Diary

Reflections on the British Election

For the past 70 years of “Pax Americana”, in its contest with the Soviet Union and China the United States has had a circle of close supporters and allies – Great Britain, Canada, Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Australia, and perhaps France.  We owe our view of the relationship between government and the people – and our American constitution – to the British thinking which evolved from the Magna Carta through the writings of Locke and Hume in the 17th and 18th centuries.  Barack Obama aside, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Tony Blair were right – there is a “special relationship”.  And, as is shown in the current parliamentary election, our partner is having an identity crisis.

Given that the election is today,  this assessment will soon be proven either prescient or irrelevantly obtuse.

First, some background:

– The authority of the central government in Westminster (London) has been eroded by the gradual increase of power by the European Union bureaucracy in Brussels since 1993, and by the devolution of power over selected local affairs to parliaments in Belfast (sporadic since 1973), Edinburgh (1998), and Cardiff (1998).  Any government in London will be faced with these inexorable trends; a weak coalition government will be less able to resist.

– The election of the 650 Members of Parliament (533 from England; 59 from Scotland; 40 from Wales; 18 from Northern Ireland) is determined by a plurality of votes in each constituency in what is called “first past the post.”  Filing is inexpensive and the election season is short, thus it is easy for a broad range of parties and candidates to compete, and for a disaffected group to bolt the major party and throw the election to its competitor.

– Elections are held every five years, unless earlier elections are triggered by the loss of a key vote. The unlikely current coalition of the Conservatives (led by David Cameron) and Liberal Democrats (led by Nick Clegg) has been in power since March 2010. The Liberal Democrats who are about like the intellectual left wing of the American Democratic Party, joined the coalition in exchange for a referendum to change from the “first past the post” system to an “instant run-off” system which they thought would benefit their future prospects. They lost the 2011 referendum, have supported Conservative measures such as a substantial increase in college tuitions, and as a result, have lost many of their followers.

– The 2014 Scottish independence referendum presented a Hobson’s choice for Labor – support independence and see a major stronghold exit the country, or oppose independence and see their voters abandon them for the Scottish National Party. While the Scots voted by 10% to stay in the UK, Labor stands to lose almost all of their 41 Scottish seats to the SNP.

. The current parliament is 302 Conservative, 256 Labor, 56 Lib-Dem, 6 Scottish Nationalist, 2 UK Independence Party, and 28 other.  Projections on election morning were for a result of about 280 Conservative, 270 Labor, 25 Lib Dem, 50 Scottish Nationalist, 3 UK Independence Party, and 22 other, and most logical pairing to approach 326 being Labor and the Scottish Nationalists. Exit polling shows something quite different, 316 Conservatives  to 239 Labor, a result that would give several options for a Conservative-led coalition – apparently from general public fear of a Labor-SNP matching.

And some sobering projections:

– Britain’s defense budget hovers about half the US rate at 2% of GDP – one of the few NATO countries to meet the alliance’s guideline. Neither party is committed to remaining at that level, but Labor and the SNP would trend lower, with the presence of Britain’s nuclear submarine fleet based in Scotland a potential casualty. No party wants to be engaged in the Ukraine or the Middle East.

– The UKIP surge has benefited from a resentment of immigration – particularly the right of EU citizens from eastern Europe to relocate to Britain and receive healthcare and unemployment benefits. The Conservatives have denied housing assistance to immigrants, but have come nowhere near Cameron’s 2010 promise to hold net immigration below 100,000.  Both major parties are now anti-immigrant.

–  The Scots will replicate the Canadian parti Quebecois strategy of extorting increasing benefits out of the central government in exchange for their rejecting independence. Eventually the English will question why the Scots, the Irish, and the Welsh have their own parliaments to manage devolved issues (education; health; the court system; housing) while all three have MPs in Westminster determining those questions for the English.

The best case – from the point of anybody wanting a strong ally – is a Conservative victory with a 2017 referendum which rejects withdrawal from the European Union. Let’s hope.

—–

This week’s video is for those who have wondered what Don McLean was thinking about when he drove his Chevy to the levy.

www.RightinSanFrancisco.com – 5/8/15