That UK election, in full: a guide for the perplexed

ANDREW COYNE’s quick guide to the leaders, the bargaining positions, and the stakes

Three days after the British election, the situation is as murky as ever, with three parties negotiating over possible power-sharing agreements and any number of factions within each party weighing in with their views. Meanwhile, the party leaders, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg, are struggling to maintain control of their parties after an election that it is widely agreed all three lost. Here’s a quick guide to the leaders, the bargaining positions, and the stakes:

- Brown: the biggest loser in the election, the one whose position is most exposed, and therefore the one most desperate to make a deal. He’s in a position to offer a referendum on electoral reform to the Lib Dems to stay in power, where Cameron is not, since reform would probably not hurt Labour as much as it would the Conservatives. But many members of his own party want him out, as evidently does Clegg. How long could such a rickety “coalition of the losers,” propped up by a ragtag band of nationalist parties, stay in power? And if Brown were replaced at its helm? Then instead of a Prime Minister who had just lost an election, Britain would have one who had not even contested it.

- Cameron: the closest thing to a winner of the election, the only one to increase his seat count, and by the largest number of seats for any Conservative leader since 1931, he is nevertheless in a curiously weakened position, having fallen short of the majority that seemed within reach before the campaign. Cameron’s Tories took the biggest hit from Clegg’s rise after the first debate, and his failure to deliver a majority, having watered down or played down the more Thatcherite policies of his predecessors, has emboldened his critics within the party. He therefore has limited room to manoeuvre in negotiating with the Lib Dems, most particularly on the issue of electoral reform, which most Tories believe would end of their party’s hopes of ever governing again.

- Clegg: the surprise loser, having dominated the middle part of the campaign, he was unable to deliver the votes on election day that most polls said his party was headed for. He is wary of a deal with Labour, yet is limited in his ability to deliver his party in negotiations with the Tories — not only by the suspicions of his party’s left wing, whose natural affinity is more with Labour, but by party rules requiring him to obtain the membership’s approval. On the other hand, a deal with the Tories is more likely to hold, and comes with less peril of offending public opinion. He probably cannot get electoral reform from the Tories, but can get some of his party’s platform enacted, plus some juicy cabinet posts.

So: does Clegg roll the dice on Labour’s promise of a referendum on electoral reform, one that could permanently transform the Lib Dems electoral chances, at the cost of propping up a party that has just been roundly rejected at the polls? Or does he take the safer, more limited route of a coalition with the Conservatives, at the cost of passing on perhaps the best shot he will ever have at electoral reform?

Answer: probably neither. The risks of a deal with Labour are too great. And there is likely too much opposition within both the Conservative and Lib Dem parties to a formal coalition, especially given their differences over electoral reform. Clegg will be mindful of the history of coalition governments: the smaller partner rarely emerges the better for it. For their part, many Tories would prefer to strike off on their own with a minority government, Canadian-style, calculating that the option of a Labour-LibDem coalition is safely off the table. Some Tories would even prefer the party remain in opposition, reasoning that any coalition of the other two parties would inevitably fail, amid much unseeemly horsetrading and acrimony, making them look steadfast and principled by comparison.

But the most probable outcome is a limited electoral pact known as “confidence and supply.” In exchange for some relatively minor concessions on policy, the Lib Dems would agree to support the Conservatives (or at least not vote against them) on supply (money) bills and on confidence motions — that is, they would not support any move to bring the government down, for some fixed interval. That allows both parties to keep a respectable distance from each other, while ensuring a period of stable government, of the kind needed to tackle the country’s mounting fiscal crisis and calm financial markets.

Anyway, we’ll know soon enough — possibly as early as this morning.

UPDATE: Gordon Brown has just taken one for the team, offering to stand down as Labour leader by September. Formal talks are now to begin on a Lib-Lab coalition. Presumably this improves Lib Dems’ negotiating position with the Conservatives, though only if a) it’s perceived they would actually go through with it, and b) it is not anticipated to be a disaster. How will the Conservatives respond?

