Home > Main Blog - General > About this Election in the UK.

About this Election in the UK.

It has been called and now all the main UK political Parties have launched their Manifestos. On May 7th 2010, Britain will wake up knowing who their MP is and potentially who their Prime Minister is.

A British Government can serve a maximum term of 5 years. The very last date the election could have been held was Thursday 3 June 2010. The Prime Minister petitions the Queen to call a General Election at any time before the end of the 5 year period. Due to the fact that the Prime Minister called the election one month before the legal deadline, this is the first time a serving Prime Minister whose opposition has a 10 point poll lead has called an election on a date of his choosing.

The Government of the day is formed from the Houses of Parliament, both the Commons and the unelected House of Lords. The Head of State is Her Majesty the Queen. “Her Prime Minister” is the Leader of the Party that can command a majority in Parliament.

Secretaries of State join the Cabinet, these are High ranking Ministers with overall responsibility for a Department of Government (Foreign Office, Education, Work and Pensions, Health). The most important posts in the Cabinet are held by the Chancellor and the Foreign Secretary. All Members of the Cabinet, including the Prime Minister, remain Members of Parliament and those in the Commons are expected to perform Constituency duties. That does indeed mean that someone working in the Social Services Department of Sedgefield Council could have had a call from Tony Blair. Somebody I knew who worked for Barnet Housing Benefits once had a call from Margaret Thatcher enquiring about a claim made by a Constituent (resident) of hers.

The Lords is still used to make political appointments.
The current Labour Government has more Members of the Lords than any previous Government in recent history. They have no constituency duties, although some retain a close interest with the Constituency they came from and do take on individual cases.

Parliamentary bills may be proposed in the Commons or Lords. The Lords are the Upper Chamber, similar to the Senate, but unelected. Bills however must be passed by both Houses. The Lords however can not block manifesto promises, or finance bills. They can however propose amendments (except on Finance bills). After a Second Reading from the Commons, if legislation is passed it goes to the Queen for approval. This is known as Royal Assent. The Queen has never refused Royal Assent, however the Queen let it be known that assent may not be forthcoming on a Private Members bill that proposed abolishing the Monarchy. It had no Government backing and therefore there was no constitutional crisis.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has a First Past the Post Parliamentary democracy. Members of Parliament are elected to serve their Constituencies.

Voters elect the Member of Parliament and not in legal reality the Party. This is why an MP can change Parties (called crossing the floor because the Governing Party sits on the opposite side of the Opposition Party).

The Leader of the Party which has the largest number of MP’s in the House of Commons is the first to be asked whether they can form a Government, if they can, the leader of that Party becomes Prime Minister. If that Prime Minister is the Leader of the incumbent Party and they retain a majority in the Commons, there is no need for the Queen to ask them to form a Government.

The majority required to form a Government means a majority of the entire Commons (hence an OVER ALL majority). If no party has an absolute majority, the Leader of a Party able to form a coalition is invited to form a Government. This may not be the Leader of the largest Party, although they are always called first.

Constituencies are somewhat unbalanced in the UK, in part because the Labour Party were simply better organised than the Tories during the reviews of constituency boundaries. Constituencies are legally subject to regular independent review. In some of the recent boundary reviews, the largely decentralised Tories shot their own feet by defending old constituency boundaries (certain wards (districts within Constituencies) acted as key fund raisers for their local Party) and as a result they often failed to see the bigger picture. The Tories have however picked up their game on this in recent years.

As a result of this imbalance, in 2005 Labour won a 66 seat OVERALL majority in the House of Commons, despite winning just sightly more votes than the Conservative Party. This was a record Third Term for Tony Blair and the Labour Party.

Labour
Popular vote 9,562,122
Vote share 35.3%
Number of Seats 356

Tories
Popular vote 8,772,598
Vote share 32.3%
Number of seats 198

Lib Dem
Popular vote 5,981,874
Vote share 22.1%
Number of seats 62

(The remaining seats are held by smaller Parties, such as the Scottish and Welsh Nationalists and political Parties from Northern Ireland).

