Three hung Parliaments

2010-08-23

in Canada, Geek stuff, Politics

I had a busy weekend, so I don’t have posts prepared.

Here’s a question for readers, though. After the recent Australian election, there are now three Westminster style democracies that lack majority governments. Two went from longstanding left-wing administrations to lacklustre leaders (Paul Martin and Gordon Brown), while the other briefly went from Liberal to Labour before entering the current predicament.

Is there any reason why this happened in Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom at overlapping times? Is there some demographic or ideological cause? Have party loyalties weakened, creating a muddle? Or has politics become more polarized, reducing the extent to which parties seek the middle ground?

[Correction] The post above originally claimed that Australia had a Tory government. In fact, the centre-right Liberal party was in power from 1996 to 2007.

[Aside] My A570 IS point and shoot digicam certainly is easier to carry around than the 5D Mk II, but look how much noise there is at 400 ISO!

Report a typo or inaccuracy

{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

Padraic August 23, 2010 at 12:21 pm

There is no Tory party in Australia! I think you are referring to the Liberals.

Milan August 23, 2010 at 1:19 pm

Right, I have corrected the post above.

As I understand it, the Australian Liberal Party is ideologically similar to the Conservatives in Canada and the UK, while their Labour party is similar to the party of the same name in the UK and Canada’s Liberal Party.

. August 23, 2010 at 4:10 pm

“OF ALL the politicians elected to high office in the West in the past few years, David Cameron seemed the least revolutionary. There was certainly none of the thrill of Barack Obama’s elevation. Even set against his peers in Europe, Mr Cameron seemed to offer less disruptive élan than Nicolas Sarkozy and a less intriguingly ruthless career than Angela Merkel. Here was a pragmatic toff, claiming the centre ground back from a Labour Party that had lost its vim. When Mr Cameron failed to win the election outright in May and had to share power with Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats, many feared a government as underwhelming as his election campaign.

Yet within its first 100 days the Con-Lib coalition has emerged as a radical force. For the first time since Margaret Thatcher handbagged the world in 1979, Britain looks like the West’s test-tube. It is daring again—not always in a good way but in one that is likely to be instructive to more timid souls, not least Mr Obama and his Republican foes.

The most obvious audacity of hope lies in the budget, unveiled by George Osborne, the new chancellor of the exchequer, in June. To balance the books, he raised some taxes, notably VAT, but three-quarters of the savings will come from spending cuts. Most government departments will shrink by a quarter, though Mr Osborne excluded the National Health Service from his savagery. In the heated debate between Keynesian economists (who worry that a weak world economy needs more government spending) and fiscal hawks (who believe deficits must be tackled now to stave off Grecian disaster), Britain is the prime exhibit for tough love.”

. August 23, 2010 at 4:11 pm

“Ms Gillard became Australia’s first woman prime minister in June, after a brisk act of party regicide that did for Kevin Rudd. In office only since 2007, Australia’s first environmentally minded prime minister had fallen from party favour after dropping a promise to bring in an emissions-trading scheme and then picking a damaging fight with mining companies over a supertax on their profits. Ms Gillard promptly agreed to ease the tax. Seeing favourable polls, she opted for a snap election. Nobody really knows how she would govern. Fans call her decisive and disciplined; critics damn her as disloyal and an opportunist. Once a left-winger, she can seem ill at ease grasping for the centre. She used to oppose policies that she now loudly promotes, such as paid parental leave. And she has helped confuse voters by trumpeting Mr Rudd’s stewardship of Australia’s economy, while insisting he had to go as his government was in a “downward spiral”

Meanwhile, with its immense supplies of coal, Australia needs to do its bit in controlling carbon emissions. That is something voters recognised when they first elected Labor three years ago. On these issues, Ms Gillard, who showed encouraging pragmatism on the miners’ tax, is probably the better placed to broker workable compromises. But it is, frankly, a dismally close call. And, entertaining though it has been, this was an unfortunate time to have an election. “

. August 23, 2010 at 4:13 pm

“For Ms Gillard, battling to avoid the humiliation of a Labor defeat after barely a single term, the Melbourne bind stretches over the country. A poll on August 9th gave Labor a four-point lead over the coalition, once second-preference votes were counted. The real story, though, lies in first votes. Labor’s have dropped by almost five points to 38% since the last election in 2007; the coalition’s tally is roughly unchanged at 42%. Green support has risen by almost four points to 12%, mostly at the expense of Labor. To stay in power, Ms Gillard will probably have to rely on a preference-vote deal with the Greens.”

