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confused unitedstatesian is confused

Posted on 2010.07.05 at 07:37
where am I: the colonies
How I feel about it all: confusedconfused
Soundtrack: Keith Olberman. Yay DVR!
Can anyone tell me what the difference is between a hung parliament and a minority government? I've been trying to figure it out, but as far as I can see there's no real difference between what's happened with the UK election and what happens in Canada all the time. I could be missing something entirely here because I'm no expert on the parliamentary system. Hopefully someone who knows more than me can explain it?


melpemone at 2010-05-07 12:21 (UTC) ()
Heh, this is one of those concepts that I get, but struggle to explain, so bear with me:

A hung parliament is when no one party has an overall majority of seats. A hung parliament can result in a minority government, but in this case, it'd be unlikely, because the (minority) government wouldn't have a mandate from the public to govern as they chose. If the vote does result in a hung parliament, the incumbent has the right to try to go before the Commons and see if they can gain sufficient support to continue governing. I think last time that happened the incumbent lost the Commons vote and resigned. But in this case, it's possible that Labour could form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats and gain enough votes to continue to govern effectively. This is preferable to a minority government, as there would be no need to argue through absolutely every vote.

In any case, it's important primarily because the UK hasn't had a hung parliament since the 1940s, and with the economic fooferall now is a bad time to be arguing at length about everything. And with their first-past-the-post system, it's rare to have a hung parliament because an MP doesn't need a majority of votes to win a seat.

If this makes no sense, do tell and I'll work on it. :)
newleaf31 at 2010-05-07 16:05 (UTC) ()
It was really helpful to me, anyway! Thanks! I'm a n00b to the British election process, but I've been following this one obsessively for several months -- even before the actual process started -- when the buzz about Clegg started swirling, and I think I'm finally beginning to get an idea of how things work. I read in the Times this morning that both Cameron and Brown are, of course, courting the Lib Dems in a big way to form a coalition. The Times made it seem like almost a foregone conclusion that Cameron will be the PM within the week, but I can't imagine Clegg et al. will be willing to yield on the many, many differences they have with the Tories in order to form a coalition... so isn't there still a pretty good chance that Brown might stay at #10? I haven't seen the final results yet, so maybe the Tories got closer to the majority than I thought they would; what do you think?
melpemone at 2010-05-08 00:03 (UTC) ()
Thanks! Glad that made sense to someone. Re-reading it in the cold light of morning, I could have been clearer. :D

There's a chance Brown may stay as PM because traditionally, as the incumbent, he gets first shot at making it work, but the problem here is that (and I haven't read the news yet this morning, so something may have changed) even if he manages to form a coalition with the Lib Dems, together they still wouldn't have an outright majority - they'd still need to court all the smaller parties. I vaguely recall that this is how Germany formed their current government - with a grand coalition.

OTOH, a Tory/Lib Dem coalition would be a lot closer to having the numbers. And yes, they're diametrically opposed, but if the Lib Dems could swing it correctly they could make the Tories agree to all kinds of conditions in exchange for their vote. Personally, my first condition would be that they all resign immediately, but I'm not a Tories fan. :D
try to catch the deluge in a paper cup
primroseburrows at 2010-05-08 13:50 (UTC) ()
No, it definitely makes sense. What I'm mostly trying to wrap my brain around is how a minority government isn't a viable option. Yes, there's no mandate, but is that absolutely necessary? It's worked in other governments with similar systems (see my comment below for stuff about Canada). In the US we have minority governments all the time, also (and right now we have a majority and can't get stuff done, but that's mostly about Republicans hating on Obama rather than actual policy issues). Our system is different from yours, though--we say we're FPtP, but we have the silly Electoral College, which seems to cancel it out, and we vote for people instead of parties, so it may not work the same way.
melpemone at 2010-05-08 14:03 (UTC) ()
It's still an option, yes, but it's an undesirable one. This likely comes down to cultural differences - the UK simply doesn't end up with minority governments that often, and so the problems with them are viewed more critically. Nobody wants an uphill battle over every piece of legislation put forward. It may still happen - the way things look to have panned out, a minority govt run on a "confidence and supply" basis looks like the most likely option, if only just (with a Tory/Lib Dem coalition running a close second) - but it would be appalling for the economy and the next election would be called ASAP.

Yeah, your Electoral College process gives me a brainache. People say our preferential system is weird, but it's child's play in comparison. :)
try to catch the deluge in a paper cup
primroseburrows at 2010-05-08 14:16 (UTC) ()
Nobody wants an uphill battle over every piece of legislation put forward.

Heh, we have that now with a majority, because every time the Obama administration puts out a significant piece of legislation the Republicans invoke cloture, which means they need two-thirds majority to even discuss it. Cloture wasn't used very much until Obama came along and started offending the opposition by his mere existence. [/rant]

And it's been fun to watch Harper turn himself inside out to avoid confidence votes (not so much fun for Canadians, though, because they have to deal with the guy 24/7).

Our Electoral College is silly and pointless and needs to go away now. It worked okay when the US was a tiny, brand-new country, but not so much with a couple hundred million people). Preferential voting looks like something I might like, because I'm so indecisive. I'd be all, 'hmm, I like that person, but not quite so much as this one--I'll put him/her second and see what happens.'