UPPERDATE: The Conservatives have offered a referendum on the so-called Alternative Vote, which is something short of proportional representation, though it is an improvement on the present system. Voters mark their ballots in order of preference, rather than an x; if no one has a majority on the basis of first choices, then the last-place candidate is knocked out, and their second choices are distributed amongst the remaining candidates; this continues through successive rounds until one candidate crosses the 50% threshold. It’s like the Single Transferable Vote, on which British Columbians voted last year, only with single-member ridings rather than multiple. So whoever wins the riding at least can claim the support of a majority of voters, rather than a mere plurality, as under first-past-the-post. But they still get 100% of the representation, which is why it’s not a proportional system.

Labour, for their part, are apparently promising to implement AV without a referendum, arguing that it is not so substantial a change as to justify a referendum.

That UK election, in full: a guide for the perplexed

  1. Confidence and supply does not help Clegg. Without meaningful electoral reform, and given the disappointment in the final seat tally, Clegg will not be survive long.

    Cameron's position within the Tory party may not be very stable. Lord Ashcroft has been pulicly musing about his disappointment, and it won't be long before the long knives of the 1922 committee show up.

    So, Gordon Brown may not be the only one with a noose hanging over his head.

    • I agree- Clegg's only hope of salvaging his political career is to man up and demand electoral reform. Even if it doesn't work out he'll have gone down with a principled fight.____I don't think Cameron has the steadfastness required to lead the Tories on their own without making a pact with the Lib Dems.____At this point, since everyone sees Brown as the biggest loser, he no longer has anything to lose. Which makes him the strongest player! Labour would be foolish to change leaders under current circumstances- the party has already lost, might as well squeeze as much blood out of Brown rather than sacrifice a new up and comer (particularly one that wasn't even part of the election!) Electoral Reform would also be a good way to change Brown's legacy- perhaps, when all's said and done he'll have accomplished something noteworthy afterall…

      • I think Clegg's cards are very limited. The longer this thing drags out, the more the Lib Dems look like they're just blackmailing. It will give all sorts of credence to opponents of proportional representation, as it's exactly the kind of brinksmanship that voters don't want to see. Clegg's between a rock and a hard place, because if he takes Labour's offer of a referendum, he'll get the fight he wants and lose it very badly. When Proportional Rep loses the referendum, the Lib Dems will have bet their proverbial farm on a complete loser, and will go back to being irrelevant. Which is too bad, because if they could get over their electoral reform obsession, they'd have a lot of commendable ideas to offer the UK electorate.

        • Which suggests they'd actually be further ahead supporting a Conservative minority government, this would push electoral reform's day of reckoning down the road and give the Lib-Dems an opportunity to implement some of their other commendable ideas while reinforcing their message that they're a viable electoral alternative to the other two parties. That either means negotiations with Cameron and Brown should both fail or Clegg shoudl sell his party on an alliance with the Conservatives that excludes an imminent test of electoral reform's popularity.

          • Problem is, giving too much support to Cameron is a poison chalice because many LibDem voters expressly voted against the Tories. He is probably best off with a supply and confidence arrangement, so that he can claim (a) the largest party is going to govern and (b) he isn't directly responsible for any painful cuts the Tories make over the next year or so. But supply and confidence gives the LibDems almost nothing they want, other than possibly a referendum at an undisclosed future date.

            One other possibility I've seen raised in a few places: perhaps Labour would offer Clegg the PM position in a coalition dominated by Labour. This would get around the "unelected PM" issue, but I just don't see Labour going for it.

  2. Maimonides would be proud.

  3. "But the most probable outcome is a limited electoral pact known as “confidence and supply.” In exchange for some relatively minor concessions on policy, the Lib Dems would agree to support the Conservatives (or at least not vote against them) on supply (money) bills and on confidence motions — that is, they would not support any move to bring the government down, for some fixed interval. That allows both parties to keep a respectable distance from each other, while ensuring a period of stable government, of the kind needed to tackle the country's mounting fiscal crisis and calm financial markets."

    Are you listening, Ignatieff?

    • This is essentially what we've had for four years, but with much sound and fury.

      First two years, the Liberals propped up the Afghanistan re- adventure and either voted for or abstained on supply bills. While they were doing that the Conservatives ran the longest sustained attack advertising campaign in Canadian history protraying the Liberal leader as ineffectual.

