Friday, May 07, 2010

General Election 2010 Reflections

I love democracy. It’s absolutely beautiful. And I love politics, it’s so versatile and alive and ever-changing. I think I want political babies named Democracy and Liberty, good names and good concepts.

It’s the election hype that has gotten me this fired up. The UK had a general election yesterday, and living in the country I can’t very well avoid it. Being a politics student, I don’t want to avoid it. It’s like the UK has had this shimmer lying over it, covering it. It smells of anticipation and of change. Although the democracy shimmer has slightly subdued as the election is over, the image of it is fresh in my memory. It is beautiful. If I could, I would take a swim in this democracy shimmer surrounding me with the power and voices of the people.

The election had a rather interesting outcome. None of the parties won the majority and it is now a so called “hung parliament.” Being Swedish I find this whole stress over a coalition government pretty entertaining. We have always had coalition governments and that’s how I prefer it. In fact, I think that the current set up of two opposing blocs or alliances in Swedish politics is downright dangerous for democracy and doesn’t offer the voter enough choices. It is not representative enough. I think hung is good and that coalitions lead to a higher rate of democracy.

The interesting bit is going to be to see how this whole coalition is going to play out. At the moment all the power lies in the hands of the Liberal Democrat party leader, Nick Clegg. Is he going to take the Conservatives up on their offer to form a coalition government? Would he be letting his voters down by doing so since the Lib Dems seem much closer to Labour in policies? Most importantly, how is he going to address this half-ass attempt Conservative leader David Cameron made of setting up a committee looking into the current unfairness of the voting system? Not to mention that Cameron stated that he wants to keep a first past the post system, which is basically what keeps on losing seats for the Lib Dems. How is Clegg going to reconcile his strong beliefs in fair representation with the clearly not-so-fair representation system that the Tories want?

On the other hand, if Clegg were to turn down the Conservative offer of forming a coalition government, he would be bypassing the party that won the largest share of the popular votes and seats in parliament to form a government with a party that the electorate has clearly rejected. Can that be justified? A Lib-Lab coalition would still not reach the majority needed to safely pass legislation through parliament.

Yes, it is interesting to say the least.

I know I am not allowed to vote in this country. As a Swedish citizen, I really have no say on how the electoral system should be shaped, but as a human being I am allowed to an opinion. And furthermore, as a strong believer in democracy I cannot stand idly by and not have an opinion as this general election has proven that the UK has a severely unfair system. The Lib Dems won around 23% of the popular vote but ended up with 57, giving them less than 10% of seats in parliament. That hardly seems fair.

I hope the electoral system will be reformed in Britain, to a proper proportional representation system. Something like Mixed Member Proportional Representation where people could easily affect both which candidates they send to parliament as well as parties. Or perhaps something like we have in Sweden with a list of party candidates already printed on an open list and where people can vote for particular persons if they so wish, but if they do not, the choice of the candidates will go to the party. Although, as someone pointed out over at the BookCrossing forums today, that can lead to candidates in parliament who have technically not been elected but appointed by the party leadership, a rather elitist tactic, and one which makes sure that the power seat in each party can put their drones into parliament.

One last thing, for those scaremongers who claim that the BNP would gain 10 or more seats through a proportional representation system, that is simply not true. A proportional system often comes with a threshold that any party is required to pass before being allowed into parliament. In Sweden it is 4%, but some countries have higher. This is to avoid an unlimited number of parties in parliament that only represent a minuscule proportion of the country and it also works as a safeguard against extremist parties. With the BNP’s meagre 1,9% of the popular vote, this would be well below the threshold.