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Can you Spare any Change? Britain’s Road to the Polls and a Generation of Hung Parliaments

Can you Spare any Change? Britain’s Road to the Polls and a Generation of Hung ParliamentsThursday will decide the future of British politics, with not only a change from a Labour Government and the final reckoning of the political career of current Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the aftershock of years of Tony Blair, but also the birth of a consistent three party system within the world’s oldest Parliamentary Democracy. It is unlikely that coalition building will become the mainstay of Parliamentary Democracies due to the shortcomings of such systems in other European countries and the traditions of Parliamentary Democracies worldwide that often discourage post election coalition building. During campaigning, the issues of becoming more or less European shows the colours of Britain as an independent island in the EU landscape. The “Greek Tragedy” and Britain’s poor economy apart from the Euro did nothing more but to strengthen the claim that the standards and traditions of an independent Britain may have saved it from further economic troubles and reinforced its position of one of the least “European” states to within the EU. Reflecting the views of an independent Britain within Europe, this weekend the BBC World Service issued a report on Britain’s greatest contribution to the EU as being euro-scepticism, exporting the idea of the EU as a hindrance to progress to the rest of the European Union from the UK. With the reality of a Hung Parliament becoming the expectation on Friday morning, will such a split decision making body create a better or worse situation for Britons and their position in the EU, on issues of security, immigration and domestic issues in the long run? The definitive answer is – perhaps!

Can you Spare any Change? Britain’s Road to the Polls and a Generation of Hung ParliamentsThe first party to achieve 326 seats in Westminster would achieve a majority, but the question in Britain is how to handle an expected Hung Parliament and how legitimate would a coalition government be if lead my Labour with such a deficit in their popularity presently. The last time this was an issue in Britain was in the 1970s and no coalition was formed successfully. Parliamentary Democracies often frown on coalition building as the political culture of having smaller parties with small representations is what often is seen as the main difficulty with political systems in other countries. While a third ruling party is usually seen as an acceptable addition, the main point of support for having a Parliamentary Democracy is often to avoid chaos and avoid giving smaller interest groups an disproportional amount of power in the political system, namely the BNP and single seat MPs in Britain. A “third” mainstream party however can become the key to passing legislation and gives the third party, the Lib Dems this time around, a great deal of leverage to re-enforce their policies among the two main parties. Scotland and Canada currently run with Minority Parliaments. While not common in Britain, other Parliamentary Democracies often have Hung, or Minority Parliaments with the ruling party having to bargain with the other major parties in government in order to set proper legislation by working through their political aims within the legislative sessions themselves. Often if the parties greatly differ in ideology or if the opposition seeks to bring down the government at every step, an election is the likely result. Fortunately the informal systems and checks in Hung and Minority Parliaments create a situation where the majority parties need to seek political approval from the political winds and refer to the electorate consistently as any party that forces an unneeded election often pays the price for it in the polls. This was the case last year in Canada, where one month after an election the opposition threatened to form a coalition government and was not allowed to dissolve Parliament as it would be seen by many as illegitimate and against Parliamentary tradition and custom. The expectations of the electorate and the many voters who voted for the ruling party and did not vote for a coalition would have created a political vacuum and another election would have likely been called. While maintaining this balance requires a great deal of political finesse, the voice of the voters does weigh in a lot stronger than with a Majority Parliament.

Can you Spare any Change? Britain’s Road to the Polls and a Generation of Hung ParliamentsThe best example of how to manage a Minority Parliament comes from the Canadian example. Canada has weathered the latest economic crisis better than any other G8 country and was able to avoid any bank defaults and is working on a Free Trade Agreement with the EU. Canada is often used by the Obama Administration as an example of how to run a financial system in the US. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is currently attending the EU-Canada Summit in an effort to promote local techniques to avoid economic defaults and manage national economic systems amidst the default of Greece’s economy. While there is a lot of opposition in Canada to the Minority Conservative government, on economic and domestic issues the Conservative government lead by Mr. Harper have been able to keep the government running relatively smoothly since 2005. Today Canada’s Minority policies often have to seek input from opposition and the electorate, and while there is a constant threat of an election, things have been running very well for Canada over the last five years.

In Thomas L Freidman’s book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Mr. Friedman discusses how political parties in Western countries have become less ideological and often are very similar policywise, or at best all govern in the same fashion in the end. In this latest British election, traditional support for Labour has been eroded via Brown and Blair over the years and Cameron has benefitted from Labour’s mediocrity although likely would not act much differently from them in power. Luck for the Lib Dems comes more from frustration and political malaise and a lack of a record. The Lib Dems could lose their third party status easily with poor judgement in a Hung Parliament. This will become clear depending on the skills of the Lib Dems in the upcoming policy debates. Many electoral experts claim this election as the most interesting in years in Britain, but if unskilled politicians cannot handle a Minority government, it is likely that I could recycle this article in one year’s time and a Hung Parliament could become the standard until Britons get tired of voting for the same people eternally and of the minority dynamic of policymaking.



Richard Basas

Richard Basas, a Canadian Masters Level Law student educated in Spain, England, and Canada (U of London MA 2003 LL.M., 2007), has worked researching for CSIS and as a Reporter for the Latin America Advisor. He went on to study his MA in Latin American Political Economy in London with the University of London and LSE. Subsequently, Rich followed his career into Law focusing mostly on International Commerce and EU-Americas issues. He has worked for many commercial and legal organisations as well as within the Refugee Protection Community in Toronto, Canada, representing detained non-status indivduals residing in Canada. Rich will go on to study his PhD in International Law.

Areas of Focus:
Law; Economics and Commerce; Americas; Europe; Refugees; Immigration


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