Friday, May 07, 2010

An Opportunity to Learn about Parliamentary Government

by Rich Miles

OK, kiddies - admit it: you've never really understood how the British government worked, and you're not sure you understand it now, either. Well, here's a brief primer, if you care. Now that there are threats of a "hung Parliament", it seems only fitting that we should expand our horizons a bit, and seek to understand how our mother country runs things.

OK - first off, the Brit equivalent of president is the Prime Minister. But here's the trick - the PM is the leader of the party that wins the majority of seats in Parliament. At this point in time, David Cameron of the Conservative Party should technically be PM - but because of this "hung Parliament" thing, he isn't. There's also the fact that the Queen has to ASK the leader of the majority party to form a new government, and so far, Queen Liz has not done so.

No. 10 refers to the Prime Minister's residence, No. 10 Downing Street. When the Queen requests that a party leader form a new government, he immediately moves into No. 10, and starts to make plans for where the government is going. But again, because the Queen has not requested a new government, Gordon Brown, the current prime minister, does not have to move out, and is still technically running things.

Usually, the queen makes her request pretty soon after the election. However, the closeness of this election has apparently slowed her up.

By closeness, we mean Conservatives (Tories) have 306 seats, the Labour party have 258, and the Liberal Democrats ('Lib Dems') have 57. The number needed for an outright majority is 326.

Now here's the rub: because no one party has a majority, the parties have to form a coalition government. But there is no saying what the coalition has to look like. At the moment, the Tories and the Lib Dems are in talks to form a combined majority, or a "coalition", so that there is a majority and something can get done instead of everything getting hung up ('hung') because there is no majority.

But here's the problem: the Labor party is the equivalent, more or less, of our Democratic party, and the Tories are most nearly the same as our Republicans, only without the snottiness most of the time.

So the Lib Dems, who are nearest in philosophy to our far left, liberal-progressive Democrats, are forced to compromise with the Tories, in order to form a majority coalition. They can also form a coalition with Labour, which will ensure a much larger majority.

This is in large part why a new government has not been formed yet.

Now, there is talk that there will be another election later in the year, in order to elect a real majority government, but there's no guarantee that will work either. The longest time between elections is 5 years, and the shortest is apparently just a few months.

In a lot of ways, their system works better than ours, as odd as that may seem right now. But they are only allowed something like 45 days of campaigning, and no TV advertising. Their prime ministers are not glamour boys like our preznits. And No.10 doesn't require as much lawnmowing as the White House.

Anyway, there are lots more differences between the two systems, but these are the main ones. So now you know. Perhaps the news from London will be a bit less confusing now.

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