Some in Europe were probably chortling over the USA elections of the year 2000, those elections in George W. Bush won the electoral college vote, but not the popular vote. Given the recent elections in the UK, I’m not sure that they really have a right to chortle.
Despite the fact that we share a common language with the UK, our two systems of government could not be more different. We have a presidential system. The British model, which serves most European countries, separates the roles of head of state and head of government. In the USA, both of these roles are fused in the person of the president. The Queen, who is Head of State, is of course is not elected. She is supposed to remain neutral, somehow transcending the gritty realities of politics. But if the truth be told, neither is the Prime Minister elected, or at least not by the populace as a whole. The prime minister, lest we forget, is a member of parliament. He has to run for election in his own home district, but the population as a whole does not elect him. Unlike in the USA, where do get to vote on our chief executive in the form of electing electors to elect him, in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, this is not the case. The only people who really elect a prime minister are the people in his constituency. Granted, the political parties do have elections amongst themselves to determine who their party’s leader will be. So the leader of which ever party that wins the most votes become Prime Minister and moves into No. 10 Downing Street. This system is what is known as the Westminster System.
This past week, the UK held a general election. The common expectation was that David Cameron and the Conservatives would sweep to power, thus placing Gordon Brown and the Labour Party back into opposition. The Conservatives won 306 seats, the Labour Party won 258, the Liberal Democrats won 57, and 28 belong to other small parties such as the Scottish Nationalist Party, Sinn Fein, and Plaid Cymru. The Official Monster Raving Loony Party failed to gain a single seat. (Yes there is such a thing.) It takes 326 seats to win an overall majority. So there is no clear majority in the House of Commons. In order for either the Conservatives or the Labour Party to gain the control of the government, they will need to enter into a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Both parties are eagerly trying to woo the Lib Dems to enter into a coalition with them. If Labour is able to do so, then they will remain in power. If the Conservatives manage to attract them, then the Conservatives will take over.
Things have gotten rather odd because the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has announced his decision to resign. Apparently, the Lib Dems were none to eager to enter into a coalition with a Brown-led government. However, with his announcement that he will leaving, they are definitely considering entering into a coalition with Labour. Labour will be holding its party congress in September. So there is every possibility that the party which has the biggest bloc of seats in the Parliament will remain in opposition while the party which lost 94 seats will largely remain in power, albeit with support from the Liberal Democrats. Democracy is a strange business at times. Sometimes, it can come off appearing to be not quite democratic.