Milan August 23, 2010 at 4:14 pm

Is there any chance increased support for Green parties has contributed to the emergence of these minority governments?

BuddyRich August 23, 2010 at 9:31 pm

Moreso in Canada than any other country for sure given the regional disparity of the Bloc and votes already split amongst 3 other major parties. Close to 7% (polling closer to 10% right now) of the popular vote is weened away from the center and left leaning candidates while right wingers vote for their only choice.

I fear until the center and left unite we will continue to have successive minority Conservative governments here, though given the realities of vote splitting amongst the center and left, the Cons will act more like a majority regardless of its minority mandate, especially as more and more liberal appointees to our house of sober second thought begin to retire and are replaced with more and more Conservatives shills.

Of course the majorities the Liberals enjoyed in the 90’s and early 2000’s was a direct result of a split right vote between the PC and Reform/Alliance parties (and a general Mulrooney/GST backlash from the prior PC governments) so you could say its only cyclical.

The problem is the FPTP system with countries that are becoming more fragmented party-wise, making it harder for any one party to claim a majority. In the UK the rise of the liberal democrats in the past two decades as the outside 3rd horse in what was traditionally a two horse race and Australia, while nominally only having 2 major parties, the center right party is actually a coalition in and of itself.

Only the US seems to be immune, but even now their right is slowly splintering amongst Republicans and Tea-Partiers. Granted the Tea-Partiers are running for GOP nomination and winning in some cases but will ultimately run as Republicans so in the end you still get a two party system and of course some people claim Nader cost Gore the 2000 election (and some hanging chads of course).. ;-)

Byron Smith August 24, 2010 at 9:46 am

Technically, Australia was governed by a centre-right Coalition of Liberal and National parties between 1996 and 2007. Since the Liberals made up more than 80% of the Coalition, it was often more convenient to simply refer to them as Liberal (esp since the Coalition leader has always been a Liberal rather than a National, who is always deputy).

To answer your question, I’m not really sure. In Oz, the Greens certainly had a decent swing (+3.7%, up to 11.4% of primary votes) in the House of Reps and also gained the balance of power in the Senate with an even bigger swing there. However, since the Greens only picked up one House of Reps seat (their first), they are not the reason for the hung parliament. I think in Oz, it was a very unusual result (we’ve only ever had one hung federal parliament before), and has been described by numerous experts as the closest election in Australian history. I suspect that also relevant is the fact that there was a significant increase in the proportion of informal votes (remember, voting in Australia is compulsory, so if you’re ticked off at all sides, then voting informally is one of the forms of protest). Both sides ran very cynical and uninspiring campaigns in a very negative tone. The level of frustration expressed by friends and contacts was much higher than in previous elections. I think the swing to the Greens was as much a protest vote over Labor’s shelving of its proposed ETS as anything else. Whether it consolidates into long term support remains to be seen. The rest of the Greens social agenda is too progressive for many Australians who might be quite sympathetic to their stance on climate and ecology.

BTW, the article you quote above about Rudd being Australia’s first environmentally minded PM is a bit of hyperbole. He might have been better than average, but that’s not saying much.

Milan August 24, 2010 at 10:03 am

The political effect of Green parties in first-past-the-post democracies can be ambiguous. Canada’s 2008 federal election was probably the most environmentally focused federal election in Canadian history, with Stéphane Dion’s Green Shift probably being the most ambitious climate change policy seriously proposed in Canada.

