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The United Kingdom Elections 2010

Special for YABLOKO's web-site

By Robert Woodthorpe Browne
May 25, 2010

For many years, the United Kingdoms Press has believed that there is a two party system of government and have paid little attention to the smaller parties Greens, Liberal Democrats, United Kingdom Independence Party (anti-European Union), the British National Party (fascist thugs) and the Scottish and Welsh Nationalists.

In 1951 this might have been justified as the Conservatives and Labour shared 95% of the vote. By 2005 and 2010, the combined figure had dropped to 65%, but still the Press did not learn. One could understand the papers which are owned by right wing oligarchs living outside the country, or those few which are slavishly Labour, but the BBC, which prides itself on its independence, was little better.

Also, the UK has a first-past-the post electoral system which makes it very difficult for smaller parties to get into Parliament, especially the Liberal Democrats whose support is spread quite evenly throughout the Country. In 2005 with 23% of the vote they received 9% of the seats.

What made the 2010 election different was that Gordon Brown agreed to Tory leader David Camerons request for televised debates, and Nick Clegg, the LibDem leader, was allowed to participate fully. Until the debates, of which there were 3, modelled on the United States practice, Nick was virtually unknown to the British public. Suddenly, 8 million viewers saw this bright, good looking 43 year old looking straight at the cameras and contrasting his vibrant young party with the old parties, whose leaders helped him by fighting each other.

Overnight, the LibDems share of the vote in the opinion polls shot up from 21% to 30% or even more, and over the following 3 weeks this only fell back slightly. The rightwing press tried smear tactics, which were not successful. Half a million people, mostly younger citizens, rushed to register to vote. The election stopped being boring and everyone seemed interested. When LibDem candidates appeared in town centres, they were greeted as friends by people promising to vote LibDem for the first time in their lives.

Polling night was a great disappointment in that the exit polls showed that the LibDems had fallen back to their 2005 share of 23% - a figure which surpasses nearly every other European liberal party! with 5 seat fewer than before, only 8%. But, for the first time for many decades, neither the Conservatives nor Labour had an overall majority of seats, and the negotiations had to start.

There were several options. The Conservatives, as the largest party, could have governed alone, with an agreement from the LibDems or Labour that they would not be voted out on their main programmes. Or they could do a coalition with the LibDems, one with the defeated Labour Party being unthinkable.

Most LibDems think of themselves as left of centre, and Labour would be the natural allies. However, at a time of acute economic crisis, Nick Clegg believed that strong government was essential. He did have talks with abour, but Labours heart was not in it and negotiations with David Cameron were successful. (Nick led European Union trade negotiations with China when he worked at the European Commission, so the Conservatives had a tough time!)

Now the UK has a coalition Government, in which Nick Clegg is Deputy Prime Minister, with 5 LibDems in the Cabinet and a further 15 as junior ministers. The legislative programme, read out by Queen Elizabeth II yesterday, contains very many policies from the LibDem manifesto, and the two parties are committed to a 5 year government to enable them to carry out their reforms and eliminate the deficit.

The real lesson to be learned from a Russian point of view is that the UK suffered from limited access to the media for minor parties. If a platform is given to others as in the prime ministerial debates the people are able to make an informed choice and will be excited by a political process that they will not think to have been fixed by those already in power.

 

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Robert Woodthorpe Browne
Chairman International Relations Committee of the Liberal Democrats, Vice President on the Bureau of Liberal International. Former Chairman, now Vice President of Parliamentary Candidates Association. Former Chairman, now Deputy Chairman and Vice President of the British Group of Liberal International. Chairman of the International Relations Committee and Member of the International Affairs Team of the Liberal Democrats
Council Member of ELDR. Member of Executive of Liberal International. Joined Liberal Party UK in 1960.

See also:
Russia-EU Relations

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May 25, 2010