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[personal profile] malsperanza
I hardly post here anymore, do I? Well, I have some questions for the UKers on my flist. I've been watching the election from here (NYC) with more than usual interest, not least because I think we in the US can expect some of the same mixed messages in our fall congressional elections.

I watched the BBC reporting all night on election night, which was not exactly painful because it just meant staying up til about 1:00 am, which I often do anyway. And today's reporting has made the whole business considerably more exciting again. Kudos to Brown for having the sense to GTFO. And fingers crossed that Clegg and the LD will be able to forge a real coalition with Labour.

But I realized that I know less about the current UK parliamentary system than I thought I did, and that it's not as close to the EU parliamentary systems as I had thought. I'm more familiar with how things work in Italy, France, and Germany--especially Italy.

So, question the first: UK constituencies vary greatly in size. How are lines drawn, and how often? Are there constituencies that stay the same because of historical precedent or tradition, or is there a system in place for reviewing the whole shebang? If this bit of the system were reformed, and a full system of proportional representation were to fail (eg, if the Tories gain and keep power), would that be sufficient to alter the current ingrained voting patterns of safe districts?

In the US we redraw the lines for congressional districts every 10 years, based on the decennial census. Naturally, there's a lot of conniving and gerrymandering in the process, but it does mean that some degree of proportionality is achieved--and corrected a bit if the party in power when the census is done is different from the party that was in power the previous time. Which happens quite often. That said, we too have a large proportion of safe districts. In my view, in the US that's not a bad thing. With such a large lower House, we need longterm returning Congress members who have experience, as it is very easy for districts to elect newbies and dingbats. Congress is full of both.

Question the second: I don't think I had realized that in the UK coalitions of smaller and larger parties have been rare. It's so common in continental Europe for minor center-left and left parties to join the biggest one, and ditto for the right, that I sort of assumed the same was true in the UK. But I gather not? Is the idea of a coalition of 2 center-left parties a radical departure? It's fascinating to see the LD, having actually reduced its margin and its number of MPs, find itself in the role of kingmaker.

In the US, the coalition-forming process occurs during the campaign. That's the purpose (unstated and unacknowledged) of our excruciating system of year-long campaigns with endless state-by-state primaries and a lengthy endorsement process. Each party develops a loose coalition of interests that are not party-affiliated but have a tendency to lean left or lean right. Many of those interests are smack in the center and up for grabs. For example, blue-collar whites voted in large numbers for Reagan in 1980, despite the fact that trade unions always endorse Democrats. This system is in place because our structure of White House being separate from the houses of Congress means that there's no chance whatever of a third party ever having a shot at anything but being a spoiler. Which takes me to

Question the third: Did the LD draw more votes away from Labour, from the Tories, or was the split about even?

Question the fourth: The debate about proportional representation has now merged with the debate about whether a coalition government can be stable vs. whether a minority government can be stable. Both perspectives seem to be accusing the other of creating a new electoral structure that depends on back-room horsetrading and deals made out of the public eye. Why is this thought to be new or different from how governments are always formed when the margin of victory is narrow? What am I missing?

Thanks to anyone who cares to respond!

ETA: Here's how tomorrow's Wall Street Journal headlines the news that Brown is stepping down:

Britain Now Sleepwalking to Disaster as Brown Plots Coalition of the Absurd

Not that the WSJ has a horse in this race, or is owned by Murdoch, or anything. I take this as a hopeful sign: If the WSJ is foaming mad, then perhaps a Lib-Lab coalition could actually pluck a government from the flibbering claws of the Tories.

God, I love politics. Some days, I can't wait til the fall election season. Then I look at the INSANE people running our conservative party these days, and I start hoping summer will never end.
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August 2010

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