      Then they disrupted their own "fixed interval" with an election.

      A renewal of the unwritten "confidence and supply" pact could have been possible after that election but insteaad the Conservatives chose to act as if they had a majority and introduced the provocative Fiscal Update. The only concession the Conservatives ever made was to withdraw that notorious F/Up and implement a stimulus plan, but that was under threat of a coalition government.

      In other words Harper undermined the opportrnity for a confidence and supply pact at every turn, and if If Ignatieff is listening, he should realize that that the only way to get Harper to agree to "relatively minor" or any concessions is by teaming up with the other Opposition parties.

      • "In other words Harper undermined the opportunity for a confidence and supply pact at every turn, and if If Ignatieff is listening, he should realize that that the only way to get Harper to agree to "relatively minor" or any concessions is by teaming up with the other Opposition parties."

        My point exactly. Harper has no intention of ever accepting his minority status and the inherent need for cooperation that comes with it. At the same time, the Libs also need to accept that cooperation is the only way out of Opposition. There are a great many ways to do without entering a formal coalition arrangement.

        Working with the NDP is their ONLY path to power. There is no other way.

        • ''Working with the NDP is their ONLY path to power''
          Sad, but true.

          • What's interesting is that many of the hard right in Britain want Cameron to go essentially the Harper route. One problem though is that the Celtic Nationalist parties are not the same type as the poison as the Bloc is Canada and very well could all gang up to bring down Cameron. (Actually Brown right is still scheduled to deliver the throne speech on May 25th and thus the conservatives have to get enough votes to bring down Brown at that time.)

          • working with teh NDP is the best way for the Libs to give the Tories a chance at a majority.

        • Sorry, I thought you were implying the Liberals weren't willing to go that route, and in response came close to being pedantic. (And I don't want to do that; I hate getting water in my ears.)

          • lol! coming from Coyne, that one's a compliment.

      • Labour has been an unmitigated disater for the British people over the past 13 years (indiscriminate immigration; soft on crime; high taxes; increased power for unions).

        They had their shot and they blew it. David Cameron should be the one to lead Britain.

  4. "But the most probable outcome is a limited electoral pact known as “confidence and supply.” In exchange for some relatively minor concessions on policy, the Lib Dems would agree to support the Conservatives (or at least not vote against them) on supply (money) bills and on confidence motions — that is, they would not support any move to bring the government down, for some fixed interval. That allows both parties to keep a respectable distance from each other, while ensuring a period of stable government, of the kind needed to tackle the country's mounting fiscal crisis and calm financial markets."

    Are you listening, Ignatieff?

  5. I am curious as to why confidence and supply is never used in this country?

    • It was used in the Ontario Liberal minority of David Peterson: the NDP under Rae supported confidence and supply measures from 1985-87, but didn't enter the cabinet. The Frank Miller Tories were the incumbents and had more seats than the Liberals, but they couldn't form an agreement with the NDP and they were defeated on a non-confidence motion.

      The BQ would've operated under a C&S agreement had the coalition held in 2008-09.

      • Wasn't it used in the Pearson minority governments? I thought that was how the New Democrats delivered their policy commitments. e.g. medicare, minimum wage.

        • Pearson/Douglas – that was in the day of a "mature" parliament where MP's/parties could have different views but still have respect. Apparently, Tommy Douglas has the utmost respect for Pearson. They could agree to disagree but still get something accomplished.

          Unfortunately, we have a very partisan and petty immature PM and his causus are equally immature, except perhaps Michael Chong, who I do respect.

    • It was the proposed role of Bloc in the Dion coalition also.

  6. "…instead of a Prime Minister who had just lost an election, Britain would have one who had not even contested it."

    And herein lies the perversion of modern media analysis of the Westminster system. Prime Ministers, in theory, do not contest elections, candidates for Parliament do. Britons, like Canadians, do not vote for a Prime Minister. They cannot, unless they live in the riding in which Clegg, Brown or Cameron happened to be presenting himself as candidate. Our system allows us to elect a representative, who, along with all of the other Members of Parliament, determine who the Prime MInister will be.

