Monday, May 10, 2010

Brits Sort It Out, Sorta

Brits Sort It Out, Sorta

The very short version of UK developments: Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown is quitting, which tells me that the Lib Dem-Conservative talks are fizzling and that the more ideologically sensible Labour-Liberal coalition is likely, because "it was understood that one of the stumbling blocks to any Labour-Lib Dem deal was Mr Brown himself."

The BBC reports some tidbits for voting geeks:
The Tories, who won the most seats and votes, reacted to Mr Brown's announcement that he was standing down as Labour leader by making a "final offer" to the Lib Dems of a referendum on changing the voting method to the Alternative Vote (AV) system.

The Lib Dems have long campaigned for a change to the voting system - something which the Conservatives have strongly opposed.
In large part because, as party number three in a single member district system, the Lib Dems don't win nearly as many seats as they do votes. Americans, think of 1992: Ross Perot winning 19% of the popular vote but winning no electoral votes, no congressional districts, and finishing first in just a handful of counties. The math doesn't match up exact (because 12% of the UK votes went to yet more parties), and the ideology not at all, but that's the basic gist.

BBC continues:
But speaking after a meeting of Conservative MPs, following Mr Brown's statement, shadow foreign secretary William Hague said they were prepared to "go the extra mile" on electoral reform - and offer a referendum on switching to AV in return for a coalition government.

(Hague) also said the Labour offer was for a switch to the AV system, without a referendum, which he believed was undemocratic. The BBC understands, from Lib Dem sources, that the Labour offer is legislation to introduce AV, followed by a referendum on proportional representation.

Under AV no candidate is elected without at least 50% of the vote, after second preferences are taken into account, but it is not considered full proportional representation.
William Hague. I though we'd seen the last of him in 2001 when he lost to Tony Blair.

The Brit's "AV" is what we Yanks would call Instant Runoff Voting. That frees up voters to vote honestly with their first choice and strategically with their second. A point the even smaller UK Independence Party made: "YOU-kip" said the offered the Tories a deal: give us a referendum on quitting the European Union, their signature issue, and we won't oppose your candidates. UKIP argues their candidates pulled away enough Conservative votes to cost at least the 20 seats that the Tories fell short. The Daily Mail says it's more like 10 seats, but AV would have re-allocated those as second choices.

AV is half a loaf to the Liberal Democrats. They want full proportional representation: 23 percent of the votes, 23 percent of the seats (instead of the 9 percent or so they got.)

So the Conservatives are offering a referendum just to get half a loaf, while Labour is offering the half loaf now plus the referendum on the full loaf, and they've sacked Brown.

Still a couple spanners in the works: Labour's leadership election process and rules means that Brown stays on, either as Prime Minister or as The Leader Of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, for a few more months. Remember: in the UK the process of choosing the party leader, the functional equivalent of our presidential nomination process, happens after, not before, the general election.

And Labour's 258 seats (likely to grow to 259 in a couple weeks; one Labour seat's vote was delayed because the UKIP candidate died) plus the LibDems 57 only gets you to 315 and a majority is 326. There's scattered seats held by other regional parties. Remember how putting together the health care bill magnified the importance of every last fence sitter? Americans would deal with this by building a big dam in Scotland and a bridge to nowhere in Wales. The English would respond by saying Wales already IS nowhere.

This also probably all means a whole nother general election in less than a year. Having been a candidate, campaign staffer, and election office worker, I feel pain for all those involved. The quick turnaround might also impact results. In the UK you qualify for the ballot by paying a £500 deposit. Less than 5% of the vote and you lose your money. That's a burden for a small party, especially if you just lost bunches of deposits AND ran a campaign just months previous. Indeed there's a website that gleefully celebrates how much money the white power British National Party lost just on deposits.

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