Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Two things to admire about the UK elections

Tomorrow (May 6th) is election day in the UK, and many are predicting that the Labour Party, after dominating UK politics for more than a decade, will suffer a crushing defeat at the polls.  The Party is highly unpopular, PM Gordon Brown is widely viewed as an insufferable twit, and Labour may well drop to third (behind the Tories and the Lib Dems).  Or not--it is possible, due to how voters are divided among districts--for Labour to managed to win, but the pundits are betting that Labour is out.

While I won't comment in general about the UK political system--I'm entirely an outsider--there's two things about how the election is being conducted that I admire.

  • Short election cycles.  Due to the possibility of snap elections (or of a government failing on a no-confidence vote, which hasn't happened since 1979), elections in the UK don't always occur at regular intervals.  Elections have to be called no later than five years apart, but can be called sooner.  The result of this is the campaign/election cycle is far shorter--measured in weeks, not months.  In the US, it seems, political campaigns are permanent--especially in the House, where members stand for election every two years, and for the Presidency--where the presumptive GOP field is busily running for the nomination all while denying they are running for anything.
  • A very short interregnum.  Obama was elected in November 2008, then inaugurated two and a half months later.  If Brown loses the election, he is expected to vacate No. 10 Downing Street the next day.  Presumptive winner David Cameron will be invited by the Queen to form a government the next day.  No transition teams, no lame duck period, no last-minute pardons or mischievous rulemaking, no practical jokes left by disgruntled staffers.  While a longer interregnum is useful in cases the election results are in dispute (see 2000), it doesn't serve much of a purpose in the usual case where there is a clear winner and loser.

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