The 6.78% of the vote that went to the Greens probably would not have been enough to make Dion win, even if it had all gone to him (it cannot be worked out all that easily, given how ridings matter, not the popular vote). Still, it would have made the election less of an embarrassment for him, and reduced the extent to which Canadian politicians saw carbon taxes as electoral suicide.

Milan August 24, 2010 at 10:04 am

Rudd being Australia’s first environmentally minded PM is a bit of hyperbole. He might have been better than average, but that’s not saying much.

He certainly didn’t take any effective action, on climate change. Carbon pricing went nowhere in Australia, while Australian coal kept getting exported in huge quantities.

. August 24, 2010 at 10:09 am

Monday, August 23, 2010
Hung parliament: not so bad?

I am not entirely disappointed with a hung parliament in Australia after Saturday’s election. At the very least, it means that neither side can claim victory. They both lost. There was indeed a swing against the ALP (-5.4%) and towards the Coalition (+1.9%), but elections are not won on swings. And indeed, if they were, then the Greens received a much larger positive swing (+3.7%). One significant factor in this was likely to be disgruntled ALP supporters registering their disapproval of the Rudd/Gillard failure of nerve on climate. It may have also been punishment for Gillard’s move to the the right on asylum seekers, but Rudd’s popularity started its precipitous decline when he announced the shelving of his carbon trading scheme.

. August 24, 2010 at 10:20 am

“It was Australia’s second climate change election. Climate change deposed the former leaders of both main parties: Kevin Rudd (Labor) because his position was too weak, Malcolm Turnbull (Liberals) because his position was too strong. When Julia Gillard, the new Labor leader, also flunked the issue, many of her supporters defected to the Greens.

Labor’s collapse began when the senate rejected Rudd’s emissions trading scheme. Faced with a choice between dissolving parliament and calling an election or dropping the scheme, he chickened out and lost the confidence of the party. Julia Gillard’s support began to slide when she proposed to defer climate change policy to a citizen’s assembly. Nearly 70% of the votes she lost went to the Greens.

Turnbull, like Rudd, was ousted over the emissions trading scheme, but six months earlier. His support for the scheme split the Liberal party. Just before the first senate vote on the issue, in December last year, he was overthrown by Tony Abbott, who had told his supporters that climate change “is absolute crap”. If Abbott manages to form a government, he will reverse the outcome of the 2007 election, in which the Liberal Party was defeated partly because it wouldn’t act on climate change.”

Byron Smith August 24, 2010 at 11:27 am

Yep, Rudd thrice tried to introduce an ETS and was thrice blocked by the Coalition and the Greens (for opposite reasons). But he should have then called a double dissolution election and put climate policy front and centre for the country to debate. That would have made headlines. As it turned out, he lost his nerve and that helped to seal his fate. If he had called the election and lost, he would have been a hero (even though his ETS was woefully inadequate in its targets, rewarded the biggest polluters with enormous amounts of free permits and was very generous in its approach to international offsets). Either way, it would have made international news and put climate policy on the international agenda in a way that nothing he’d done would have. Why did he have to chicken out?

The sad thing is that his deputy (our current PM) helped to talk him out of a double dissolution.

Byron Smith August 24, 2010 at 11:44 am

PS Thanks for the link.

Tristan August 25, 2010 at 3:36 pm

According to wikipedia:

“In Australia, “Tory” is used as a pejorative term by members of the Australian Labor Party to refer to members of the conservative coalition Liberal and National parties.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tory

Byron Smith August 25, 2010 at 3:58 pm

As an Australian with an active interest in politics, I’d consider that usage to be fairly rare. I notice that Wiki has no reference for the claim.

Milan August 25, 2010 at 4:05 pm

I suppose it’s a bit ambiguous in Canada, as well.

When I first became aware of politics, it referred to supporters of the Progressive Conservative Party. Now that they have merged with the Reform Party of Canada to form the Conservative Party of Canada, it is not entirely clear whether the term ‘Tory’ can be appropriately applied to former Reform supporters, or just former Progressive Conservative.

As mentioned before, the successful campaign to ‘unite the right’ in Canada is probably a major reason for the string of minority governments we have experienced.

