Thursday, May 06, 2010

UK General Election 2010

Today the UK goes to the polls to elect a new House of Commons. I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions. I am very interested in this election for at least five reasons:

• As Commonwealth citizens resident in the UK, we get to vote. As far as I can tell, this is one of the few remaining legal privileges of the echos of Empire. For instance, many people assume that my daughter automatically gets a UK passport, since she was born here, but that is no longer the case. We would have to be residents for five years before she could apply for one. In any case, this could turn out to be my only chance to vote in a national election outside Australia (unless either the new government or my PhD goes really pear-shaped).

• For the first time, I will witness a genuinely three-cornered race. In case, you haven't been following it, the Labour government under Gordon Brown has slipped into third place behind not only their traditional rivals in the Conservative Party (led by David Cameron) but also behind the previously-minor Liberal Democrat Party, led by Nick Clegg (though within the last 24 hours, it looks like Labour has moved back into second place). For the first time in the UK, this campaign period included televised debates between the three leaders and following the first debate, Clegg's popularity soared. While it is unlikely that the Lib Dems will form government, there is a strong chance of a hung parliament and a governing coalition with Labour. I don't think they have ruled out forming a coalition with the Conservatives, but I get the impression this is less likely. There has been a lot of fear-mongering in the media about the weakness of coalition government, but much of my life has been under a very strong coalition national government in Australia, and that is not particularly unusual.

• Our electorate, South Edinburgh, is one of the most marginal in the country, being held by Labour in 2005 by about 400 votes over the Liberal Democrats. Although the electoral boundaries have a shifted a little since then, it remains a close seat. In a feat of bodily contortion, the sitting Labour member is standing down.

• Speaking of members standing down, this election will have the largest number of retiring incumbents since the 1945 post-war election (where there had been no election for ten years due to the war). Of the 650 MPs, almost 150 will not be standing again. This is largely due to the MPs' expenses scandal that has seen public trust in politicians sink to new lows. Incidentally, the outrage over what MP behaviour has also led to a reduction in MPs' retirement package, effective from after this election. This has nothing to do with the number standing down, of course.

• There are many important issues at stake, including electoral reform of the somewhat hopeless first past the post system. This is not the most important issue of the day, but it may well be front and centre after the election since the Liberal Democrats have indicated that it will be a non-negotiable condition of forming a coalition. Reform is patently in their interests, since in 2005 they won 22% of the popular vote, but gained less than 10% of seats. It is opposed by Labour, who gained almost 55% of seats with just over 35% of the popular vote.

I would say more about other issues separating the major parties (taxation, debt, energy, climate, health, education, foreign policy and so on), but want to get this post up before the election is already over. I am still making my final decision before I cast my vote this evening.

7 comments:

Heather said...

I had a lot of fun with the Channel 4 "Chop or not" website where you choose how to cut he deficit. It's at http://chopornot.channel4.com/

Doug Forbes said...

I personally don't think a three horse race will be reflected in the outcome (even of the popular vote) - the lib dems don't really have the experience or nouse to lead the country - although Nick Clegg does have a certain amount of charisma.... bur charisma is not what we need at any time in the leader of the country.

I think a conservative government would be the most damaging thing for the country since 1979 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Premiership_of_Margaret_Thatcher. It would be particularly damaging for Scotland where public services account for considerably more than south of the border. They currently only have one seat in Scotland, and after 1997 had none; demonstrating the mistrust that Scotland has of them. to shift from FPTP to PR in Scotland would paint a very interesting picture.

Only one part left.... no prizes for who will be getting my vote.

byron smith said...

Thanks Heather - a helpful little exercise to get a sense of the scale of debt.

Doug - Can you give some examples of why you think the Lib Dems lack the requisite wisdom or discernment demonstrated by Labour?

I've also just been told that Clegg has more recently indicated that electoral reform is not non-negotiable in forming a coalition. My impression is that it would be a very bitter pill for Labour to swallow.

Doug Forbes said...

I'm afraid that it comes down to the age old problem that people face when applying for jobs.... we need someone with experience... but how do we get experience without getting a job... and the viscous circle continues.

If the Liberal Democrats were to get any significant headway there would be problems that very few of their MPs would have any experience of parliament never mind government. I am not saying that is never a bad thing, but as we steer our way out of recession we need someone with experience to do that (I know that point is perhaps debatable regarding Gordon Brown). I may be tempted to be swayed if the UK were not in such difficult economic times.

I think Scottish Labour faced a similar problem when the Scottish Parliament was formed - there was a severe lack of part leadership experience amongst leaders after the death of Donald Dewar. The SNP pulled a trump card in 2007 by bringing a political heavyweight back from Westminster in Alex Salmond.

byron smith said...

Doug - I agree that experience is one important factor in determining a vote, though it is not the only criteria, nor an entirely crucial one (for the obvious reason you mention). Furthermore, the Lib Dems had almost zero chance of an outright majority, even in their most positive polling. So the best they could reasonably hope for prior to last night was to be a significant partner in a coalition government (which, presumably, they would prefer to form with Labour). In this scenario, their lack of experience would have been somewhat mitigated by Labour's experience.

But the point is moot as their support did not materialise. Looks like we'll continue to face some interesting times ahead.

steph said...

I did a policy questionaire with the object of seeing who it said I should vote for ... Greens came out top at 111, Lib Dems 87 and then Labour down at minus 27 and Torys of course last at minyus 58. I was interested that Lib Dem and Labour were that far apart. It's just a shame that now I voted Lib Dem, I realise I don't trust their leader.

byron smith said...

Guardian: One hundreds days of Green in Brighton.