Sunday, May 08, 2005

On Your Marks, Ladies and Gentlemen...

“No part of the education of a politician is more indispensable than the fighting of elections.” Winston Churchill

We’ve just had a lightning election here in the UK. Parliament was dissolved on April 11th and the campaigning lasted for less than four weeks. Elections were held on Thursday, May 5th. It’s one of the things I like about a Parliamentary Democracy.

Labour won. That means Tony Blair continues as Prime Minister. However, the people elected a Labour government. That means that if he gets into trouble, he will be pressured to step down and the party will choose a new leader, most likely Gordon Brown. The party would remain in power. The party, as much as the man, was elected.

Already feuding has broken out over leadership and the cabinet reshuffle. Today's Observer (traditionally a pro-Labor newspaper) displayed an apt political cartoon. In the centre stands Tony Blair with a bloody nose and bloodstains streaming down the front of his shirt. He says, "In this historic third term, we must respond to the message the electorate has sent us...." To his right, we see a monstrous, shaggy, dark figure labeled "Iraq" with a claw-like hand resting on Tony's shoulder. Another speech bubble points off-screen, presumably to the voice of the electorate. It reads, "Hand over to Gordon and get lost!"

In this Parliamentary Democracy, they don’t have to call an election for five years. They can do so if they wish to. In fact, if after four years or so, if they think they are in a good position to win again, they can call another election. By the same token, if the government loses a vote of confidence at any time, they HAVE to call an election. Much simpler than trying to impeach a president.

The downside is that the party in power has a majority. They can get through the legislation they want without much check. Britain traditionally has a two-party political system. In the past few years, people have increasingly become disillusioned with Labour or the Conservatives. Many have turned to the Liberal Democrats. This has led to scare-mongering at election time. Both leading parties threatened that by voting for Liberal Democrats, voters might allow the other party to get in through “the back door”.

Voter turnout was poor and many expressed disgust at the negative campaigning. Michael Howard, the Conservative candidate lost a lot of support because of this. Of course those who remember him as the architect of Maggie Thatcher's Poll Tax might cite other reasons. In any case, he will step down as leader of the Conservative party.

There are some minor political parties. The SDLP (The Social Democratic and Labour Party), the UKIP (The UK Independence Party), the SNP (The Scottish Nationalist Party), the Plaid Cymru (Party of Wales), the BNP (British National Party), as well as others, including special interest parties and extreme groups.

Labour has a majority at the moment, but not a great one. They hold 353 seats. The Conservatives have 196, the Liberal Democrats, 60, and others, 12. Blair’s government lost 161 seats in this election, a clear indication that people are not happy. The main issues have been the war in Iraq, the National Health System, and immigration. The government is also trying to push through legislation regarding ID cards. It won’t be so easy now. MP’s don’t always vote along party lines.

At least, we won’t be subjected to a year or more of campaigning and news manipulation as seen in the last US elections. We have a lame duck Prime Minister whose job it is now to keep his party in power. He may have already lost his chance to find a place in history.

“Politics is almost as exciting as war, and quite as dangerous. In war you can only be killed once, but in politics many times.” Winston Churchill