Confounding results

After more than three decades, Britain will have a hung parliament after the recently held general elections. Prime Minister Gordon Brown will remain in power until a new government is formed. The Conservatives have managed to get 306 seats, the Labour Party has bagged 258 seats, while the Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems) won 57 seats. The verdict of the elections has confounded the analysts, forecasters and experts. To form a government, 326 seats are needed in the 650-member House of Commons. No party has a clear majority, which is why it will be the first time after 1974 that a coalition government will be formed in Britain. None of the coalition governments have been successful in the past and fresh elections had to be held each time. The only party that is sure to be in the government this time will be the Lib Dems, though they have not fared as well as was expected. Both the Conservatives and the Labour Party are bidding to woo Nick Clegg, leader of the Lib Dems. According to latest reports, Nick Clegg is considering David Cameron’s offer at the moment. Prime Minister Brown has also offered to hold negotiations with the Lib Dems if nothing constructive comes out of their talks with the Conservatives.

The election results are a huge blow for the Labour Party, which has been in power for the past 13 years. Clearly, after three terms in office, the problems that come with the weight of incumbency have kicked in. The electorate has shown its resentment towards the Labour Party but has not sided with the Conservatives openly either. The verdict clearly shows a deep discontent with Labour’s policies of going to war in Iraq and their economic policies, among other things. At a time when the whole world is hit hard by the global recession, the British electorate seems to be swathed in a sense of disillusionment with the incumbents. Using the power of the ballot, the British voters have indicated their desire for a change. The resurgence of the Lib Dems is of great significance and reflective of the change in British politics.

The Labour Party was originally formed as a political expression of the working class, but it has lost touch with its roots due to the gradual weakening of the trade unions in Britain. Margaret Thatcher contributed gravely to the fall of trade unionism while the expanding middle class in the UK was another factor. Still, this is no excuse for the Labour Party to ignore its genuine constituency. With the changing discourse of the working class movement within the Labour Party, the neo-con paradigm crept in. Ideologically, the Labour Party is closer to the Lib Dems, but if the latter decide to side with the Tories, it will be an indicator of how the incumbents have failed to impress their constituency by shifting its focus. Another interesting trend in the elections is how the immigrant class has won almost double the seats it did in the previous elections. They will now be able to raise the special concerns of the immigrants in parliament.

An unstable political setup in Britain has ramifications for not only the country itself, but also Europe, NATO, and arguably its partnership with the US. The future of Britain hangs in the balance. A new government must be formed as early as possible to address all these issues and to avoid more economic chaos. The good thing is that the democratic credentials of Britain are very old and it is expected that the system will see it through.

(my editorial in Daily Times)


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