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The Brits Un-Decide

It wasn't a big shock, but still, citizens of the United Kingdom woke up today to a very unsettled political situation, having rebuffed Labour and the Liberal Democrats in yesterday's election, but without giving the Tories the majority necessary to immediately govern.

With votes still out from two seats, the Conservatives have 305 seats, Labour has 258, the Lib Dems 57, and other parties 28. The popular vote split 36% Tory, 29% Labour, and 23% Lib Dem. The major surprise was that the "Cleggmania" that seemed to grip the electorate during the campaign did not translate into a much better showing for the Lib Dems, who actually lost seats. But they certainly retained some influence as the party holding the balance of power, and today Nick Clegg is entertaining semi-public overtures from both the big parties to form a coalition government, while hoping to secure some sort of agreement to move the electoral system away from the first-past-the-post method that has so long frustrated the Lib Dems (most notably yesterday).

The most likely outcome is a minority Tory government under David Cameron with a short-term mandate to deal with the country's immediate economic and financial problems and then hold another election, possibly even this year. Given the brevity of British campaigns, that's not quite the nightmare scenario it sounds like to American ears. On the other hand, given the problems Britain faces right now (as eloquently outlined by William Galston), it's unlikely a minority government facing an immediate election is going to exactly represent a profile in courage.