Sunday, May 9, 2010

Uncertainty continues on next UK govt

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London May 10, 2010

Uncertainty on the formation of Britain’s next government continued even two days after general election results were declared.

As this paper goes to print, senior leaders from the Conservative and Liberal Democrats’ parties are negotiating. If an agreement fructifies, it would put Tory party leader David Cameron in 10, Downing Street — the official residence of the UK’s Prime Minister.

The results declared on May 7 gave the opposition Conservative Party 307 seats, the ruling Labour Party 258 seats and the Liberal Democrats got 57. A clear majority in the House of Commons would need 326 of the total 650. Smaller parties managed to corner 27 seats, with the election in one constituency yet to be held, due to the death of a candidate a day before before the election.

Despite winning the least number of seats among the three major parties, at this stage, the form and shape of the next government depends on a decision from the Liberal Democrats. Party leader Nick Clegg, who won his seat from Sheffield Hallam, is holding the position of a king maker.

PR now a key issue
The negotiation between his party and the Conservaties hinges on one vital demand made by the Liberal Democrats. Mad even before the election, it is to seek constitutional changes to enable proportional representation, particularly the method known as the single transferable vote, in Westminster, instead of the “first past the post” system of MPs getting elected to the House of Commons.

Under the current system (as in India), voters have to chose one candidate who they wish to be represented by in the House. A change to proportional representation would mean voters can rank their candidates in the order of preference. When votes are counted under this system, the runner up with the least number of votes will be knocked out and his votes distributed among the remaining candidates. This iteration will continue, until one candidate gets 51 per cent of the votes and declared winner.

This electoral system is currently followed in the Council elections in the UK and is, thus, not entirely alien to the country.

As things stand now, all is not over for Labour. As explicitly stated by Labour leader and Prime Minister Gordon Brown after the results were declared, the ruling party is still open to having the Liberal Democrats negotiate with them for a possible “Lib-Lab” coalition. Brown is also open to the idea of electoral reforms demanded by Clegg and his party. This scenario will however emerge only if the negotiations between Liberal Democrats and Tories collapse.

A possible Lib-Lab coalition, however, does not assure Gordon Brown his second term as Prime Minister. During election campaigning, Clegg had amply stated that he would not negotiate with Labour if Brown remained the latter’s leader. Hence as the Labour party awaits Liberal Democrats at the negotiating table, a few backbenchers in the former are demanding Brown step down and thus signal to the Liberal Democrats that they were serious about running the next government as dependable partners. So far, senior party members in Labour are completely backing Brown.

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