    There's nothing illegitimate about it. That's what representative democracy is about. It is only illegitimate if you start from the premise that voters are choosing a Prime MInister at election time. They're not. They're simply electing a Parliament. What happens after that is (for better or for worse) out of voters' hands.

    • How will we stamp out this media-fueled misconception that we're choosing a PM? Should we abolish leadership debates? Interviews with party leaders?

      • I'm not passing judgment on it, simply saying that an era of modern communication has shifted focus entirely to the national implications of what is truly a local form of democracy. Our electoral system is a square peg trying to go into the round whole of national, big, centralized media coverage. The average Brit (or Canadian) can access dozens of channels, newspapers. boradcasts and plenty of web coverage of the Leaders and the "national" campaign, while local candidates are increasingly relegated to bit coverage in dwindling weekly local rags, and dying tiny radio stations. Yet the voters only get to cast one ballot – and it's for the latter, not the former.

        • Our system doesn't give much authority to local MPs. The PM and Cabinet set the agenda in a Westminster system. It makes sense that voters would focus on the party leaders and the party platforms rather than the characteristics of their local MP. The leader and the platform guide the Government, not individual MPs.

          • Our system gives absolute authority to our local MPs, the problem is that our media system marginalizes local messaging in favor of broad messaging that they can more efficiently broadcast. Rogers and Maclean's has little interest in publishing the views of the candidates for Canmore, AB, because everybody who isn't there has no interest in that.

            The way to fix it is to add candidate recall to our system, which will provide the incentives for candidates to work for their local ridings even above the party.

          • Recall only makes it worse. An MP who gets elected with only 40% of the vote can get recalled by 60% the next day. Recall is ridiculous

            The best solution is to make every riding a preferential ballot. The winner is the first local candidate to reach 50% plus one. In addition to giving MPs a more legitimacy, their mandate will derive from the voters not only of their own party , but from those who picked him/her second. It would also immediately bestow some level of civility on these races, as candidates make an effort to court their second or third choice support from their opponents.

          • Recall's only ridiculous if implemented in a ridiculous fashion as you suggest. Obviously the recall system needs to take into account a multi-party system — I would suggest a recall be considered valid only if it reaches the same quorum as the election itself did and those voting for recall are of a higher percentage than the total vote that the opposition candidates garnered.

            Preferential ballot does absolutely nothing to curb the power of the executive over the individual MPs, as the bulk of the money and media attention will be focussed at the national level, not the local riding level.

          • Recall will mean party offices and apparatchiks will devote all of their time between electiosn trying to get each others' members voted out. Passing legislation will fall even further behind the ultimate goal of attacking and embarassing your opponents. Imagine what little brats our Parliamentarians and their henchmen would become once armed with the ability to have each other removed from office on a whim.

          • On a whim? Really? You really think it's that easy for the parties to motivate that many people to get out and vote against a sitting MP? Seriously? Do you think the Canadian public is that willing to be lead by the nose by political parties? If that's the case then we're already screwed and you might as well just leave the country for some place better.

            Please. If passing legislation falls behind then who gets the blame for that.. hmm.. let's think real hard here.. why.. I think it might be the MPs who could be recalled. Why obviously they'd all want to risk their positions to try and get one of their buddies into parliament.. yes, that makes just tons of sense.

            Next time, perhaps you should try actually thinking about the realities of what you're saying.

          • Nobody outside Canmore cares about the MP for Canmore because that MP has nearly no influence on national policy (assuming the MP isn't in Cabinet). How does a recall change that? How does it make it more likely for an MP to vote against their party, particularly if their party forms the government?

          • A recall doesn't change other people caring at all. What it does do is add bite to the constituents of the region when an election isn't in session and the media isn't so busy following around the leaders. It makes it very likely that an MP will vote for the will of their constituents every time.. because voting against that, even if it is for the party, endangers your position right now, and when the party isn't out actively supporting you in the region (because no party has the money to be able to do that all the time) you're more vulnerable to the local realities rather than the national story arc.

          • By-elections aren't exactly notorious for their focus on local issues…

          • Yes and no. They're certainly more locally focussed than national elections, you can't really dispute that.

