After this week’s topsy-turvy U.K. elections resulted in a hung parliament, rumors and speculation ruled the day as pundits, oddsmakers, and the British public tried to guess which coalition would emerge from the rubble. But just five days after the election, a white smoke of sorts was sent up from 10 Downing Street. Conservative Party leader David Cameron was asked by the Queen to form a new government, in effect announcing the coalition between Cameron and Liberal-Democrat Party leader Nick Clegg. Cameron and Clegg are, as a result, Britain’s new Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, respectively.
How did the U.K. get to a place where a party that has “Conservative” in its name and another that has “Liberal” in its form a coalition government, you ask? And whatever happened to the supposed boost in the Lib-Dems’ popularity following the first-ever Prime Ministerial debates? And finally, how does this effect me?
As to the first question, the parties in Britain — unlike the United States — have policy positions which can be all over the ideological map; this means that even though the Tories (the nickname for the Conservative Party) and the Lib-Dems disagree on a good deal of policy issues, they can still find common ground on some. Most importantly for the Lib-Dems, the Tories have agreed to consider electoral reform (the Lib-Dems have been pushing for the U.K. to adopt a proportional representation model of elections, which is far friendlier to third parties).
But more than that, the two parties have released details of their compromise coalition agreement, the highlights of which include an agreement that there will be no transfer of powers to the European Union over the course of the Parliament and Britain will not join the Euro during that period (understandable, considering the Euro’s present predicament involving Greece), an agreement to support a limit on non-European Union immigrants, and a new restriction on the ability of Parliament to dissolve the coalition government (a majority of 55 percent will be required to dissolve the government, a higher threshold than the current bare-majority requirement).
As to the second question, the Lib-Dems actually lost five seats in spite of the raves Clegg received for his debate performance (and in spite of winning a greater share of the popular vote— crazy British election system). Part of the reason for this may be the—relative to the U.S.—diminished role of personality in British elections. Unlike voters in the U.S., British voters vote for the party they wish to make up Parliament, who in turn decides on the Prime Minister (there is no secondary vote for President like in the U.S.).
And as to the final question, because the U.S. and the U.K. have a “special relationship”, events in Britain will have a significant impact on U.S. foreign policy. The announcement that Britain will not be joining the Eurozone anytime soon will dramatically affect President Obama’s foreign policy going forward, not to mention the inherent governmental instability created by a coalition government (the raised dissolution threshold notwithstanding) in America’s closest ally. The news coming from Britain the past week is not just entertaining, it’s important for Americans to know as well.
Thank you to commenters “Are you serious” and “heehee” for pointing out NBN’s error. The UK will not be joining the Eurozone but is currently a member of the European Union. We regret the mistake.