Saturday, May 8, 2010

Elections, UK

Again, I've been fascinated and absorbed by election coverage – this time from the United Kingdom.  Its quaint first-past-the-post voting system, so malproportional, and inability to permit all who wish to vote – many hundreds were turned away in various cities, owing largely to the total stupidity of having voting on a Thursday working day, not on Saturday as always here in Australia – notwithstanding, the 2010 General Election has at least produced one good thing: a hung Parliament.

I am all for checks and balances: and depriving one party, or rather the Prime Minister and Cabinet formed by the leaders thereof, of total command of the House of Commons is a good thing, in that it prevents the dictatorship of the Executive.  In modern British elections, won by Labour in recent elections with little more than a third of the popular vote, this domination by an elite becomes odious and inherently anti-democratic; especially as the House of Lords has been eviscerated of all real ability to act as a house of review.

A Catholic analysis would invoke the principle of subsidiarity – the idea that decision-making ought be spread throughout the polity, to the level both lowest and best able to make decisions.  I devoutly hope, therefore, that the Liberal Democrats are able to obtain electoral reform as the price of their support for either Conservative or Labour, since making the next election fairer, and diluting the winner-takes-all reality of the present system in all but exceptional cases such as the present poll, should be much desired.

The next issue to be squarely faced ought be the consequences of devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland: the U.K. has now a de facto quasi-federal system, well and good, since this is subsidiarity in action; but the "West Lothian question" (as Powell named it back in 1977) remains, in that it is perverse that Scottish MP's vote on laws applying only in England (and Wales).  As Hague said in 1999, "English votes on English laws"; on any bill for an Act not extending to Scotland (or, likewise, to the other countries of the U.K., Wales and/or Northern Ireland), the Scottish M.P.'s (and similarly those of Wales and Northern Ireland, if the issue would be dealt with by their local Assemblies) ought not vote, as the matter is not their concern nor that of their constituents.

As England alone has no devolved assembly of its own, the Parliament at Westminster must fulfil that role also; but in doing so, only MP's from areas where such laws will operate should vote for them.  But at this, how Labour will scream!  Laws not extending to Scotland would then be made without the 41 Labour MP's from north of the border; laws not covering Wales either would be made without the current 26 Labour MP's holding Welsh seats.  This would mean, in effect, that the Conservative preponderance in England – where the Tories hold 297 of 533 seats – would give them much greater powers than at present, when the Labour members from outside England can negative many measures.

Now for the next great issue at hand, also one of morality: prudence and fiscal rectitude – that is, paying one's debts lest the realm suffer a Greek tragedy...

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