Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Britain's New Government And the Deal That Made it Possible

So the UK has a new, Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron. Now for the rest of the government. I had put my money on the Conservatives forming a minority government (i.e. a situation in which they cut some sort of deal with the Lib Dems that stopped short of giving the Lib Dem's any cabinet ministeries). The speculation in the London Times is that the three top jobs in the new government, PM, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Foreign Secretary will all be held by Torries. In comparison with similar coalitions in Continental countries, this is a very lopsided agreement in favor of the senior member of the coalition (the Conservatives). In most countries a coalition will set up the leader of the largest party as the PM and the leader of the second largest party as either the Finance Minister (called in the UK, "Chancellor of the Exchequer") or Foreign Minister (called in the UK, "Foreign Secretary"). Instead the top leaders in the Lib Dem party are going take what amount to junior ministerial positions: Deputy PM and Chief Secretary for the Treasury. For all three of the top jobs to go to the senior partner in the coalition suggests that the junior partner had very little bargaining leverage.

It is possible though that the Lib Dems got their holy grail. There were reports yesterday that the Conservatives had lately become open to the idea of a referendum on instituting the alternative vote system. This is not quite the STV system that the Lib Dems prefer (see previous post) but it is similar. The main difference is that in STV, there are multiple members representing each district whereas in Alternative Vote systems there is only one member (the voters still rank order their candidates). Alternative Vote is sometimes called "institant runnoff." This is the electoral system that the Labour Party has sometimes advocated. If the Lib Dems got that kind of concession I could understand them being willing to give up the important ministries.


The Law Talking Guy said...

David Cameron is being very clever, and I applaud him for it. By having all these pictures of Cameron and Clegg embracing, he presents a picture that appeals to a solid majority of Britons, who gave just shy of 60% of their votes to those two parties. He invites the LDs inside the government, but without major policy control except on a few key issues. So the Tories will get the credit when the government goes well, but the LDs won't be able to escape blame if it falters. The personal popularity of both Clegg and Cameron exceeds their vote shares also. Pictures in the BBC of the two of them standing in front of 10 Downing street gazing doe-eyed at one another verge on being creepy. But this is the kind of cross-party cooperation that Americans claim to desperately want.

I agree that the Alternative Vote system is a huge concession to the LDs. It is also fascinatingly dangerous. After all, as soon as the AV system is implemented by referendum (if it is), the LDs will have every incentive to walk out of the coalition and force a new election.

On the other hand, the LDs share the danger. The British public will not vote for any change in the voting system that is designed to promote coalition governments or smaller parties (which is how this change will be seen) if they don't like the coalition government they see in action. So the only way for the LDs to win their referendum is to make sure the impression of a unified "happy marriage" continues through the referendum date. No fighting in front of the electorate, in other words.

Raised By Republicans said...

Yeah, I think the Tories are playing with fire a little. But they had to to some extent. They either had to give this or really share power in the cabinet (something this coalition agreement doesn't really do). Even then it is possible that the Labour party would offer the Lib Dems both important cabinet posts and a referendum on AV or even STV.

I think the Lib Dems should make a big deal about how they are largely shut out of decision making. What they have is simply a position at the table from which they can monitor Tory decisions. The Lib Dems should bide their time, then when they've got their new electoral system, accuse the Conservatives of breaking faith with "the British people" or something.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I think the new legislation to have 5-year fixed-term parliaments, that both have agreed to, is a terrific idea AND is meant to prevent the LDers from jumping ship too early. Plainly, the LD wet dream is to replace Labour as the main opposition to the Tories. To do this, they must cry "foul!" with the Tories and abandon the coalition at some point. But they need not do so for quite a while, not until the public has a few years of becoming accustomed to the LD as having power again. So that Nick Clegg is nobody's favorite joke, but perhaps still someone's favorite.

Raised By Republicans said...

Well, 5 year fixed terms for parliament won't prevent the Lib Dems from changing partners mid dance.

There are lots of examples of parliamentary systems changing coalition composition and even PM's without having to go through a general election. The best analogy for what I'm thinking could happen is in 1982 when the German Free Democrats (FDP) abandoned their coalition partners, the Social Democrats, for their previous coalition partners the Christian Democrats (the FDP is an ideological cousin of the British Lib Dems - and the similarities were even greater 30 years ago).