2015 British election and TV debates: Democracy in action?

Article written by Guest Writer David Edwards

I was fortunate enough to be born a British citizen and have lived a happy life in a free, safe, stable, and rich country. Britain has been a democracy since the mid 17th century, at which time after a long and bloody series of wars (1642-1651) the armies of Parliament, the Roundheads, set up a system of government which has changed little in principal since. The same methods and traditions are used today to debate government policy, in a controlled but civilised manner, and the country has benefited from the use of this system for centuries.

On the 7th of May there will be an election in Britain which will decide who will govern the country for the next five years. The present government, an unhappy coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, having come to the end of its tenure is obliged to hold the election so the people can decide who they want to govern them for the next five years.

The previous general election in 2010 delivered a result where no single party had an overall majority of seats to govern as they wished. The Conservatives received 36% of the votes; the most popular party. The result led to a Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government; the first coalition government since the 1970’s. The Liberal Democrat’s leader, Nick Clegg, was elevated to the status of deputy prime minister and several Liberals became part of the governing group; the Cabinet. This resulted in five years of muted decisions being made and all involved being frustrated by the false marriage.

Britain has historically been a two party state; Tories and Whigs, Tories and Liberals, Conservatives and Labour, with each party usually taking it in turn to rule every ten years or so. This has tended to make the country swing from left to right in economic and foreign policy decision making, depending on which party was in power.

The 2010 election resulted in something different, a state of confusion. This confusion has made political parties think differently, they are now unsure of how the electorate will react. As no party is predicted to win an outright majority in the upcoming election, all the parties appear to be trying to preach the same mantra. This has led to the usual media feeding frenzy reaching a new level of hysteria. The country now has so many parties that may decide to become bedfellows with the two main parties, who will sleep with the opposition? Who will risk a marriage with the Conservatives when the Liberal Democrats are predicted to do so badly this time after their marriage to them?

tv debate 2010

2010 TV debates between David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown

During the last election live television debates were held for the first time between the main party leaders; the Conservative’s David Cameron, Labour’s Gordon Brown and the Liberal Democrat’s Nick Clegg. Three debates were held which became at times heated, sometimes entertaining, and even informative. They sealed the end of Labour’s chances of winning the election as their leader, Gordon Brown, performed so poorly, and the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, performed well. It was proposed that these debates were to be repeated during this year’s election campaign, but not by just three parties but by every party that might have a say in the makeup of any potential coalition government. The change caused upsets, with Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron being opposed to debating with minor party leaders and giving them a platform to openly challenge the main parties.

On the 2nd of April the first debate took place with seven party leaders, I repeat seven; the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, UKIP (Independence party), SNP (Scottish Independence), Plaid Cymru (Welsh Independence) and the Green Party. The debate ended with the minor parties taking over the programme and the SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, being put forward by the media as the star performer.

The debate was an experiment and an exercise in democracy but there were only two parties taking part, the Conservatives and Labour, who have any realistic chance of forming a government. All the others could hope for was gaining influence and affecting the result of the election by stealing the limelight away from the two main candidates, this is why the Prime Minister was opposed to taking any part in the debates.

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2nd of April, 2015 TV debate between seven party leaders

The Liberal Democrats were hoping to save their votes, and to say, look at how we managed to work with the Conservatives and avoid disaster. The UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, was there to preach their two mantras of controlling immigration and getting Britain out of Europe. The SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, explained how different they would rule Scotland; they do not want to be part of Britain and recently suffered an embarrassing defeat in a referendum on independence in September 2014. The SNP seem to have been reborn like the Phoenix from the ashes of defeat but should they really be allowed to be part of a possible coalition to govern a country they do not want to be a part of?

The Welsh Nationalists, Plaid Cymru, has a similar view but is so poorly supported in Wales, in the 2010 election only 11% of voters voted for them, that they can never really hope to have a significant chance of taking power. Wales is a country of two halves, the South with its English speaking Labour strongholds, and the North, the Nationalists only hope of control and influence due to its Welsh speakers. Again, should this party be part of a British government? The Green party, in my opinion, had no right to be involved in the debate at all, as it is not a mainstream party and has no widespread support. Ironically, Northern Ireland, one of the only parts of Britain who want to remain British, was not represented; a brilliant example of democracy at work.

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SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon; the media’s star performer during the live TV debate

One thing that all the minor parties including the Liberal Democrats are agreed upon is a change in the electoral system. Britain has “first past the post”, winner takes all elections, the same as any race; you get nothing for being second. This results in minor parties having support in the elections but no members of parliament, or very few, and so restricting their influence. First past the post for the minor parties is unfair but this system has worked in Britain for centuries and generally leads to majority, stable governments that can make decisions whether they be right or wrong, exercising the mandate they were given by the electorate by winning.

The minor parties want proportional representation to be used in elections which would guarantee them a better result and a much higher number of members of parliament, even though they would still not win in any given parliamentary seat. This system is used in several countries across the world including in Germany, Italy and Israel, all resulting in coalition governments and, in some countries, repeat elections as the coalitions collapse.

Minor parties do join the national debate, they put themselves up for the race and compete on equal footing. If they win they take the spoils but if they lose should they be allowed to take it as their right to expect a prize? I believe they should not, that is not a democracy, it is democratic to be given the chance to debate, to put your case forward, and to compete but if the electorate choose another path, you must accept the result with grace, and wait for another opportunity. Not argue, that I almost, nearly, not quite, could have won, so I deserve to win too. Perhaps I over simplify but that sounds undemocratic to me.

