The Other I

May 9, 2010

Quantum fuzzies

Filed under: Political thoughts,The English,Uncategorized — theotheri @ 4:09 pm

I was going to write a post today about one of the more intriguing findings of quantum physics, but I find that watching the current developments in British politics is sufficiently mind-boggling.

Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg

Brown (Labour), Cameron (Tory), and Clegg (Liberal  Democrat)

At this point, I have received 3 telephone calls and six emails from Americans asking me to explain what is happening.  Actually explaining what is going on is probably beyond my wit, but here are a few relevant features:

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are currently locked in negotiations in an attempt to form a coalition government.  The Tory  Conservatives have 306 parliamentary seats, 10 short of the majority they need to form a government that the other parties could not unseat without help from Tory defectors.  The Lib Dems have 58 seats, so together they could form a pretty solid block.

The problem is that, although they agree on some significant issues, they seriously disagree on immigration policy, Britain’s role in Europe, how to deal with the looming budget deficit, and on changes to the voting rules.  The last is probably the most difficult to resolve, because the Lib Dems cannot foresee being more than a third tag-along party without change.  The current system is rather like the electoral system by which the U.S. President is elected, making it possible for the party with the smaller popular vote to actually win the most electoral votes and so become president.  The difficulty for the Lib Dems is that this system applies to every member parliament so that they routinely get a much larger popular vote than they get seats in parliament.

If the two parties can reach some kind of agreement on this issue, I think the chances are  that they can make it work.  The question, though, is whether the party members on either side can work together for long enough to hold the coalition together for more than a year.

The alternative to a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition is for a Lib Dem-Labour coalition with another party adding its votes when necessary.  The problem with this solution is that neither of these two parties received a commanding mandate from the voters.  And 62% of the population say that they want Gordon Brown out under any circumstances.

Okay, these are the public issues.  Slightly more sote voce issues which are nonetheless quite possibly of equal importance is the fact that each party is not only concerned, as they loudly proclaim, with the “good of the country first.”  First, also, is probably maximizing the chances of being or getting into power in another year or two.  For example:

Should the Conservatives let Labour and the Lib Dems deal with the cuts and tax rises and labour strikes which almost everybody expects to emerge in the next year, and then get elected with a majority next year?

Should the Lib Dems agree to a coalition with Labour in order to effect an immediate change in voter rules in their favour?  If they did, would the voters forgive them for such a blatant self-serving tactic?

Ditto for Labour.  Besides, will voters tolerate a party that came in second in terms of both the popular vote and parliamentary seats remaining in government?

Okay, tomorrow I’m writing about quantum physics.  That should be a good deal simpler.  (At least the way I’m going to write about it anyway.)

For what it’s worth, I’m hoping for a successful Conservative/Lib Dem coalition.  Given the very painful cuts and adjustments that the current economic reality is going to require for at least another five or even ten years, I think the country will find it easier to accept if it is coming from these two quite different parties together.

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