Tristan August 26, 2010 at 1:56 am

There is also the Tory family. This confuses me to no end.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tory_family

. August 31, 2010 at 9:45 am

Australia’s Gillard rejects new vote, vows stability

Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard has rejected the idea of a new election to avoid a hung parliament.

In her first major speech since elections on 21 August failed to deliver a clear winner, she said she could offer stability.

Four independent members of parliament appear to hold the balance of power amid some talk of holding a new vote.

The count continues, as the margin of victory between the governing Labor and opposition remains too close to call.

Ms Gillard outlined a “new political landscape” in her speech to the National Press Club in Canberra.

Byron Smith August 31, 2010 at 9:54 am

There are actually four independents, a Green and a rogue National MP who will decide the next government (or will force another election if they offers votes of no confidence in both sides). Of the four independents, three are ex-National and one is ex-Green. It really still could go either way.

Milan August 31, 2010 at 10:00 am

What effect does that have on the prospects for a carbon pricing system, in the next couple of years?

Byron Smith August 31, 2010 at 10:23 am

Bottom line: unclear.

Detail: Tony Abbott, the Coalition (conservative) leader, knocked out the previous leader (by one vote) over carbon policy and is on record as saying “climate change is crap”. He’s pulled back somewhat from that (publicly), but has promised no price on carbon if he’s PM.

PM Julia Gillard, the Labor leader who kicked out the previous PM Rudd),was one of those who advised Rudd to drop the ETS after he’d failed to get it through the Senate three times (the alternative would have been calling a special “double dissolution” election, which would have been fought on that issue. He took the advice, shelved the ETS until at least 2013, his popularity plummeted, and subsequently he lost the leadership due to being so unpopular). So whether Gillard learns the lesson or not is unclear, but during the campaign, she minimised all serious discussion, while paying lip service to the science. The centrepiece of her climate policy was a populist suggestion of holding a “citizens’ assembly” of 150 randomly selected individuals to build consensus on what to do (hmmm, why didn’t they do that with the bailouts…).

So that’s the bad news. But the (slightly) better news is that the Greens enjoyed the largest positive swing, ending up with about 12% of the national vote and their first lower house seat from a general election, plus balance of power in the Senate. Also, of the four independents, two strongly favour an ETS (one has made it a condition of cooperation) and one of the other two is strong on climate, though doesn’t like an ETS.

Thus, the ongoing horsetrading could be crucial to the positioning of any revived ETS in the legislative agenda of a minority Labor government, however, if the Coalition form minority government, we can all kiss an Australian ETS goodbye until some time after next election.

Ironies abound. The ETS was first put forward by the previous (conservative) PM, who had held out as a climate sceptic for many years but ended up forming a committee to look into an ETS as a way of putting off a decision. The State governments (who at the time were all Labor) and the then Labor opposition also commissioned a detailed economic study by a renowned nonpartisan Australian economist, Ross Garnaut’s, whose report was delivered once Labor were in power nationally (and had run on a strong climate ticket), but the report was too radical for Labor, and they largely ignored or severely watered down its recommendations. The fig leaf that the conservatives are presently offering on climate are a series of (small) government incentives to those industries that take positive action: ironically, a command and control government intervention; Labor put forward the citizens’ assembly, which would normally sound like Greens’ consensus politics; the Greens, meanwhile, now champion a market-based approach through an ETS (even though they helped to block the proposed ETS three times, since it wasn’t strong enough (due to ridiculously weak targets and shot through with concessions to the biggest polluters)).

OK, rant over, and perhaps more detail than you were looking for.

Byron Smith August 31, 2010 at 10:25 am

Garnaut Review – similar in many ways to the UK’s Stern review.

Milan August 31, 2010 at 10:38 am
Milan August 31, 2010 at 10:43 am

As important as the creation of a carbon pricing system is the matter of how it is designed. For instance, a cap-and-trade system in which permits are given away for free and in large quantities could actually be worse than useless, since it would bolster the profitability of the most polluting firms, giving them additional capital to invest in things like coal-fired facilities (not to mention, lobbying government for more special treatment).