The Conservative Party needs to get an approximately 7% swing across the country to win an overall majority of just 11 seats. In 1992 John Major secured an overall majority of 22. His Government as a result was often held to ransom by small groups of back bench MP’s and even Cabinet Ministers, some of whom he once referred to as “the bastards”

It would not take a large swing for Labour to lose their overall majority (about 1%). Labour however has a 160 seat advantage over the Conservatives and for the Tories to gain 95 seats from Labour would almost be unprecedented in post WW2 Britain.

Gordon Brown became Prime Minister when Blair stepped down. There was not a constitutional requirement for their to be a General Election to secure his mandate. John Major served nearly two years as Prime Minister before he called an election. The make up of the political parties in Parliament did not change and therefore whoever became Leader could still secure “the confidence of the House”. When Gordon became Leader in 2007 he let it be known that he was likely to call an election in October. The other Parties who had already readied themselves for that started on a publicity drive. Gordon Brown decided not to call one and that led to his credibility being heavily damaged.

Given the recession, the unpopularity of the bank bail outs and the infighting within the Labour Party that followed, if Gordon Brown wins the election (which still remains a statistical popularity even if he does not get the highest number of votes), it will be one of the greatest political come-backs in UK history.

Some political talking heads are raising the prospect of a “hung Parliament”. Such a result would be the first in over 35 years. This would mean that for a Party Leader to become Prime Minister, they would have to form a coalition government with one of the other parties. It should be noted that the prospect of a hung Parliament is often raised at every General Election, including ones where the winning Party went on to win giant majorities, ie 1983, 1987 and 1997.

The Party that is most likely to be courted in any coalition would be the Liberal Democrats.

The Tories have already courted the Ulster Unionists (Northern Irish Protestant fundamentalists more akin to the GOP than any other Party).

If the Liberal Democrats get to play the role of “King Maker”, it is likely that they will want key aspects of their platform legislated on. A key Liberal Democrat plank is electoral reform. They favour Proportional Representation. As neither of the two larger Political Parties have ever secured over 50% of the vote in recent history that would, given current voting preferences give the Liberal Democrats and other small parties a near permanent “King maker” role.

Over time, the electoral field will change and people who vote for the three main Parties may be more likely to vote for other smaller Parties, such as the Greens.

This certainly happens in the elections to the European Parliament, where sadly Britain elected two members of the British Nazi Party to the European Parliament.

In terms of “change” elections, I am only able to remember 1997. Although defeated, even Conservatives felt relieved after that election. The new Prime Minister, Tony Blair had not met George Bush. His chalice was not yet poisoned. Even the day after the election was bright, warm and sunny.

This election offers none of that.

All three of the major political parties offer the prospect of large cuts to public services. Britain faces a massive budget deficit. A great deal of tax revenue was generated through the City of London, when that collapsed, so did the tax revenue.

The Labour Chancellor says that they will implement “savage cuts” one year after the election to secure the recovery. Their manifesto makes no mention of the cuts that they will introduce but Universities have already been hit with massive reductions in budgets.

The Tories propose to protect state pensions and the national health service but will start cutting on other spending straight away. They also propose to make up some of the revenue by introducing a tax on investment banking, as proposed by President Obama. If the US does not implement such a tax that proposal is unlikely to generate any revenue.

Neither of the two main parties will however say in detail where the axe will fall. Some cuts are easy for the Conservatives to talk about. The deeply unpopular National ID card is one of the few announced cuts.

The Liberal Democrats are more honest (to some extent they can be – they will not form the next Government although they may be part of it). They have detailed many of their cuts and are not protecting “sacred cows” such as the very popular National Health Service.

They however have the fairest tax proposals – promising to remove anyone earning less than £10,000 ($15,000) per year from income tax, to be paid for by ending tax loopholes for the richest. They also plan on scrapping ID cards and in addition will not replace the Trident Nuclear bombs.