            If you want a perfect solution, there isn't one, sorry.

            Got something better?

          • By-elections are usually described as referendums on the government, although local issues can be a factor. The solution to irrelevant MPs is a presidential system. An elected upper chamber could also help, since the government wouldn't need a majority in both chambers. I'm still not clear on why anybody wants to change this feature of Westminster though. Proportional representation seems more likely to reinvigorate our democracy.

      • "How will we stamp out this media-fueled misconception that we're choosing a PM?"

        It's not media-fueled. It is CPC-fueled and the press gallery is repeating this nonsense, knowing full well that it isn't true.

    • There is a distinction between legal and legitimate. I would also argue that one thing can be "more legitimate" than another, without either thing being "illegitimate." So, bearing those concepts in mind, I would suggest that just because legally we do not vote for a Prime Minister, and bearing in mind that our vote for our MP is cast in large part based on who that MP's leader is, having a Prime Minister who did not contest the election is democratically less legitimate than having one who did – but neither option is illegal nor illegitimate.

  7. Brown did incredibly well – he's leading a party that's supposed to be tired and divided after years in power, and the UK's in the midst of a deep economic crisis. The fundamentals suggest he should have lost this election badly. His big failing is that he might have won the election he shied away from calling a few years ago.

    • Agreed. Given the state of the UK's public finances in particular (i.e., utterly disastrous), and given the fact that that is entirely Labour's doing, I was amazed at how many people voted for Labour.

      • Really? I didn't know the global financial crisis was widely-understood to be Gordon Brown and Labour's fault. Weird how it originated in the US though…

        • I'm not saying he caused the global financial crisis. But because of Labour's fiscal mismanagement, Britain went into the crisis in comparatively bad shape, and is coming out of it in very bad shape. For instance, much, much worse shape than Canada. There's a reason for that. Labour spent too much and taxed too little. They were dishonest with the British people about the true costs of the various programs that they implemented. They basically did a big game of hide-the-ball fiscally. And now, as a result, they're screwed.

    • He had unions backing him.

  8. Same false arguements from Coyne has we have had to put up with here in Canada – Britain's don't elect a PM, they elect MPs who then select a PM…..sigh…

    • "they elect MPs who then select a PM"

      Yes, exactly, and since the party leader is established before the election, that means they've elected a PM…. sigh… (PS it's spelled argument)

      • scf, that is absurd, even for you.

        • "they elect MPs who then select a PM" ..what party does that?
          scf is correct……
          leaders are elected by their party members (not just MPs, except for the current Lib leader),
          after the general election, the Governor General appoints the (party selection for) First Minister.

          • wilson, read sfc post again please.

          • no need, he read it and understood it, unlike you

  9. "Then instead of a Prime Minister who had just lost an election, Britain would have one who had not even contested it."

    Seriously Andrew…

    You've shown yourself to be an ardent supporter of the supremacy of Parliament and the need to decentralize power so as to enforce the true Westminster's model.

    Why do you continue to repeat the above when you know that it isn't true? You said the same thing when Harper first prorogued Parliament to stop a legitimate coalition from taking power.

    I assume that you know it isn't true so why the inconsistencies? I don't get it.

  10. Oh go soak your heads, you pedants. I'm well aware that we elect a Parliament, not a PM. But I also know that a major part of voters' choice of local candidates is conditioned on who their respective party leaders are, as any political scientist will tell you. And with good reason: the Prime Minister has enormous power in our system, and always has since Walpole. I might wish it were otherwise — that MPs had more power, and party leaders and prime ministers less. But it's ridiculous to pretend, as a matter of practical fact, that people aren't in large part casting their ballots, in their own minds, for the party leader.

    • Of course you're right – but while we're soaking our heads, consider soaking your own. The increased power of the PM in our system which you lament is due in no small part to an obsessed punditry otherwise too lazy to cover local issues, local people and local politics. The calibre of our individual Members of Parliament is inversely related to the scrutiny to which civil society – including the media – subjects them.

    • "But it's ridiculous to pretend, as a matter of practical fact, that people aren't in large part casting their ballots, in their own minds, for the party leader."