Byron Smith August 31, 2010 at 10:55 am

Ah, thanks for those links. I should have thought to do a search. Wasn’t sure how widely Garnaut was discussed outside of Oz.

And I entirely agree about an ETS. I supported the Greens in blocking the ETS as it was put forward. I just wish that Rudd had called the double dissolution election on it as it would have brought it to the top of the agenda (and I’m sure would have drawn a fair bit of international attention as well).

Milan August 31, 2010 at 11:07 am

Carbon-intensive industries seem to be fighting climate change regulation like the Russians fought the Germans – giving ground one little bit at a time.

First, they worked to convince politicians that climate change wasn’t happening or was no problem. Now, they are arguing that doing anything about it will choke off economic recovery and cost the government the next election.

When there is finally broad industry acceptance that carbon pricing is necessary, they will seek to have it implemented in a super corrupt way, in which the biggest polluters profit handsomely from a system notionally intended to make them care about the welfare of the people being harmed by their emissions.

To get a system that works, we need far-sighted governments who are willing to reject the implicit claim that those who have emitted GHGs in the past have the right to keep doing so in the future.

Byron Smith August 31, 2010 at 11:20 am

I entirely agree.

The only problem is: how on earth do we get a government like that? (or, how on earth do we get a government like that without requiring a climate catastrophe on an scale that will make them largely irrelevant?)

Milan August 31, 2010 at 11:30 am

That is clearly a critical question.

One thing I have been struck by, in the Richard Rhodes book I am reading about the atomic bomb, is how much trust policy-makers had in the scientists involved. Before the Trinity test, nobody had comprehensive empirical proof that an atomic bomb could work. All they had were experiments interpreted by experts and the opinions of those experts. On that basis, they expended an enormous amount of resources, and during a time of bitter conflict.

Uranium enrichment, plutonium production, and related facilities were a massive expenditure. Look at the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant. It employed 12,000 people and cost $512 million 1945 dollars. It was built to pursue one possible route to enriched uranium (along with electromagnetic separation, thermal diffusion, and centrifuges – all expensive as well). In the end, the gaseous diffusion process doesn’t work very well. Alongside all the uranium efforts, there was the huge industrial push to produce and process plutonium at the Hanford site.

If politicians had equivalent trust in today’s scientists, and a similar willingness to invest in the facilities and technologies required to replace the world’s energy supply with zero-carbon sources, we would be a lot further along in that process than we are now.

So, why isn’t that trust present? I think one major reason is ideological. Many, many people in positions of power assume that the planet is made for human beings and will always be benign toward them. I also think there is a deep assumption that people trying to do good (say, by producing electricity from coal) cannot accidentally cause massive harm.

There are surely other reasons, as well.

Milan August 31, 2010 at 11:41 am

Another major difference between climate change mitigation and the Manhattan Project is that there was no powerful lobby that knew about the latter, while it was going on.

Carbon-intensive industry groups have been extremely active in funding crackpots and creating a phoney debate about the reality of climate change and necessity of reducing emissions. They have also been very effective at convincing a significant fraction of the population that climate science is part of a wicked conspiracy intended to strip them of their liberties.

By contrast, nobody who knew about the Manhattan Project was both opposed to its aims and influential. At worst, people in the armed forces worried about whether it would be a good investment compared to other armaments. Crackpot scientists like most of those who have been arguing to inaction on climate change would not have lasted a week at Los Alamos, given their inability to make their case in a way that would be convincing to real experts.

Byron Smith August 31, 2010 at 12:10 pm

It is indeed an interesting comparison. Would I be going too far to say that you’re suggesting that democracy (in all its malfunctioning glory at the moment) is really part of the problem?

Milan August 31, 2010 at 12:14 pm

That argument can certainly be made.

A democracy in which people evaluated risks and uncertainties well – and in which they showed vision and concern for future generations – would be perfectly capable of dealing with climate change. The problem with democracies as they exist now is that people behave in selfish and short-sighted ways, and they are easily fooled.