Edited at 2010-05-08 14:16 (UTC)
melpemone at 2010-05-08 14:28 (UTC) ()
the Republicans invoke cloture,

So I read! Can't something be done about that? Maybe I'm naive, but it strikes me as undemocratic in the extreme. Why aren't these people embarrassed to resort to such bullshit measures, I ask you?

I like the preferential system, for the most part. I'm also a below-the-line voter, so I at least make the most of the system. My main problem with it is that my #1 vote always goes to a smaller party (I've always voted Green, and I've recently become a Founding Member of the Pirate Party of Australia (yes, really. :D)), and preference distribution means that my vote winds up Labor - it beats the alternative, but I sure would love a Greens PM. :)
try to catch the deluge in a paper cup
primroseburrows at 2010-05-08 14:48 (UTC) ()
Republicans these days apparently have no shame whatsoever. They make stuff up all the time and don't care if it's true or not as long as it suits the political ambitions of their party. With the 24-hour news cycle and the internet, there will always be people to believe it and spread the stupidity.

Above-the line voting is kind of like our straight-ticket voting. I'm a definite split-ticket voter. I usually vote Democratic but every once in a while there'll be an independent or a liberal Republican worth voting for.

There are usually more than just the two major parties on the ballot, but the little parties don't stand a chance because voting for one of those splits the vote, and in some cases can do terrible things, like make George Bush President. It's a Catch-22 situation, because if enough people voted for a third party the two big ones might be unseated, but very few people do because they think it really doesn't help because they can't win, and so on. Grr.

The idea of a Green Party President is lovely. See above for why it'll never happen. :/ And I really, really wish the US had a party like the NDP. As a social democrat, I would so go for that.
the_antichris at 2010-05-07 21:50 (UTC) ()
Not very much difference at all, except a hung parliament isn't a government per se, but how you end up with minority governments. Meanwhile, we've been going on perfectly smoothly since 1996 with hung parliaments leading to either coalitions or minority governments. (Coalitions = Labour and the Greens (eg) agree to form a government together. Minority govt = large party gets small party or parties to agree to support it on confidence and supply votes and then every time it wants to pass some other legislation, it negotiates with everyone else to find enough votes. Much like a coalition in practice.) The trouble is that the UK are not used to it, and First Past the Post encourages parties to try to destroy their natural allies (so the two left-ish parties don't split the left vote in an electorate and end up letting a Tory win the seat), which makes cuddling up to form a coalition awkward.
try to catch the deluge in a paper cup
primroseburrows at 2010-05-08 13:37 (UTC) ()
Hmm. Okay, but Canada has First Past the Post also, and they've had a minority government for six years running and have still managed to get stuff done. Granted, there have been elections in those six years (three, IIRC), and there's always the threat of one, but every time there is, Harper (unfortunately) keeps gaining seats. Is there a difference maybe in the parties themselves? They have four parties who have had seats (five if you count the Greens, who have only managed I think one seat so far), but only two have had a real chance of forming a government. The Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats seem to mesh with the ideologies of the UK parties (and then there's the Bloc Québécois, but that's another whole post).

During the last election the non-governing parties were planning to team up and form a coalition but that idea fell through, to say the least; the Liberals ended up replacing their leader and the Tories ended up with yet another minority government. And then there's the way Harper goes around proroguing Parliament practically every time he thinks there's a confidence vote in the offing. But the thing is, they make it work.

So my question is, what's the difference? I'm using Canada as a comparison because it's the only Parliamentary system I know any real detail about, and their rules look pretty close to the way they run things in the UK.

Edited at 2010-05-08 13:55 (UTC)
the_antichris at 2010-05-08 21:27 (UTC) ()
I don't know too much about Canada (except that whole possible coalition Thing, which I was there for), but the way I think it works is that Harper tries to avoid confidence votes and either he's got some Liberals to agree to support him on supply or they just don't have the guts to trigger an election. Which is probably sensible, because if an election was triggered and spun as the Liberals' fault, it might hurt them.

I *think* the difference is that Britain is so used to having only two main parties (the Lib Dems and people like the Scottish National Party are a relatively recent phenomenon) that they can't deal with the idea of a minority government, because until the smaller parties started winning seats, minority governments just weren't mathematically possible.

There's no reason that the Tories *couldn't* make a minority govt work, but the idea of having to negotiate votes for every piece of legislation is really foreign to both the parties and the electorate. I think they might end up with one anyway, because I don't see the Tories agreeing to a referendum on the voting system and I hope the Lib Dems are going to stick to their guns on that, so the Tories might end up without a coalition but with an agreement to support them on confidence and supply, ie a minority govt for all intents and purposes.

(We worked the same as the UK, minus the House of Lords, until we got MMP, and I don't think we had a single minority govt pre-MMP, because of having two very dominant parties and the way FPP tends to translate small swings in percentage vote into large seat majorities unless you have a viable third party and/or regional parties, which is what's happened here. <-- ETA: by 'here' I mean in the current UK election, not here in NZ.)

The coalition falling through is exactly what's wrong with FPP, incidentally. Because they're threats to each other's seats, the Liberals and the NDP hate each other and aren't used to working together (and the Bloc just hate everyone on principle), so they couldn't get it together to overthrow their natural opponents. Under MMP here, Labour and the Greens are not exactly BFF, but if they had the numbers, National would be gone by lunchtime. (And our Governor-General would not prorogue Parliament without calling an election, because that is SUPER constitutionally dodgy. In Canada, too, but apparently she didn't care.)

Edited at 2010-05-08 21:30 (UTC)
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