      The issue for me isn't about interpreting what is in voters' minds when they choose which MP to vote for. I agree with you. The Party Leader has a strong influence on that front. I'm merely saying that constantly repeating things like what you said above reinforces the notion of illegitimacy in the public's mind. Not only is it wrong but it weakens your own arguments in favor of a more influential and supremem Parliament

      This new coalition leader would very much be a legitimate PM and to suggest otherwise is just plain false.

      • There is a difference between legal and legitimate.

    • Remember that a coalition emerged during the last hung parliament in 1974. That coalition lasted about a month then collapsed and Great Britain went back to the polls 6 months later.So before you rant about how well "coalitions work" please take a wait and see approach.

    • The MPs have all the power they care to demand.

      That they don't demand it can be laid in large part at the feet of those like yourself who continue to reinforce the idea that what we are electing is a PM.

  11. This whole concept of Gordon Brown not resigning is mind blowing to me. Imagine in 2006 if Paul Martin hadn't indicated his intention to resigned on election night? His parliamentary position was in fact stronger than Brown's is now.

  12. Gordon Brown (UK) = Paul Martin (Canada)

    When both men were Prime Ministers-in-waiting, they wanted the job so badly they could taste it. The public and media could even taste it. Unfortunately for both of them, the electorate of both countries was less than enamoured once they really got a good bite of them and gave them the boot. And thus the story ends.

    http://viableopposition.blogspot.com/

    • One big difference is that Paul Martin won an election.

    • Very true.

  13. I actually found an interesting quote of Liberal pitbull Warren Kinsella in the Hill Times recently basically admitting that Canada will never have a majority government again in his lifetime which I think goes to show that both the Conservative and Liberal strategists in Canada are much more aware of the electoral conditions than they often given credit for. Kinsella did say that many Liberals up until 2008 did think they could get another majority again.

    • I think that Kinsella's comment points to the Liberal delusion that they can at least win a minority government with Iggy as their leader and that they don't need the NDP.

      As long as they hold on to that idea, Harper is safe.

      • It may also reflect this persistent strain in the thinking of a lot of LPC leaders, supporters & thinkers that they either can do nothing about, or shouldn't bother addressing, their marked weakness west of Ontario (especially Alberta). Under current conditions, if you're locked into that sort of a box, then it's true that it is virtually impossible to get a majority.

        • Weakness in Ontario isn't the issue. It is the fragmentation of the Left that is the problem for the LPC. Harper, on the other hand, has only himself to blame.

          With 4 parties from the center to the left and the CPC alone on the other end, what's his excuse for not achieving a majority?

          • I don't know what his excuse is, assuming he has one. Why don't you ask a CPC supporter or a spokesperson for SH? All I can see is that his support seems frozen at a certain level (29-35%) and seems stuck there.

            As for the rest of your post, I wasn't talking about weakness IN Ontario, I was talking about weakness WEST OF Ontario. And I still find it astounding that so many LPC supporters don't seem to see the latter as a problem. Perhaps if they cared to puruse a current electoral map of Canada, they might think differently, but who knows.

          • While this sounds really radical one solution for the Liberals is to seed a seperate Western Canada only centre left party something like the "Canadian Progressive Reform Party" and get someone like left leaning Alberta provincial PC Attorney General Allison Redford to lead it. Redford is already known to have to issues with the federal conservatives and has had a bit of blood feud with Conservative MP Rob Anders whose ridings share a lot of the same area and has frequently called her a Liberal in Conservative clothing. There is an anti Harper vote in Alberta but it is more of pro Lee Richardson or Jim Prentice vote than a pro Michael Ignatieff vote.

            I don't think though Harper supporting the Wildrose Alliance is a smart move. The provincial PC's still have a lot friends and I think the idea that Danielle Smith can pull off a 1993 sweep is a bit fanciful. Even if the Wildrose were to sweep in all that leaves are a lot of provincial PC's with time on the hands to cause trouble for Harper at the federal level. I also suspect a new seats in Parliament for Alberta will have heavily constested nomination races which creates plenty of opportunities for Alberta Conservatives to be left unhappy.

