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This article can be found in Issue 3 (p15) of Vhcle Magazine.
2010: UK Election
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It also means that every time a politician from either party took a swipe at the other on the campaign trail is being dragged up in front of their embarrassed faces. At their first joint press conference, David Cameron and Nick Clegg (Tory PM and Lib Dem deputy PM) had to fend off the gleeful hack who brought up the fact than Cameron, when once asked for his favourite joke, had replied: “Nick Clegg.”
We’re not used to this, you see. It’s scary. We’re expecting these people to work together, but it’s still a bit disconcerting to see politicians from different parties being nice to each other. Somewhere inside us we know that even within individual parties there are people with very different political ideas, but years of governments in which the main people at least seemed to be ideological clones have shielded us from the idea that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the Foreign Secretary might disagree. On anything.
So instead we’re hunting for the slightest hint that Nick doesn’t like David’s stance towards the EU, or David thinks Nick’s energy policy is unrealistic. It’s silly, because we know those differences are there – they were in the manifestos. But that won’t stop us feigning shock when we find them in practice as well as in theory.
In fact, that’s probably one of the biggest risks to the coalition government: that it does something a group of Lib Dem MPs don’t like, the media gets all excited and blows it up, then more Lib Dems decide they don’t like it, the media gets all excited and blows it up again, and so on until the coalition collapses, leaving the Tories without a majority.
But here’s where I’ll put myself out there and predict that this is unlikely to happen. Both the Tories and Lib Dems know that without a coalition there would be endless elections until someone had a majority (no minority government could ever survive the tribalism), and there’s enough overlap for them to muddle along until 2015. Until then, there’s a whole new layer of coalition complexity for us to deal with.
We’ll be in our brave new world of UK politics for a while yet.
Jamie Dance Thunder (Yes, that's his real name.) An English Language graduate from Cardiff University, now studying for an MA in Investigative Journalism at City University, London. He hopes his interests of bad puns and current affairs will help him get a decent job on a newspaper, or failing that make him that guy at parties who makes terrible topical jokes and is the only one who laughs.
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It’s not easy explaining UK national politics. There’s the West Lothian Question, three-line whips, hung parliaments, shadow cabinets, and if the Queen proposes an Early Day Motion does the Minister Without Portfolio have to cross the floor?
But, seeing as this article’s all about UK national politics, here’s a start. There are 650 constituencies in the UK, each with its own MP, elected by a simple majority of voters in that constituency. The leader of the party with the most MPs then becomes the Prime Minister.
This almost always leads to a single party dominating the House of Commons, although it also hurts parties with support that’s widespread but not concentrated in any one area – in May’s election the Lib Dems got 23% of the votes but only 11% of the seats.
Ah yes, the Lib Dems (or Liberal Democrats, if we’re being proper). Over here they’re not Libruls as you might know them in the States, but quasi-free marketeers with a predilection for social justice. Oh, and they’ve got some power for the first time in 88 years.
That’s because for only the second time since WWII no party won an overall majority of seats, so the Conservatives (or Tories) and Lib Dems joined together to form a coalition. We’re now living in what some funny, funny people are calling Con-Dem nation. Con-Dem nation. Condemnation. Geddit? Oh never mind, it’s rubbish.
In a way it’s strange this sort of result doesn’t happen more often; the last party to receive more than 50% of votes cast was Stanley Baldwin’s Conservatives in 1931. Not even Blair or Thatcher at their peaks could get a majority of votes, but they always had decent majorities in Parliament.
In 2005 Labour made it through through thanks to Blair’s appeal and suspicion of a Tory party seemingly determined to be as unpleasant as it could. This year they were led by the less charismatic Gordon Brown, while the Tories at least appeared to have shaken off the worst of the reactionary crowd.
But residual support for Labour and mistrust of the Tories meant that no party had a majority on May 7th (the Lib Dems, despite performing well in polls after our First Ever Leader Debates, ended up with very similar results to last time). The Lib Dems were then left as kingmakers: do they join with the Tories to form a government with a majority? Or do they join with Labour, which would not give a majority but would probably be a better ideological match?
In the end, they didn’t have much of a choice. Had they joined with Labour the Tories would have voted down just about everything they tried, and they’d also be blamed for propping up a party that got 29% of the vote. So they went with David Cameron’s Tories.
This has led to some entertaining reverse-ferrets. A few months ago the Lib Dems were warning of a ‘Tory tax bombshell’ that would increase Value Added Tax (VAT, paid on most consumer goods). The Tories (or Conservative Party), for their part, spoke of Labour’s secret plans to increase VAT from 17.5% to 20%. In June’s annual Budget, which sets out changes to fiscal policy (government revenue and spending), the Lib-Con government announced an increase in VAT to 20%.