Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My newfound interest in politics

I am stuck on the couch with a sleeping baby in my lap, and although I'd like to go get my camera from across the room to download some photos (not to mention the fact that I'd like to take a shower), I'm going to just let him sleep while I give my interpretation of the past 5 days related to the UK election and how the political system works here.

To begin with there are three main parties - the Conservatives (the right, seem to be filled with very posh people who all went to "public school" which is private school), the Labour Party (the left, traditionally working-class), and the Liberal Democrats (I think they're somewhat in the middle but would generally be more aligned with progressive/socialist government of Labour - and this is why everything is so interesting at the moment).

When you vote in the UK, you don't vote for the leader of the party (who is elected by his/her party), you just vote for the party - in other words, I didn't really vote for Gordon Brown per se, I voted for Labour, or rather for my local Member of Parliament candidate representing Labour, Tessa Jowell.

In the election, a party needs to win 326 seats (i.e. have 326 members win their local election) in order to have a majority in Parliament. Last Thursday, no one party did this, so this resulted in what is known as a "hung Parliament". Effectively that meant that since Thursday, nobody was in control, and as a result, you could say that this situation put the UK in a kind of precarious state. The financial markets were willing to take a pretty patient stance on this indecision, but traders were not likely to let this go on forever before they freaked and sent the markets crashing.

Now, a party could have attempted to operate as a "minority government" but this could prove tricky for things like the passing of bills, so the two "big parties" - the Conservatives and Labour - had the potential to form a "coalition government" with the Lib Dems. With Lib Dem support, the Conservatives could have the majority and Labour would be considered the "opposition" (or the minority). If the Lib Dems sided with Labour, they would also have to get the support of a few other smaller parties in order to get that 326 number. The leader of the Lib Dems - a guy called Nick Clegg - found himself in the role of the "kingmaker", in that depending on which party he sided with, he would be effectively giving that side the power of the majority. In the end, he has "got into bed with" the Conservatives and in doing so has ended up as second in command in a way.

Over the past 5 days there has been a circus-like atmosphere around Westminster, with skycopters in the skies and scrums of media anxious to hear what has been going on behind closed doors. I have been glued to the tv at times watching fancy cars drive politicians here and there - this has been kind of strange considering I didn't even really know what was going on in the UK political landscape 2 weeks ago!

At any rate, the outcome is that yesterday, Gordon Brown - who has proved unpopular as a leader of the Labour Party - resigned. He gave a very moving speech over which I got a bit teary-eyed, and then was driven in a fancy car to Buckingham Palace, where he gave his resignation to Her Majesty. I wonder if she offered him a cup of tea?

Minutes after Brown left Buckingham Palace, David Cameron, the chubby-cheeked leader of the Conservatives, was driven in another fancy car to be "asked by the Queen" if he would lead the new government, an offer which he accepted. Somehow I can't imagine him saying "no"! He then made a speech in front of #10 Downing Street which is the home of the Prime Minister. There had been running commentary throughout the day about the spotting of bags (presumably Gordon Brown's possessions), being packed and leaving the back entrances of #10, and as David Cameron and his wife Samantha ("Sam Cam") entered the front door last night, I did wonder if they quickly got a cleaning service in before the new occupants set up house.

So Gordon Brown resigned and goes home to Scotland, David and Samantha Cameron are the new Prime Minister and First Lady, and Nick Clegg - whom nobody ever had even really heard of before the ground-breaking television debates a few weeks ago - is kind of the equivalent of the vice-president (even though it's not a presidential system!). Whether this government is actually going to be successful is still another question - in that a week ago Nick and David were at each other's throats and the parties have some major policy differences. I for one am going to miss the OJ-like-car-following coverage by the skycopters, but at least now we know who is in charge of the UK. Unfortunately he wasn't my choice!

And I guess to bring this all back to what's most important, I also can't stop thinking that Noah resembles the new Foreign Secretary, William Hague. I think it's just the baldness.


That concludes my summary of the political situation - no doubt it was rife with misconceptions and errors, but that's been my take on it!

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