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Everyone Loses In Britain's Election. Could be A Good Thing.
I have been asked to write for VDARE.COM's mostly American readership about the British general election of May 6 2010. In trying to do this, I am at a double disadvantage. First, most Americans naturally know little about Britain. Second, this is a drama unfolding by the hour. Whatever I write now (Sunday evening, May 9) will be out of date shortly.
I will arrange my comments under three headings: How the System Works in General: How the System Worked on This Occasion; What the Meaning of All This Might be for Liberty and Tradition.
1. How the System Works in General
The House of Commons is the central body of British government. It is made up of 650 Members, including the Speaker. Each Member of Parliament [MP] represents one geographical district of roughly equal population, called a "constituency". He is elected by the "first past the post system", which means that the winner of the seat needs to gain a majority of one over any other candidate. In other words, it is elected on the same basis as the U.S. House of Representatives—which, however, shares power with the U.S. Senate and the President.
Theoretically, this election process can lead to overall outcomes in which one of the main parties gains a majority of the total votes cast, but another wins a majority of seats in the House of Commons. This happens rarely in Britain. But over the last half-century or so, the British political party system has fragmented to a much greater degree than has happened in the U.S. (yet). As a result, it has become common for a party to get a small majority in overall votes cast, but a large Commons majority. Thus in the last general election, Labour won 356 seats and a substantial Commons majority with 36.9 per cent of the vote—which, on a turnout of 61.3 per cent, meant that it won with just over 22 per cent of the total possible vote.
A further consequence of this system: small parties are effectively blocked from the House of Commons. For example, in the 2010 general election, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) got around a million votes and the British National Party (BNP) got around half a million votes. (Both are fiercely opposed to immigration). But these were votes picked up across the country as a whole. Because neither party won a majority of the vote in one specific constituency, neither party has any seats in the House of Commons.
Indeed, even the smallest of the three main parties is at a disadvantage. In the 2010 general election, the Liberal Democrats won 23 per cent of the votes cast and got 57 seats, while Labour won 29 per cent, and got 258 seats.
There are about a dozen nationalists from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland—referred to in Britain as the "Celtic" fringe. Otherwise, every seat is held by the three main parties—Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat.
For all they squabble over secondary issues, these are what may be called parties of the Regime—they are committed to the present order of things.
Whatever the democratic legitimacy of the outcome, the party that wins an overall majority of seats in the House of Commons is allowed to form the Government. That is, the leader of the largest party becomes Prime Minister, and then appoints all the other Ministers.
controls the House of Commons has absolutely unlimited
power over the life, liberty and property of everyone in
Britain has no written constitution, no entrenched bill of rights, no counterbalancing institutions. Back in 1776, the British Constitution was regarded as a balance of Crown, Lords and Commons, each able to check the other. Many judges and politicians also believed that there were certain fundamental laws that the courts could uphold against combined attack by Crown, Lords and Commons. This was the template for the American Constitution.
Since then, however, the Lords have lost their blocking veto. The Crown—especially during the reign of "Elizabeth the Useless" (1952-)—has given up all attempt to preserve the Constitution from attack. The courts have accepted the doctrine of the absolute legislative supremacy of Parliament—which means of whoever controls the House of Commons.
In theory, an
Act of Parliament—even passed by a majority of one in a
Commons where the governing party received perhaps ten
per cent of the total possible vote—could order the
execution of every man in the country with
hair. It could make it an offence to whistle in the
For a long time, this peculiar doctrine was allowed to do little harm. The House of Commons was dominated by members of the old ruling class, and these made sure to govern as if constrained by an entrenched constitution. By a process of gradual change during the 20th century, however, the old ruling class was displaced first in its personnel and then in its values.
This was a gradual process, and no single year can easily be chosen to mark the transition. Whatever year is chosen, despotic laws can be adduced from before, and successful insistences on the old norms can be adduced from after. But perhaps the two most important dates were the election years of 1979 and 1997.
In the first of these, Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Government was elected at a time of crisis. It believed its agenda of economic and political change should not be limited by any constitutional norm.
In the second, Tony Blair's Labour Government was elected. It used the precedents set by the Thatcher and Major Governments to carry out a Politically Correct coup d'état.
Around 5,000 new criminal offences have been created. In the name of "equality" and "anti-racism", government power has been imposed into every area of private life. Call someone a "bloody immigrant", and go to prison. Refuse to accommodate homosexuals in your hotel, and go to prison. Refuse to employ an atheist in your religious school, and be shut down. Smoke in your own business premises, or allow others to smoke, and go to prison. Photograph a police officer while he is breaking the law, and go to prison. Upset a police officer, and be arrested, and have your DNA taken and stored on a database that is shared with several dozen foreign governments. Keep a firearm in your home for self-defence, and go to prison for five years.
