EDIT: I'm leaving the first few paragraphs in, with the edit I added a few hours after the fact, but there is a retraction about the tone here
It is so freaking exciting to be English right now. This never happens
, so allow me some indulgence.
First of all, do you know what I see when I look into the sky right now? I see sky. Blue with clouds, and sometimes the Sun. You know what I don't see? Aeroplanes. Contrails. Evidence of human activity in the sky. AT ALL. There is no one up there!
This is not, of course, a good thing. Aside from the many many travellers personally stranded both here and abroad; the blow to the economy as our most valuable imports and exports are stuck each way; the desperately important drugs which are usually flown in; and
this week's comics are delayed. shit has well and truly happened. through natural processes. Nature, what a bitch.
Not a good thing. Frankly horrible for many of those directly affected. But excitement has no virtue.
The other reason it's explicitly exciting to be English
is the fact that the current election is turning out to be fairly major and important and heralding of actual change. The atmosphere among the polticos I call my friends and contacts is invigorating, because it looks like something might actually happen.
OK, for those of you not versed in UK politics, lemme give you a quick run down. As a much bigger, more influential country had an even more historic, well publicised election a couple of years ago, I'm going to assume a passing knowledge of US politics, and compare my country to that.The Party System
- For the last century, English politics has been nominatively a three-party system: The Conservative (formerly and currently informally the Tories) on the Right, Labour (since 1997 also called New Labour) on the Left, and the Liberal Democrats (formed by merger in 1988, but directly descended from the historial Whig party) just Left of Centre.
- Some people will call Labour the Centrist party and the Lib Dems the Left. I would not argue, but I'm simplifying!
- I'm specifying England because a) the Government in Westminster affects England more than the other countries of the Union and b) because nationalist politics is so important in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands, that the three party model is just plain incorrect for those regions.
- Even in England, it is not strictly a three party system, as other minor parties such as the Green (Left, environment focus) and UKIP (Right, isolationist focus) are significant. However, they are not in the running for a Government.
- It is a Truth Universally Acknowledged that in fact English politics is a Two-Party system between Labour and the Conservatives. And by Truth Universally Acknowledged, I mean it is not actually true, and this is what's so exciting this time around.
The Electoral System
- There is no direct Prime Ministerial Election. In fact, there is no direct election to any single post. The general election is an election of representatives. The next Prime Minister will be the Leader of the party in majority. When Her Madge appoints him as her Prime Minister (she will), he then gets to appoint his own Cabinet out of Representatives from (mostly) the House of Commons and (occasionally) the House of Lords.
- The General Election is essentially a whole bunch of local elections. Every constituency votes for a single Member of Parliament, and the Government is formed based on which Party wins the most seats. In comparison to the US Presidential election, it's Senate election and electoral colleges rolled into one – each constituency gets ONE representative, and the party to which that representative belongs is the constituency's contirbution to deciding who gets to form the government.
- Many parties not in Government appoint a 'spokesperson' for each of the major cabinet positions. The major opposition party (since 1997 the Conservative Party) appoints a 'Shadow Cabinet', the job of which is to directly argue with everything the actual Government ministers say. Because these teams exist and the players are known, we are electing not just a Prime Minister, but an entire cabinet. For example, the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister with hints of Vice President) will be Alistair Darling, George Osbourne or Vince Cable.
- If no one party acheives a clear majority (more than half of all seats), we will have a 'hung parliament' - the Government cannot rely on the Party whip to win votes and will need the support of other parties in order to get anything done. .If we're still drawing US parallels, a hung parliament is one that isn't fillibuster proof.
- Each seat is awarded on a first past the post system – the candidate with the most votes gets the seat, regardless of how the rest of the votes are distributed.
- Some 380 seats out of 650 are considered 'safe' – that is, the support for a certain party in that region is so strong that the seat is unlikely to change hands.
The State of British Politics
- There has, in the past few years, been a Global Recession (that one's a gimme)
- 2009's major political issue was the exposure of widespread corruption in the Houses of Parliament and abuse of privileges for MPs' own financial gain. Public esteem of politicians has never been lower.
- This year's election is the first in which there have been televised debates between Party Leaders (potential PMs) and treasury spokesmen (potential chancellors). A subject of some attention has been that all three major parties have been invited to take part, but not any of the Nationalist parties; emphasising the fact the General Elections are English-centred events.
- Social media exists. Some parties are better at utilising it than others.
This Time Around...
Two party systems tend to create a rhetoric that says "They're each as bad as each other" and voter apathy. That doesn't seem to be happening. All I'm hearing now are people saying "hey, look at those other guys!" - or rather, that's what the mainstream media are saying. All my friends, who are educated, media-savvy civil libertarians to a person and tend to lean to the Left economically, are already Liberal Democrats. Those people are saying "Holy crap! People are paying attention to us!"
The Lib Dems emerged (relatively) unscathed from the "Expenses Scandal" that admittedly was mostly Tory and Labour MPs sniping at each other.
It is widely considered that Vince Cable 'won' the Chancellors' Debate
and that Nick Clegg 'won' the first Prime Ministerial debate
The Facebook group "We got Rage Against the Machine to #1, we can get the Lib Dems into office!"
has over 100,000 members.Polls
are giving the Lib Dems a remarkably share of the support – some even have them winning.
One of the key aspects of the Lib Dems platforms is electoral reform
– they want to replace the 'first past the post' system with a Single Transferrable Vote
– a preferential voting system in which you rank your candidates in order of preference. This is (in my opinion) a fairer way to spread your vote, especially if you're a supporter of a minor party, and would like your vote to actually count, rather than be 'wasted' or instead spent on the 'lesser of two evils'.
It is not the same process that is used to elect to the European Parliament, which I'm reliably informed is
a mess and designed to make [proportional representation] look bad. Ask [matgb ] why if you want a three hour rant.
I'm not, generally, a partisan voter. I'm definitely not a partisan blogger. This year I am.
This year I am excited.
This year we have the chance to tell the them who are just as bad as each other that no, we don't have to vote for the devil or the deep blue sea. We do not live in a two party system and we can change the way things are done.
Usurping USian politico-catchphrases has worked so badly for Cameron I'm not going to invoke the Bob the Builder
(But we can)
(And even if we don't, the fact that we can
is awesome)Further Reading:The BBC Election 2010 homepage
Andrew Hickey - Give the Lib Dems (And Yourself) A Chance
Alix Mortimer - Something weird is happening
Jennie Rigg - For those of my non-political friends who have been asking what the Lib Dems Stand for...
Charlotte Gore - Can the Lib Dems "Leapfrog" this time?
David Yelland - Nick Clegg's Rise could lock Murdoch and the media elite out of UK politics