  14. Yeah I remember people using that line during the coalition debacle. So can you explain that one?

    • It's called the “coalition of the losers,” legal but not legitimate,
      at least that is what the Brit 'experts' say….
      and why the 2008 Canadian 'coaliton of losers' was rejected by 63% of the population,
      except in Quebec, where they would have gone from 10 MPs to 65 MPs in government, more goodies form them!

      • I don't want the bloc running Canada.Not at all, it would be akin to to the UK with the IRA

        • Don't get hysterical now. The Bloc have never been armed with anything but pens and parliamentary procedure.

          • They were promised more MPs and more money.I dont care about pens.

          • So that equates with armed insurrection? Again, don't be so hysterical.

          • writing a comment on a blog is not hysterical

          • No it isn't.I guess if one doesn't agree with someon, the 'opinion' is not valid.

          • No, but comparing the Bloc to the IRA certainly is.

          • True I guess the better comparable would be Sinn Fein, although they at least have enough conviction to abstain from Westminster.

      • The current government was in fact, rejected by 63% of Canadians in the last election. What makes them any more legitimate?

        • Oh, well, the main opposition party was rejected by more than 80 percent of Canadians. That certainly does not make them more legitimate. And most Canadians voters when they cast their ballots did not contmplate a coalition. I doubt if many Bloc voters thought they were voting for a Dion government for example.

          • Which proves my point – the legitimacy of the executive (and most particularly the PM) is a legitimacy provided by Parliamentarians who represent the electorate, and not by the electorate. Outside of his Calgary riding, Prime Minister Harper received no fewer and no more votes than did Stephane Dion, Jack Layton or any other MP. We have a representative democracy (as do the Brits) in which our representatives democratically choose our Prime Minister.

      • Stop lying. The Bloc would not have been in the coalition. They would have had a C&S agreement with it.

        • Exactly. As you've admitted, they were in the coalition.

          • ?? I'm not sure how to respond to something so obviously wrong.

            In a coalition != C&S agreement with. Just because I have a non-compete agreement with a company does not mean I'm working with that company. I'm just not actively working against them. There is a difference.

          • I am so, so loathe to replay this, but I am a sick human being and cannot help myself. This really strikes me as a matter of semantics. The government's survival depends on them, every budget or other confidence matter must be calibrated to them. Whether or not they have actual ministers, they are as necessary to the passage of legislation as those parties that do. Anytime they want to lower the boom, they can. This is why the Libs and NDP had to get them to sign an agreement, and why Gilles Duceppe had a seat at the press conference. This has been widely regarded as an error, but only a tactical error. There is no doubt that he belonged at the table as there would have been no coalition without him.

  15. Interesting that Clegg chose not to follow convention, where the incumbent PM gets first crack at forming government,
    instead he chose to negotiate with the 'winner' of the minority govt.

    • No convention violation there. Whatever Clegg does, there's nothing stopping Brown from trying to form a government. Until Parliament meets, and until he either resigns or is defeated in the House he remains Prime Minister. That's the convention.

      • There will be riots, he knows he lost seats, and he lost more in the UK than anywhere.Scotland kept him in, not England.

  16. No worries. My francophone's english is clear as mud, I know.

  17. "Gordon Brown has just taken one for the team, offering to stand down as Labour leader by September. Formal talks are now to begin on a Lib-Lab coalition."

    Really? Gordon Brown was just PM for three years without facing electorate and now Labour is proposing to foist another PM on the country without an election. Nice.

    It is a joke of country: UK no longer having elections to choose PM apparently and 70% of all new UK laws are due to directives from Brussels. UK not a sovereign country anymore so I guess it does not matter who the leader is.

  18. It wouldn't have to be that way, if MPs on all sides had more gumption. We've forgotten that the executive branch (in theory) in our system derives its authority from Parliament. The recent hullabaloo over detainee documents is a perfect example.

    • That's fine, but it doesn't confer much authority on individual MPs. It just means, if you control a majority of the House, you can pass legislation and resolutions. Backbenchers are unlikely to have that level of influence (if they did, they'd probably seek the party leadership). It's a sharp contrast to the US system where individuals in congress draft legislation in collaboration with a small group of colleauges, often in bipartisan groups and at odds with the executive.

