Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Queen of Britain dissolves Parliament

It is reported from London that Prime Minister Gordon Brown has returned to Downing Street following an audience with Queen Elizabeth II where he asked her to dissolve the British Parliament. It is expected that he will soon confirm the widely expected 6 May election date.
The general election is set to be the closest race since 1974, with an opinion poll published in the Guardian yesterday showing the Conservatives down 1 % to 37 % and Labour up 4 % to 33 %, and the Liberal Democrats down 2 % to 21 %.
Because of the outdated electoral system still used in Britain such an outcome could mean that Labour nevertheless would have become the largest party in Parliament but without a majority of their own. Such a situation, known as a hung parliament, is considered a national calamity in Britain and the last time it occured, in 1974, it led to Parliament being dissolved and a new general election being called within monhts.
This is perhaps less likely this time, given the precarious state of the British economy. Personally I tend to think that a hung parliament might not be such a negative thing for Britain after all - a coalition government including the Liberal Democrats could be a benefit.


  1. Could you please explain, sir, what exactly makes the British electoral system outdated? As opposed to?

  2. Why I think it is outdated should be clear from the context in which I made that statement: that although the Conservatives may receive most votes, Labour may become the largest party in Parliament. An electoral system which leads to a result which does not reflect the wishes expressed by the electorate should be replaced. As I wrote about on 7 February, there are indeed plans to change the electoral system, but I am not sure if I think the proposed "alternative vote" system will really be an improvement.

    The "fairest" electoral system is proportional representation, which in Britain is advocated by the Liberal Democrats (who are however willing to support AV as they think it is better than the current system). But naturally this system also has its flaws, but no electoral system is perfect.

    The Tories remain opposed to electoral reform, and therefore it will be quite interesting to see what happens if Labour does indeed become the largest party in Parliament even if the Tories receive more votes. In such a situation I doubt the Tories will continue to advocate the current system.

  3. That means the Norwegian electoral system is outdated as well, since the current Prime Minister came to power with a coalition block with less popular votes than the opposition block, whilst still having a parliamentary majority?

    The current British system gives, as opposed to proportional representation, the British voter one MP which is his.

    Now, I don't necessarily favor any of these systems over the other, but I conclude that you, sir, are using outdated as a perjorative for an arrangement with a certain age with which you disagree.

  4. I knew you would come up with that argument. But yes, it is true that the parties making up the current Norwegian government did indeed win a majority of seats in Parliament while receiving less than 50 % of the votes. This has also happened before, such as in 1965, when the two left-wing parties won 49.1 % and 70 seats in Parliament, while the four right-wing parties won 47.7 %, but 80 seats in Parliament.

    Nevertheless, the system of proportional representation based on Sainte-Lagüe's modified method, which is used in Norway, obviously results in a parliamentary situation far closer to the wishes expressed by the people in the election than the system used in Britain (which was also adopted by Norway in 1905, but discarded after a mere fourteen years).

    But as I said, all electoral systems have their flaws. Just think of the consequences of the electoral system used for US presidential elections, which ten years ago led to George W. Bush receiving a majority in the electoral college although Al Gore received more than half a million more votes than him.

    I disagree with your statement that the British system "gives [...] the British voter one MP which is his". If the MP elected in one constituency received say 36 % of the votes, it means 64 % voted for other candidates and are thus in fact not really represented at all although the MP is expected to be MP for all of them (like the Prime Minister of Norway is PM for all Norwegians, including those who voted for other candidates). The votes of those 64 % were therefore "wasted". It also remains a fact that the number of British MPs elected with more than 50 % of the votes in their constituency has fallen considerably after WWII.

    Concerning your final remark, that is one of those attempts at distorting an opponent's viewpoint to serve one's own argument which contradict the norms for polite and serious discussion and I will therefore refrain from replying to it.


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