Monday, May 17, 2010

Conservative-Liberal Alliance? Only in Dreams...

Or in the United Kingdom. That’s right, readers: the United Kingdom has a new coalition government, made up of the Conservative and Liberal Democratic parties. For the first time in over thirty-five years, Parliament is hung, meaning there is no majority (a shocking concept, yes?). The Conservatives came out on top with 306 seats, while Labour lost its position as top dog and fell to 258 seats and the Liberal Democrats fared about the same as in the last election with 57 seats. This provides a perfect opportunity, or rather a necessity, for a coalition government and steps towards postpartisanship. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats aim to bring in a new era of government after thirteen years of Labour party rule.

Though the Liberal Democrats have the smallest place in politics among the three major British parties, they now find themselves with leader Nick Clegg in a position with quite the gravitas, serving as Deputy Prime Minister under Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, who replaces Labour’s Gordon Brown. This new coalition seems shocking because of our polarized system here in the States, but it is even relatively ground breaking in the United Kingdom - it is the first coalition government in seventy years.

The Liberal Democrats, despite their apparent weakness in numbers, get their power from the fact that the Conservatives were forced to compromise in order to form a coalition government. Had negotiations failed between the two parties, Labour reserved the right to continue to govern by either forming its own coalition or attempting to pass laws by trying to win votes from individual MPs. Therefore, either the Conservatives had to concede on certain important issues or they could have lost their chance to govern. Because of this, the Liberal Democrats got quite a few changes guaranteed that they have been seeking and would have sacrificed had the elections yielded a majority, including a referendum on voting reform and the axe on a plan to raise the threshold on inheritance taxes. The Liberal Democrats had the ability to decide whether Labour stayed in power or the Conservatives got their chance, and by gently wielding their power have formed a historic coalition.

Now obviously I’m getting at the fact that maybe a two party system sucks, because maybe, just maybe, with more parties, then politicians will be forced to face one another and dare I say it, work together. One of the many things I learned from my political theory class this semester (props to Professor Kaplan) is that one of the strong points of a representative democracy is that it forces moderation, because people cannot get what they want without compromise, and therefore no particular faction can get what it desires and control the agenda of the entire nation on a certain issue.

However, the United States has somehow managed to become exactly what the founding fathers wanted to avoid. Factions often are able to get their way with little or no fight, because one of the large mechanisms to prevent such occurrences has failed due to a belief that might (or majority) makes right. This is the main lesson the British elections can teach us: the majority isn’t always right (okay, we knew that), and therefore possessing a majority should not serve as a right to rule. The threat of factions which make up minorities is lessened purely because it cannot, by rule of the institution of government, force its way on others entirely. Therefore, it seems a plurality of parties is much more logical.

I’m not proposing a solution - in fact, I don’t have one, and there is no guarantee the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition will even last. I guess Kaplan just instilled a political theory streak in me, and I think everyone should think a bit more about how our country works and how it could be better. Perhaps people shouldn’t be so afraid to break away from their party (maybe I have an idealistic streak, too). After all, it has only taken the small, underdog Liberal Democrats a little over twenty years (thirty if you count the Social Democratic Party - Liberal Alliance before 1988) to have a significant impact on the British Political system. I know I’m a bit of an anglophile, but seriously, can we go back to being British-ish for a little while?

*Liberal Democrats in the United Kingdom are typically described as center-left, with Labour to the left and the Conservatives to the right.


Tim Ryan said...

Is it bad that every time I hear the term "hung parliament" I giggle a little?

Aly said...

Haha, nope, I considered putting something in there alluding to that sentiment as well.

ShamRockNRoll said...

Thanks for your good work on here lately Aly, while we graduating seniors have been rather distracted and out of the loop!