      • You can only control a majority of individual MPs if the majority of individual MPs are willing to be controlled.

        • If they aren't, who governs? An individual MP cannot move a motion for new spending or taxes – that's a confidence matter. If the majority votes against the government on a confidence motion, that ends that government.

  19. "Labour, for their part, are apparently promising to implement AV without a referendum, arguing that it is not so substantial a change as to justify a referendum."

    Why doesn't a Canadian government do this? Why do they insist on holding referdums on this?

  20. If a referendum on AV were to take place in Canada, I would not vote for AV. This voting system is no more proportional than our current but antiquated First-Past-the-Post voting system.

  21. Doug Saunders on Twitter just reported that Labour is offering the (non-proportional) Alternative Vote without a referendum. Conservatives offering a referendum on AV.

    • If this is true – this is excellent news. We'll finally kill off proportional representation and have a chance at seeing something really democratic proposed in its stead The best possible outcome if true. I hope Jack Layton's fan club suffers the same fate very soon.

  22. I'm still pretty perplexed.

    Also, why the hell didn't the Tories run with a leader markedly more conservative than Brown? What's the point of being Labour-lite?

  23. Why would the Tories offer AV? Wouldn't it be even worse for them, turning every marginal seat into a Labour slam dunk when all the LibDem supporters are redistributed? Especially considering the current riding boundaries favour Labour significantly (which, incidentally, is why I am surprised Labour would have anything to do with PR. If this election performance by a badly wounded party shows us anything, it's that a Labour majority is the natural equilibrium of British politics at the moment. Sure they'd govern in near perpetuity in coalition with the LibDems but they would foreclose the option of ever having a majority themselves).

    • Labour can offer a referendum on PR because they know that it will fail.

  24. And that is how proportional representation works:

    If 80% of the people in your neighbourhood are opposed to a 1000 inmate maximum security penitentiary with 40 foot fences and 100 armed guards, and they vote accordingly in a referendum, then the only truly democratic outcome is that a 200 inmate facility with a 2 foot fence and 20 guards is constructed instead.

    That's a system crafted where those on the losing end get to accept the outcome.

    I support many ideas to reform our democracy – but PR is a step backwards. It is undemocratic and divisive, it inspires fringe elements, brinksmanship and political blackmail, and runs contrary to the very principles of representative democracy, responsible government and federalism on which our country was founded.

  25. (a) I concede your argument, as rare an occurence as the example might be;
    (b) Rodney MacDonald becoming Premier of NS now makes even more sense; and
    (c) Please post a link to Schulze (or is that a fancy name for STV, in which case, don't)

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schulze_method ,http://m-schulze.webhop.net/

      Note the second link also contains discussions of Schulze STV. The original Schulze method is purely for single-member districts.

      Admittedly, the counting method for Schulze is a bit involved. Ranked Pairs is a bit more intuitive, and arguably just as good -http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ranked_Pairs . Both come as close to beating Arrow's Impossibility Theorem as any system ever devised, and much closer than AV/IRV

      However rare AV/IRV failures might be in practice, they exist. Since we now (Ranked Pairs was invented in 1989, Schulze in 1997) have two single-member systems that combine all the advantages of AV/IRV and avoid at least most of the problems, if we're going to replace plurality/FPTP, we ought to use one of them instead of AV/IRV.

  26. At no point did I say that only wingnuts could support it.
    I said wingnuts were more likely to support it that Liberals.

    • You said Liberals and centrist parties would never support it. I pointed out that most Western countries have adopted it. Do you mean that centrist parties won't support it, but many voters would? Even then. Labour tepidly supports it, the Lib-Dems strongly support it and the New Democrats strongly support it. Each of these parties receives more than 10% in many ridings.

  27. Ugh. Australia does not have proportional representation. It has a version of STV that maintains a single winner in each district, and therefore retains the possibility of non-proportional election results. Essentially PR-vs. FPTP and STV vs. one-vote systems are two separate tradeoffs. PR is about how many representatives you have per district (a purely proportional system would be one where the country itself was a district). STV is about what kinds of preferences voters can express through the ballot.

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