Since 1997, habeas corpus has been abolished. We have serious criminal trials without juries. [First trial without jury approved, BBC News, June 18, 2009] The rule against double jeopardy has been abolished. Hearsay and similar fact evidence can be introduced. The police and 20,000 civil servants have the right to conduct warrantless searches of our homes. The police can authorise each other to break into homes to plant listening devices. Despite solid opposition, Labour is about to force to carry biometric identity cards that will give the authorities the ability to spy on—and therefore to control—every aspect of our private lives.
Nobody knows how
Third World immigrants have been
encouraged to settle in the country. The official
population of the
We know that the great majority of immigrants who have been granted citizenship vote for the Labour Party. There is also much anecdotal evidence—though this is not mentioned in the Main Stream Media—that illegal immigrants and "asylum seekers" are being registered to vote so that they can increase the Labour share of the vote.
Our registration laws date back to a time when nearly everyone in the country was a citizen. Registration to vote was a formality for when someone reached the age of majority or moved house. The law is based on trust—and this trust is easily abused by a little perjury that is then connived at by the pro-Labour administrators who control most of local government.
As a libertarian patriot, I take a less pessimistic view of immigration than other patriots. However, what we presently have is state-sponsored mass-immigration. This has been a deliberate policy of the British ruling class to break up resistance to despotism—recently admitted by Andrew Neather, one of Tony Blair's speechwriters. When people are sufficiently balkanised, they will suspect each other more than the authorities.
None of the Regime parties will do anything about immigration. It must be said, though, that of the three the Conservatives have dropped the strongest hints that they might.
Oh—and the country has been formally enslaved to the centralised, bureaucratic European Union, which now makes most of the laws not mentioned above. And the country's foreign policy has become a matter of slavishly assisting in whatever act of imperialism and mass-murder the U.S. Government may see fit to begin. The Iraq and Afghan Wars serve no British interest. They have resulted in perhaps millions of deaths. They were opposed by solid majorities of British opinion. They went ahead nevertheless.
3. How the System Worked on This Occasion
How any main opposition party could fight an election campaign against our Government of unindicted traitors and war criminals, and not win an overall majority of 300, is a cause for astonishment. But that is what the Conservative party has just managed. It got 36 per cent of a 65 per cent turnout—that is, it won just over 23 per cent of the total possible vote.
The Conservatives did emerge as the largest single party in terms both of votes and seats. But of course a party needs 326 seats in the House of Commons to have an overall majority. The Conservatives got 306 seats, making them twenty short of a majority.
The cause of
this astonishing failure was the leadership of
David Cameron. It would be hard to think of anyone
who could not have led the Conservatives to victory
after thirteen years of what we have had. The problem is
that Mr Cameron is just that person. He refuses to
His disagreements with Labour have not been entirely cosmetic. He and his party are better than Labour on many issues. But these are not issues critical to national survival.
And there is no doubt that several million people who would have voted to save their nation decided it was not worth the effort of voting for a Conservative Government led by someone who looks and tries to sound depressingly like Tony Blair.
Why bother voting for a different man to front the same policies of treason and destruction?
And so no party can be said to have won the election. Here, for the sake of completeness, are the results so far:
It will be seen that, while the Conservatives did not get an overall majority, the Labour Party was badly hit, and the Liberal Democrats lost seats. Nobody won in the usual sense. So far as this is possible within a zero-sum game, they all lost.
It is worth
asking why no other party made a breakthrough in this
election. UKIP promises to withdraw from the
European Union, and does well in elections to the
European Parliament. The BNP promises the same, plus a
more radical approach to immigration and
also does well in European elections. There is much
anecdotal evidence that
The answer is, again, the electoral system. Small parties are so ruthlessly squeezed that hardly anyone feels much incentive to vote for them. Anyone can stand for election in this country. But the rules of the game give a decisive advantage to the three Regime parties. I might, for example, have voted for UKIP on May 6. That party seems best to represent my opinions. But one vote for UKIP is one vote fewer for the Conservatives—which might let in a Labour Member of Parliament. I must choose between a party that I want and a party that can keep out another party that I hate and fear.
It would take much more discontent than there now is among the British people to bring about a revolutionary change in party representation. Until then, the majority of votes will continue going to the three Regime parties. Unlike the minor parties, these have agreed among themselves not to argue over the issues of most critical importance to national survival.
At the same time, they do offer just enough variety on lesser issues to make it arguably worth voting for them.
What the Meaning of All This Might be for Liberty and Tradition
There are two further matters to discuss. These are what will happen, and what should libertarians and traditionalists want to happen. The first question seems easy to answer. If we add the Conservative and Liberal Democrat seats together, we get 363—which is enough for stable control of the House of Commons. Whether the parties co-operate in a formal coalition, or whether the Liberal Democrats simply agree to let the Conservatives govern with a minority, is unimportant. What does matter is that these two parties together can enable reasonable stability of government.