If Labour are the largest single Party in Westminster, they may cut a deal with the more left wing Scottish and Welsh Nationalists instead of the Liberal Democrats. This would save the political career of Gordon Brown, who Nick Clegg has already made clear that he may not be able to work with.

Unlike the US, all of the UK Parties are committed to a green agenda and securing “green jobs”.

The Tories propose a massive expansion of high speed rail. Given planning regulations and the complex nature of the private rail company contracts expect the trains to start on February 29 2013. This side of not very likely.

The two main parties are also pushing the idea of universal broadband. Tory proposals suggest 100meg broadband for all. What universal really means has not really been questioned.

The Tories also propose what would be considered very socialist in the US. If users of a particular service are unhappy with the way it is being delivered locally, they propose allowing residents to form a co-op to take it over.

Teabagger heads would explode if they read about Tory commitments to universal free at the point of use health care. Never mind the Tory commitment to give tax breaks to married couples and members of civil partnerships (UK gay marriage compromise). Beck (who is watched only by a drunken few here) would go apoplectic at the thought that even the Tory leader describes himself as a “progressive”.

Both Labour and the Tories are trying to steal the thunder from BNP Nazis by bashing immigrants and the disabled poor. Labour have already passed some very nasty legislation in the form of of the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which was introduced on 27 October 2008. They have not enforced some of the nastier aspects of it in part due to the economic collapse. With the UK economy (very slowly) creeping back out of recession, more disability bashing is to be expected whoever wins.

This is a fight in the centre ground – and that centre is very much on the left of American politics. Only UKIP, the British Nazi Party and the loons form Northern Ireland bear any similarity to the GOP. Unfortunately the loons form Northern Ireland may have a say in the next Government.

The Conservatives could theoretically work with the Lib-Dems and the minor parties to form a Government instead. It is unlikely that they would accede to demands for electoral reform and it would be quite obvious that they would cut and run to a General Election as soon as they believed that they had a chance of winning outright.

Labour have not got off to a good start in the campaign.

Just prior to the formal election announcement, former Labour Ministers (and one retiring Tory MP) were busy trying to present themselves to a fictitious US Lobbyist firm. It was a hit piece by Channel 4 and The Times.

Stephen Byers, a former Secretary of State for Transport has had to refer himself to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner after describing himself as a “cab for hire”. He claimed that he secured deals on behalf of National Express (a major train and coach company). He denied it afterwards. Like his mentor, Tony Blair, this former Minister, who only has a passing acquaintance with truth may have been more truthful about his lobbying than his denial.

This comes on top of the MP’s expenses scandal that rocked all UK Political Parties, where MPs were claiming for all kinds of silly things such as clearing of their own personal moats. One of the worst was Margaret Moran. She was forced to stand down because of her greed. Since announcing that she was unable to stand down she has hardly been seen in Parliament and her Constituents have been unable to see her due to ill health. She was however not too ill for an interview with the fake C4 lobbyists.

Labour tax plans were under attack shortly after the election was called. Their plan to increase National Insurance has also come under attack by Leaders of Industry who backed Blair and Brown in 2005 and some even serve in his Government.

The Tories weren’t help by the scandal of large donations from “non dom” (only part UK resident) Lord Ashcroft (aka Lord Cashcroft). Labour were not helped by that scandal either as it drew attention to large donations from the Trade Union Unite and the Industry magnate and destroyer, Lord Paul.

None of the Political Parties “excite” me. In fact, given the passing of the worst aspects of the Digital Economy Bill, they all pretty much disgust me. I may flirt with voting Liberal Democrat on May 6th, but like a drunken flirt at a night club I am more than likely to wake up in the next morning, look at the result and go ugh.

Manifestos to be found here:
www.labour.org.uk
www.conservatives.com
www.libdems.org.uk

(no one wins on the web page design that is for sure)

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Categories: Main Blog - General
  1. May 6, 2010 at 8:17 am

    If you could vote for any fictional character who would it be? would the world not be a better place run by President Palmer and Jack Bauer dream team? http://wp.me/pUjlS-1E

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