R.K. August 31, 2010 at 12:22 pm

As the world’s driest inhabited continent, you would think Australia has as much to worry about as anybody, when it comes to climate change. Plus, they are a rich democracy.

The one thing that is probably holding them back more than anything else is the size and economic importance of their coal industry.

Byron Smith August 31, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Milan – Indeed, an ideal democracy could make a good response, though that doesn’t exist anywhere. Given the shortcomings of both the system and human nature, what is the best way forward? A difficult question and one I’m not really asking you answer right now, but one for all of us to keep working on.

RK – Precisely, though you can also add a peculiar aspect of the Australian cultural mindset, namely, that we’re too small to make any difference on the world stage.

R.K. August 31, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Many states use that excuse. Canada says there is no reason to act if China and the United States do not.

In the end, there are two likely outcomes to all of this: climate catastrophe or a global switch to zero-carbon energy. If we assume that the latter outcome will prevail, there is every reason for states to take action before others do. They will avoid making investments in fossil fuel machinery that will need to be scrapped, while increasing the expertise of their industry in zero-carbon technologies.

Byron Smith August 31, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Of course, and it is a terrible excuse. And all the worse that Kevin Rudd fought against it so vigorously in his rhetoric before losing his nerve when it came to calling the double dissolution election.

oleh September 6, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Minority governments may become more the norm than the rule in Canada as the Bloc Quebecois, a completely regional party can expect to hold approximately 15% of the seats. One can expect some seats will go to the social democratic New Democratic Party (approximately 5-10%). This would require a very strong national showing by one of the two potentially governing parties to obtain 50% of the seats of the 75-80% remaining seats .

I do not sense that Canadians are uncomfortable with this situation. This may reflect some skepticism towards providing one party with dominant power. Increasingly this would involve giving more power to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Consequently I expect that we may have minority governments for some time in Canada.

. September 13, 2010 at 10:17 am

“Australia’s general election resulted in a hung parliament, the country’s first in 70 years, with neither Julia Gillard’s incumbent Labor party nor the conservative coalition led by Tony Abbott winning the 76 seats it would take to form a new government. Three independents from rural areas were left holding the balance of power. Whichever way the next government goes, the election represents a failure for Ms Gillard, who had called it in hopes of cementing a brief Labor surge in the weeks after she became prime minister. See article

. September 13, 2010 at 10:19 am

“Ms Gillard’s failure is necessarily Mr Abbott’s success. Once dismissed as unelectable—and that was by his own party—he has now undone two Labor prime ministers in nine months. Three of the independents came from the right and may back him rather than offend their anti-Labor constituents. But most of the swing from Labor went to the Greens, who from mid-2011 will probably hold the balance of power in the upper house and be able to block his programme. And his campaign hardly inspired confidence. Relentlessly negative and populist, particularly on immigration, he is weak on economics and short of ideas. You get a sense of the many things Mr Abbott doesn’t like; it is harder to know what he favours.

Moreover, Australia needs sooner or later to address several vital areas of policy.

One is climate change, where the majority’s wish for a bill is being blocked by the minority (including Mr Abbott).

Sadly, the politicians are not tackling these questions, and voters are duly unimpressed. Australia can muddle through for a bit. But unless its politicians take off their hats and get to work within the next 12 months, another poll beckons.”

. September 13, 2010 at 10:25 am

“Yet Mr Harper’s position remains strong. The Conservatives have rock-solid majorities in about 60 of parliament’s 308 seats, mainly in rural and western areas. The separatist Bloc Québécois usually wins at least 40 of Quebec’s 75 seats. So Liberals need more than 60% of what is left even to form a minority government. But their party organisation in Quebec, a key battleground, has been woeful for years.

Liberals think they have uncovered growing economic unease among the suburban middle class in central Canada, another swing group. After a strong first quarter, the economy seems to be slowing, as have house sales. But their ability to exploit the anxiety is limited by Mr Ignatieff’s lack of economic expertise, a trait he shares with the rest of his caucus. To his left, the New Democrats are trying to woo voters with activist economic policies.

