bit biased in my interpretation of their policies? I am, but you get the idea. Keep it simple, stupid. Instead Cameron talked about the Big Society in which government would back off and let people sort out their problems through a combination of volunteer work and private enterprise. Huh? The slogan kept changing, it seemed. Something like Change You Can Believe, wait. That was Obama's slogan. Maybe it was something like Change You Can Spare, or Change that Changes Stuff. Or, considering that their largest donor who, instead of paying taxes, holds all his money in a central American country while simultaneously holding a seat in the House of Lords, perhaps the slogan should have been Change You Can Belize In. I digress.

The other thing I predicted correctly was that Prime Minister Gordon Brown was finished. It wasn't exactly like I thought it would be, but that was the outcome in the end. Because the result of the election was a hung parliament, and because the Liberal Democrats held enough seats to give either Labour or the Tories a working majority (or nearly so), they were courted by both sides to form a coalition government. The first, strongest, and in the end, the best offer came from the Tories. I have to admit, I was surprised by what seemed to be an openness and willingness to compromise that I've never seen before from a conservative party. Being an American, I don't trust 'conservative' political parties as far as I can throw them because they actually are not conservative but right wing maniacs. Whatever happened to the old Republican party? I digress again. Anyway, Labour have decided that the best thing for them was to go into opposition, that is, to be the opposition party in the Commons. This will give them an opportunity to regroup and redefine the party, but also to hold the new coalition government made up of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to account. Gordon Brown knew that he would be a stumbling block to that happening if he tried to retain his position as leader of the party. He resigned as Prime Minister and as Labour leader, though it didn't happen by Friday morning as I had predicted (or let's say it wasn't announced at that point). He did have a duty to stay on for a few days until it looked certain that a coalition agreement could be struck. And it must be said, he was very statesman-like and dignified in his last few days in office.

I have to say, I'm impressed that the Liberal Democrats and the Tories were able to strike a deal. I can't quite wrap my head around how parties with such opposing manifestos could move so quickly to compromise but I wish them well. It remains to be seen how long this coalition will last but I suspect a minimum of 18 months though I hope it is longer, perhaps a few years. And I hope that the ideas flying around about a new kind of government, one in which the politicians work together diligently for the common good, is more than just talk. I think a balanced parliament could be a very good thing. I have to admit, I wish this for America, that it will cease to be a two-party system of polarity, cynicism and corruption. I will be watching with interest to see how they get on with it here in the UK.

One difference I noticed is that there is no shaking of hands and inviting the Prime Minister elect to 10 Downing Street for an orientation and welcome. The old Prime Minister moves out and within an hour, the new Prime Minister moves in and they don't see each other. As the timeline for elections is collapsed into weeks or months here, so the timeline for transfer of power is collapsed as well. Interestingly, there is a period of about half an hour when the country has no Prime Minister. The outgoing PM goes to Her Majesty the Queen and tenders his resignation and advises her that a new government can be formed. The incoming PM then has an audience with the Queen and she asks him if he is prepared to form a government. The answer, of course, is yes. And she invites him to do so and it is sealed with a handshake. This happened last night as the Queen welcomed the twelfth PM of her reign, David Cameron. Her first outgoing PM was Winston Churchill. Think about that for a minute; she's seen a lot since the early 50's. The official picture of last night's handshake, also called the kissing of hands (I have no idea so don't ask), was released to the press before Cameron even got out the door. Her Majesty has gone digital, baby. One has to keep up with the times.

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