Tuesday, May 11, 2010

UK Elections: More Good than Bad

After the disastrous run of the Labour Party, first under Tony Blair then under Gordon Brown, the best news from the UK is that Labour lost a whopping 91 seats. Unfortunately they still have 258 seats too many. The Blair/Brown years took the UK far down the road toward a police state, and I don't say that lightly.

However, the main opposition party, The Conservative Party, did not win a majority of the seats either. The UK electoral system is skewed in ways that favor Labour. While this disadvantages the Tories it hurts the Liberal Democrats the most.

The Lib Dems, who have moved more toward free markets in recent years, rediscovering the real liberal heritage, won 58 seats with 6,827,938 votes. That is one seat per 117,723 votes. In comparison Labour won 258 seats with 8,604,358 votes. That is one seat be 33,350 votes, or about one-fourth those needed by the Lib Dems. The Tories received 10,706,647 votes and 306 seats, or one seat per 34,989 votes.

Another factor which skews the results is Scotland. Scotland has its own parliament as if it were independent. But it still elects 59 members to the parliament of the United Kingdom. These Scottish MPs will spend most their time voting on legislation tht only applies to England. But their presences keeps the Tories under a majority. Remove Scotland from the equation and 296 seats would be needed for a majority. The Tories would have 305 seats, or 9 seats more than needed to rule alone. Actually one seat is vacant currently and will be voted on later. It appears to be a safe Tory seat. Labour, without Scotland, would lose 41 more seats and the Lib Dems would have 46 seats.

With no party having a clear majority in parliament there are two main options. First, the Tories could form a minority government. But they are talking to the Lib Dems and there appears to be a decent chance that they will form a coalition. The Lib Dems could go with Labour but that doesn't seem likely to me. And it certainly would be disastrous for the Lib Dems if they ally themselves with a party as authoritarian as Labour has become.

Given that the Tories are more economic liberal than the Lib Dems, and the Lib Dems are more socially liberal than the Tories, there is some chance that the coalition will form a more liberal government than the UK has seen in a very, very long time. Certainly Thatcher, while economically liberal, was not socially liberal. One good thing about the Tories of recent years is that they have rediscovered social liberalism. In many ways they are more socially liberal than Labour, especially when it comes to privacy issues especially issues that pit the individual against the surveillance state that Blair and Brown erected. The real issue will be whether the Tories will stick to that opposition now that they have the powers for themselves.

Far too often parties out of power are quite libertarian sounding, but when power is handed to them, they betray the voters by keeping the powers they were pledged to abolish. This is precisely how the Republicans and Democrats behave in the US. When the Democrats created a Department of Energy and Department of Education the Republicans were in favor of abolishing them right up until they won power. The Democrats said they would end the authoritarian policies of Dubya and have now fully embraced using those powers themselves.

All this said, I wouldn't want to be the UK. Tough times are not over there and the spending spree of the Labour governments will impose hardships on many people. What might be good is that there may be some electoral reform which will create a more proportional system out of the current mess. I would favor that.

The best news is that Gordon Brown has steeped down at the Labour Party leader. Like Dubya, he and Blair were blots on the human race and I'm pleased to see them all gone. They aren't in prison, where they belong, but its an improvement.

On a more personal note I was pleased to see one MP returned to office. A couple of years ago I was in England at Christmas and he invited me to share Christmas dinner with his family and friends. It was a kindness I appreciated. He even gave me a small present of mints from Parliament, which were quite nice. While would disagree on several matters I was pleased to seem him reelected. I also note that a woman from near where I was staying, who I met twice during my last vist, was also elected for the first time to Parliament.