This being said, the Labour Government has not gone away. Gordon Brown remains Prime Minister, and he is desperately offering the Liberal Democrats anything they might want, if only they will support his continuation in office.
Brown's problem, however, is that the Labour and Liberal Democrat do not together add up to an overall majority. That could only be got from including the "Celtic" nationalists. Their price would be a wash of English tax money over their own regions even greater than is now the case. The resulting coalition of four or five parties would have an overall majority, but would be unstable and often paralysed.
And so, what almost certainly will happen is some kind of agreement between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties. As said, this is a drama unfolding by the hour. Anything might yet happen. But I really cannot see what else can happen but some kind of Conservative and Liberal Democrat agreement.
Now, to the more interesting question of what we should want to happen. I will emphasis that this was not an election from which any attractive government was likely to emerge.
The likely options were and are varying degrees of the undesirable. The worst outcome, of course, would have been a re-elected Labour Government. This would have led straight to the abolition of what little remains of this country.
But a hardly less desirable outcome would have been an outright Conservative majority. This would have allowed David Cameron to announce that he had a mandate to carry on almost exactly like Labour. Nothing substantial would have changed—except there would have been a fresh team to drive on the work of destruction.
The least bad outcome would have been a big Conservative majority—rather like Labour got in 1997. This, paradoxically, would have weakened David Cameron. Almost every Conservative candidate likely to win a seat at this election had been hand-picked by him. Right up to a majority of about thirty, Conservative Members of Parliament would have been ready to vote exactly as directed.
But the bigger the majority beyond that, the larger the number of real conservatives who would have been elected—ready to demand action on the most important issues. These could have formed a bloc of several dozen Members, able to embarrass or even to threaten the Government.
The next least bad outcome—is the one we seem likely to get. A Conservative and Liberal Democrat agreement will not change policy on the European Union, the American alliance, immigration, multiculturalism, the response to alleged man-made climate change, the dominance of big business corporatism, or much else. But, on other issues, there will be a few welcome changes. Such a Government probably will abolish identity cards and the database state that it fronts. It will probably not "regulate" home schooling. It may rein in the police and the bureaucracy.
These are things already promised by the Conservatives. Since they are also promised by the Liberal Democrats, there is every reason to suppose some good will happen.
Most important, however, is that the Liberal Democrats will demand reform of the electoral system. The existing method of electing Members of Parliament will be replaced by something that less randomly correlates votes cast to seats gained.
The Liberal Democrats have been arguing for this almost since the collapse of the old Liberal Party in the 1920s. But neither of the larger parties had any interest in changing a system that worked so much to their own alternating advantage. Now, it may well happen.
The Liberal Democrat—indeed, the general—assumption is that electoral reform will simply mean that the Conservative and Labour parties will continue to exist, but will need to go into routine coalition with an enlarged Liberal Democrat bloc in the House of Commons.
But rather more likely is that any change in the electoral system will corrode the glue that holds all the main parties together. Without the iron logic of the first-past-the-post system, what else could force Burkean Tories, classical liberals, semi-libertarians, and Christian democrats into one Conservative Party? The same question might be asked of the factions that make up the Labour and even the Liberal Democrat parties.
At the same time, bringing some proportionality into the electoral system would allow the minor parties into the House of Commons. UKIP, the BNP, and perhaps the English Democrats and others, would now have a greater chance of winning elections.
These might never add up to a majority of Members. They would, even so, provide a radical opposition to the Regime that is not now provided.
There is a
further outcome that might not actually be too bad in
the long term. This is an agreement between Labour and
the Liberal Democrats. As said, this could only exist
with the additional support of the
parties. It would, from the start, be a useless
Government—rather like the more exotic coalitions that
come to power in
But at the same time, it would be so obviously a "coalition of the losers", and so obviously a fraud on the English—who unlike the Scotch and Welsh, did vote mostly Conservative—that it might delegitimize the whole system and bring about a fundamental reconstruction much faster than would otherwise be the case.
though, we pass beyond the realms of what seems
possible. For the moment, it is enough to say that the
political drama presently to be seen in
But its outcome seems predictable. And that outcome, dire though it will seem in the short term, may not be so bad in the longer term.
Dr. Sean Gabb [Email him] is a writer, academic, broadcaster and Director of the Libertarian Alliance in England. His monograph Cultural Revolution, Culture War: How Conservatives Lost England, and How to Get It Back is downloadable here. For his account of the Property and Freedom Society's 2008 conference in Bodrum, Turkey, click here. For his address to the 2009 PFS conference, "What is the Ruling Class?", click here; for videos of the other presentations, click here.