Some Bizarre Scenarios for Today’s British Election

by Mike on May 6, 2010

in Election 2010,UK Politics

Our friends over in the UK are casting their ballots at this very moment.    The final opinion polls show David Cameron’s Conservative Party in the lead with Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Labour Party and Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrat Party jockeying for second place.  Seems simple enough, but the political situation in the UK is sort of like a Monet.  From far away, it seems straightforward, but as you look closer, it’s a “big ol’ mess.”

The projected votes across UK Parliamentary constituencies are not as evenly distributed as the votes across American states.  Because of that distribution, most projections show that the Labour Party could win a majority of seats in the House of Commons even if they lost the popular vote by a significant margin.  The Conservatives are not so lucky.  They have to win the popular vote by about 10 points (give or take) to win a majority.  As Gordon Brown faltered after chickening out of calling an election in 2007, the unequal distribution didn’t pose much of problem as the Conservatives often led by as many as 20 points.  However, once the election tightened, as almost all elections do, the single-digit Conservative lead in almost every poll suggested they were on track to become the largest party in a hung Parliament.  Pretty screwy, right?

Well it got even more screwy after Clegg impressed the UK in the first debate.  As the Liberal Democrats surged from the third place into second or even first in the popular vote, Labour fell into third.  Unfortunately the Lib Dem surge translated into projections showing the Conservatives losing seats to the Lib Dems which put Labour on a path to be the largest party despite falling into third in the popular vote.

That scenario led Clegg to declare that his party wouldn’t back a Labour government if they came in third place, causing some to speculate that maybe the Lib Dems would back Labour if they dumped Gordon Brown and replaced him with David Miliband.  That scenario would give Britain a Prime Minister who wasn’t even running for the office.  I doubted that scenario would ever take place because Clegg’s appeal is that he represents a clean break from smoke-filled room politics.  Backing a loser would only destroy that reputation.

In any event, Cameron regained his footing in recent days and now the Conservatives seem ready to become the largest party in Parliament.  The question is whether they will be able to actually form a government.  If they win a majority tonight, yes they will.  If not, the next few weeks could be as bizarre as the last few.

C-Span 3 will be simulcasting the BBC‘s coverage and we’ll be liveblogging the British election night from our American perspective.  Feel free to join in, especially if you’re from the UK.  We would all love to learn more about your politics.

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