It may be little consolation for Mr Ignatieff that any Liberal leader might struggle to make an impact on Canada’s fragmented political landscape, in which five parties (including the newish Greens) now jostle where once two dominated. Even partial success by the time Canadians pack away their barbecues might be enough to forestall an election this year. Otherwise Mr Harper may choose to send Canadians to the polls this autumn, for the fourth time in seven years. And in that case it might be a different Liberal leader sampling the sausages next summer. “

. September 13, 2010 at 10:28 am

“Yet one prominent democracy seems to be escaping the trend toward base-rousing populism. Britain is that happy outlier. The explanation is not some special British virtue, but lies in a peculiar consequence of government by a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.

But neither Mr Cameron nor Mr Clegg can easily announce policies that drip with the red blood of partisan conflict. By happy accident, the very things that Lib Dems might enjoy humbling (eg, people who live in big houses), or that make Tories fume (eg, Europe), are cherished by the other side. Tories hate higher taxes, Lib Dems anything that smacks of xenophobia. Their respective bases cancel each other out.

There is another reason why Britain’s current ruling coalition is hobbled, when it comes to the temptations of dog-whistle politics. The area of closest agreement within the coalition is at its pinnacle, where the liberal Conservatives around Mr Cameron meet the conservative, free-market Liberals around Mr Clegg, and discover, with each passing day, how much they have in common. And—in a second happy accident—those areas of overlap occupy an unusually high-minded spot on the political map. Put another way, the two parties agree most on issues where they are at their most coolly rational, and least populist.”

Byron Smith September 13, 2010 at 12:09 pm

The Australian situation is now resolved, making the Economist article a little out of date. Of the six MPs who didn’t belong to either major party, two went with the Coalition and four with Labor, giving Julia Gillard a 76-74 majority (at least for no confidence motions and supply – only one of the six promised more support than that).

R.K. September 15, 2010 at 5:54 pm

I just realized the solution to this problem: migration.

Get all the centre-right voters from Canada, Australia, and the U.K. and put them in one country. Do the same with centre-left voters, etc.

You could just break up the combined polity by political spectrum, putting the same total population size as exists now in each territory. Then, each could have majority governments again.

Byron Smith September 15, 2010 at 6:40 pm

Dips on the country that gets to get rid of its right wing.

. September 22, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Stalemate in Sweden

Sep 20th 2010, 8:03 by The Economist | STOCKHOLM

FREDRIK REINFELDT (pictured), Sweden’s prime minister, pledged last night to remain in office for a second term, despite seeing his ruling coalition lose its majority in the Riksdag (parliament) after yesterday’s general election.

According to preliminary results, the Alliance, Mr Reinfeldt’s four-party centre-right coalition, won marginally under 50% of the vote, and will take 172 of the 349 seats. But the prime minister logged a personal victory by winning more votes for his own party, the Moderates, than ever before.

Perhaps the biggest news is that the Sweden Democrats (SD), whose anti-immigrant rhetoric shocked many Swedes during the campaign, has won 5.7% of the vote, enough to beat the threshold for parliamentary representation. With 20 seats, it holds the balance of power between the two big blocs of Swedish parliamentary politics. But both of these groupings—Mr Reinfeldt’s Alliance and the Social Democratic-led opposition—say they will co-operate with each other rather than the SD.

. September 27, 2010 at 12:02 pm

“Mr. Graves argues that the fight over the long-gun registry is not a ballot issue for many Canadians. Rather, he notes the gun registry, when taken in concert with other Tory missteps – scrapping the mandatory long-form census, excluding abortion rights from the maternal health initiative and the treatment of the veterans ombudsman – “has been reshaping the Canadian political landscape.”

“Ironically, this set of related issues may be why the Conservatives are no longer within immediate striking range of majority and why even converting these rural seats on this issue may become a pyrrhic victory,” he says.

Mr. Graves concludes that the gun registry fight means no majority government for any party. Instead, it has “hardened an already polarized electorate and shifted the prospects of either Liberals or Conservatives achieving majority mandate from implausible to unimaginable.”

