Archive for May 7th, 2010

Turnabout Is Fair Play?

The British electorate has turned decisively against Labour, but has failed to give the Tories a decisive majority in Parliament, meaning that the horse-trading can start.  The Liberal Democrats are clearly more ideologically aligned with Labour, and indeed, even as the returns were coming in last night, Labour spokesmen were talking about the current electoral system being “on its last legs,” and electoral reform being necessary. 

Of course, hung Parliaments in Britain are exceedingly rare, and the occurence of one in the last 40 years or so hardly means that the system is “on its last legs,” but the left rarely lets rules, or public attachment to them, get in the way of a good power grab.

What they have in mind is a continental-style proportional representation system, where parties would get seats based on the total popular vote.  Such as  system would make it almost impossible for either of the major parties to ever form an outright majority again, putting the LibDems – a distant third in both popular vote and seats under the current system – in the driver’s set in determining future governments.  It’s unlikely that the Tories would sell their political soul for such a deal, but Labour has made it clear that it’s willing to consider the proposal, or at least nudge Britain in that direction.  There would need be no popular referendum on the matter, and I’m not even sure that Lords would have to vote on it, or that a Labour-stacked Lord would stand in the way.

Still, it seems that as long as we’re playing with the future of the UK here, the Tories might have a card to play, as well.  Under pressure from the SNP, the Scottish National Party, Labour’s Tony Blair got Scotland a parliament of its own, and home rule after a fashion.  Labour has long dominated Scottish politics at the national level, and there was a time when the SNP looked as though it might become the major party there.  So it made sense for Labour to keep the SNP in the fold this way.

So perhaps the Tories could do the same thing with the SNP, offering greater autonomy for the Scottish Parliament, moving them in that direction.  As long ago as 1987 (I was there at the time), the Tories got more or less swept from Scotland, and people were raising questions about the moral authority of a Tory government to govern a Scotland where it didn’t have any seats.

Those questions about legitimacy could work in reverse, especially given an outright Tory majority in England and Wales combined.  Should Scotland, which already has its own Parliament, provide the working margin for a government that the rest of the country has decisively rejected?

In fact, on a Beeb interview last night, an SNP member suggested exactly that.  Just before he sent the presenter into an apoplectic fit by suggesting that they’d talk to the Tories, and might support a Tory government in return for “protection” or something like that, for Scottish interests.  That there was no such apoplexy regarding a similar “selling” of votes by the LD for Labour shows, again (sigh), the BBC’s bias, and that there might be a real threat there.

Of course, last night’s elections, with the SNP winning only 6 of 59 Scottish seats, point to the idea that what the Scots wants isn’t independence but a free ride on the productive part of the country.  If that’s the case, then such a deal would be totally about power politics and not about satisfying any particular part of the electorate.

Kind of like what Labour has in mind.

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