Sunday, April 25, 2010

Clegg-ocracy

Liberal Democratic leader and potential kingmaker Nick Clegg offers up a new interpretation of parliamentary elections, almost bordering on the Harperesque:
"Because of the vagaries of the system, Labour could get fewer votes than the other two parties, but still have most seats. If that happens, Clegg will have the casting vote.

So I push, and push, and finally he helps a bit, by declaring that if Labour gets the smallest share of the vote of the three main parties and the most seats, he would not tolerate Brown remaining prime minister.

“I read that the civil service has published some book a few weeks ago ... that in an environment like that, he would have first call to form a government. Well, I think it’s complete nonsense. I mean, how on earth? You can’t have Gordon Brown squatting in No 10 just because of the irrational idiosyncrasies of our electoral system.

“Whatever happens after the election has got to be guided by the stated preferences of voters, not some dusty constitutional document which states that convention dictates even losers can stay in No 10,” he snorts."
Clegg has no use for first past the post, clearly, but this is the system in which this election is taking place. The party with the most seats does have first call in forming a government. If Cameron has the most votes but fewer seats than Labour, Clegg is going to go with him? That's complete nonsense, to use Clegg's language, and I don't think he's really saying that.

Al Gore won more votes than George W. Bush in 2000. Yet we know that it was the electoral college, the rules under which the election took place, that dictated the outcome. That's the way legally governed societies work. Imagine a similar scenario in Canada, of course the way we understand our system and the way it indeed works is that the party that wins the most seats is called upon to form the government.

What Clegg probably means is that a Labour victory in seats, while finishing third in popular vote, might lead Clegg to require Brown to step aside as a condition of Clegg's support for a Labour-Lib Dem coalition. But Labour has the right, as a party, to choose its own leader so this is quite the statement from Clegg. A lot would be on the table in those negotiations, whether Brown's stepping aside would be one item, I guess we might see.

If that's not what he means (but really, judging from his vitriolic comments toward Brown, it seems that he does), perhaps he's just laying the groundwork, in a very dramatic fashion, to obtain a firm commitment to electoral reform from Labour so that such a result never occurs again.

Whatever the case, it's a bit annoying to be hearing the heralded figure toying around with the rules of parliamentary democracy. It'll be a unique result for Britain, yes, if it's a "hung" parliament but it doesn't mean the present rules get chucked out the window. It's irritating enough for us when Harper injects a flawed American style interpretation of how our system works, i.e., people elect a Prime Minister, it's disheartening to hear it starting up in the U.K.