. September 30, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Canadians were asked to select up to six words or expressions from a list to describe the four party leaders sitting in the House of Commons. The top five results for each one of the leaders are:

• Stephen Harper – Secretive (38%), arrogant (36%), dishonest (36%), out of touch (33%), uncaring (31%)

Compared to August, Harper lost points on three negative categories (arrogant, secretive and boring) and gained points on one negative category (dishonest).

• Michael Ignatieff – Boring (35%), arrogant (33%), out of touch (31%), intelligent (30%), inefficient (24%)

All fluctuations for Ignatieff were smaller than four points.

• Jack Layton – Intelligent (29%), down to earth (27%), honest (25%), compassionate (24%), open (24%)

Compared to August, Layton lost points on one positive category (intelligent) and gained points on one negative category (arrogant).”

. November 2, 2010 at 10:21 am

Political parties
The party’s (largely) over
Political parties’ membership is withering. That’s bad news for governments, but not necessarily for democracy

Oct 21st 2010

“WE WORSHIP an awesome God in the blue states,” declared Barack Obama in the speech that made him a star, “and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states.” Six years after his address to his party’s national convention in 2004, the idea of Mr Obama as a post-partisan figure, an effortless uniter of Democrats and Republicans, looks droll.

But his failure to transcend party politics does not mean it was not canny to try. In America, Europe and elsewhere, the era of tight affiliation to political parties is over. Successful politicians surmount party allegiances, rather than entrench them. In America, the “50-50” nation is more like a 30-30-30 nation; last month, a Pew survey found that “independents” at 37% outnumbered either Democrats or Republicans. Such inbetweeners tend to find partisanship on the airwaves and in Congress repellent, strengthening their convictions further.

As old allegiances fade, third parties are doing better. In Germany, a recent poll puts the Greens, formerly a fringe party, ahead of the once impregnable Social Democrats. In Britain’s 1951 general election, 97% of all voters chose Labour or the Conservatives. In last May’s election, just 65% did. Party membership is declining too—by 40% in 13 European democracies between the late 1970s and late 1990s, according to one study. In Britain the three big parties combined have under 500,000 members; in the 1950s, with a smaller population, their total was over 4m. And the members that remain are less active.

Explanations abound. In many industrial democracies, working-class voters chose left-wing parties out of self-interest. Other voters, fearing the power of organised labour, voted the other way. But when most people count themselves as middle-class, such tribal ties wane. In countries where the ideological gap between parties has narrowed, their brands may no longer be useful labels for busy or ignorant voters. Accustomed to choice as consumers, voters increasingly pick policies rather than signing up to comprehensive world views. Single-issue groups have thrived. Britain’s National Trust, a heritage organisation, raised its membership from 250,000 in 1971 to 3.7m now.

Byron Smith November 2, 2010 at 10:56 am

Could the declining party memberships be related to growing cynicism concerning the role of corporate lobbying and so declining feeling of being able to make a difference through the party system?

Milan November 2, 2010 at 11:39 am

That seems plausible to me, though I am sure there are other factors as well.

. January 18, 2011 at 10:47 pm

The problem is partly one of expectations. In countries where coalitions are the norm, election manifestos are like battle plans: they signal a party’s hopes and intentions, but are not expected to survive the first moments of coalition combat. Especially in countries with proportional representation, voters cast their ballots with a view to maximising the dose of their favoured ideology or special interest in whatever government takes shape.

British voters were not ready for such politics before the last election. If they crafted a coalition with their refusal to hand victory to any one party, it was mostly an accident. Judging by the mood in Oldham and the surrounding moors, they are still not ready for a world of permanent, rolling compromise. Nor are many Tory MPs, who have filled the press in recent days with moaning about the kid-gloved treatment being afforded their Lib Dem colleagues. The uncharitable might respond: if Tories dislike being in coalition so much, they should try winning a majority.

A referendum on changing Britain’s voting system is the next big electoral challenge, probably in May (when local elections are also due). That will open a whole new debate about representative democracy. Judging by the muddle in Oldham East and Saddleworth, the country is not remotely ready.

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