We all know that it’s a hotly contested election that really gets The Pickle motivated, so I thought I’d take the opportunity of an unusually exciting campaign in the UK to get Pickle Nation up to my ankle-deep understanding of what to look for next week. Based heavily on a brain-picking conversation with my brit friends Max and Sophie, at least one of whom is a political reporter, as well as close attention to the Times, and my serendipitous watching of yesterday’s 3rd and final debate between the three major party candidates – Gordon Brown for Labour, David Cameron for the Conservatives, and Nick Clegg for the Liberal Democrats – here’s how I handicap it.
First and foremost, Gordon Brown has the Mark of Cain on his forehead. This much is clear. It takes about 8 words of listening to Nick Clegg to understand what all the fuss is about – he makes me feel like the dad in “An Education.” His core message seems to be the right one: Hey all you people who wish it was viable to vote Lib Dem? This is your chance. He’s right. It’s also hard to argue that David Cameron and the Tories aren’t up to the challenge of governing; you may not like what they stand for, but Brown’s distasteful fear-mongering about how it’s risky to go with anyone other than the party in power does more to undermine that case against Clegg – the Lib Dems actually might not know how it all works – than to infect Cameron. You know how I hate to pile on, and I think Gordon Brown might be an excellent prime minister, but how can you not want to take a break from that guy?
Second, as it has been explained to me, just based on how each party’s voters are distributed, the Conservatives will win more seats than their share of the national vote, Labour will win about the same seats as their share, and the Lib Dems will be under-represented. So if they all get the same share of the national popular vote, no one will have an outright majority, but the Tories will have the most seats. It seems clear that Tories are going to get the most votes nationwide, and there is some possibility that they will get an outright majority, though my sense is that it’s a slim chance. I would also bet that the Lib Dems will get the second most votes (though that’s up in the air), but probably win fewer seats than Labour.
If the Conservatives get an outright majority, we’re done: David Cameron is the PM. It will be interesting to see what happens after that – how coalitions shift, now that the Lib Dems have proven a healthy measure of viability – but I’m badly out of my depth there.
If the Conservatives don’t get an outright majority this is where it gets interesting. Two things you have to know. First, Labour, as the party in power, is constitutionally entitled to the first chance at forming a government. Second, what the Liberal Democrats really want – need, in fact – is for the UK to switch from a system of single-member districts to one of proportional representation, so that Britain’s left-leaning majority will no longer have to countenance a Conservative government as the price of voting their conscience by voting Lib Dem. This is also the nightmare scenario for the Conservatives, who would be badly frozen out for a very long time if the process were to be changed in that way.
This will be Labour’s price of power, if, as is looking increasingly likely, they are roughly tied with or behind the Lib Dems in the final result. Labour will have to offer a national referendum on election reform to bring the Lib Dems into a governing coalition. But the question for Clegg is this: after telling British voters that the power is in their hands, what would it mean to hand the premiership back to Gordon Brown by political fiat after the country votes to throw him out? Would they be better off claiming “will of the people” to deny Labour another run, and trying to build on this cycle’s success for next time?
As far as I can tell, that’s the drama. Stand by for an update after a bunch of British people set me straight…