So what will the election result be? Probably as the media predicts a hung parliament and a desperate last minute rash of meetings to try and make a deal with this party or that, with the frightening prospect of a government that has leading members whose dearest wish is the breakup of Britain as a state.

British Guest Writer David Edwards, retired engineer, lives in North Wales, UK.

5 Thoughts on “2015 British election and TV debates: Democracy in action?

  1. Paul Dunbar on 4th May 2015 at 5:55 pm said:

    The author of this article is evidently a Unionist.

    Unionists support the continuation of the so-called United Kingdom which is based on the annexation of Scotland, Cornwall, Ireland and Wales by England.

    Unionists wish to deny the Celtic nations their human right to self determination.

    The author uses loaded language when discussing the Scottish referendum and when discussing Plaid Cymru.

    This is not an unbiased analysis. It is not an analysis at all – it is a political diatribe attacking the concept of self-determination and political independence.

    The author’s view that democracy only exists when it does not challenge the existence, type of government and organisation of the state is ludicrous.

    • Mr Dunbar,
      I surmise that from your surname you are of Scottish origin, if this is so then you are used to living under the yolk of English imperialism, which you may have recently voted for to cast off and live independently from the English/Westminster rule. If so your leader the demonstrative and lioness like Ms Sturgeon, may be leading you to independence.
      I wish your country and your countrymen well, but beware of the danger of living in a one party state, which is what Scotland is becoming, a state with no viable opposition, where Labour has been destroyed, and its possible resurgence is dependant on extreme left wing policies, which are even more left wing than the SNP’s .
      This may not lead to the promised land that the Scots are hoping for , and their chosen lady Messiah may be leading them in to the abyss, which would be the consequence of policies that drive investors to turn away from Scotland, leading to mass unemployment. The Trident question for example, where are the replacement 7000 jobs to come from if Faslane loses its submarine force, crofting, tweed and whiskey?
      I am as you correctly pointed out a Unionist, I am proud to be Welsh, proud of my language and culture, but have seen it grow stronger and more widespread, since limited devolution has ben set up in the Welsh assembly, but this has also lead to much power being given to a Welsh Labour governing body, that has mismanaged important departments such as Health and Education, which has lowered standards, where they are far behind England.
      Independence is thankfully not on the Horizon for Wales, thanks mostly to the South Wales population being fervent Labour supporters, who are mainly closet Englishmen whose only allegiance to being Welsh is via the rugby pitch, and treat us Northerners as sheep loving dimwits ‘Gogs’ as they call us, so Unity and independence as a nation is highly unlikely, the capital of North Wales is referred to as a place called Liverpool.

  2. I disagree with Mr. Dunbar.’s fury I don’t think this is a political rant against nationalists, but in my opinion the author is clearly a conservative – which in Britain means he could be Conservative or Labour; he basically supports the established status quo. From the tone I think an actual Conservative. So like any writing there are assumptions. I disagree that the SNP had “an embarrassing defeat in a referendum on independence”. I think the result was a triumph and the best possible result for the SNP. I think David Edward’s analysis is simplistic in places – but then he is summarising for a wide readership a complex antiquated political system. I disagree with two points. Britain has not been a democracy since the mid 17th century – it was an oligarchy and then a shadow of democracy until about 1918. More significantly Mr. Edwards trots out the arguments against electoral reform that support a ridiculous polarised system where a small minority can run the country ignoring opposite opinions. I’ve been arguing on twitter with such supporters a lot recently, and written about the unfairness of the last two elections on my website. The 1974 examples are also good, but the 1951 election is probably the best example of the failure of the British system. The Scottish, similar German, or Northern Ireland systems that the UK Parliament introduced are much better examples.
    Another disagreement with Paul Dunbar. “the annexation of Scotland, Cornwall, Ireland and Wales by England.” This is a similarly simplistic historical statement. It is the narrative that nationalists in Scotland, Ireland and Wales put forward but the reality was more complex. Cornwall was taken over very gradually before England existed I think, though I agree in effect it was annexed by England, and the occupations by the Normans of Wales and Scotland were sporadic, mostly in the south, and piecemeal. Henry VIII displayed none of the loyalty of his father in formally annexing Wales, but even there, as in Scotland a couple of centuries later, and in Ireland, many of the establishment supported the ‘mergers’ / ‘unification’ with / annexation by England.

  3. Mr Reid,
    I much enjoyed reading your comments, you are obviously a student of history, I too like history mainly Napoleonic and American Civil war, being my main interests.
    One being the study of a dictator who lead his people on a roller coaster ride of victory, prosperity, defeat, poverty, death and destruction, but still held their loyalty and love to the present day, a fascinating time and character.
    The other is a struggle against a ludicrous cruel policy and lifestyle, based on the mistaken belief that the negro was sub human, and the fight, slow at first that lead to the eventual dawning of the truth that all men should be treated equally, no matter their creed, or colour.
    British politics and its issues are nowhere near as dire or interesting, the Conservatives, unless Labour shakes off its current decision to follow a new messiah on a road to destruction and un electability, will be in power for the conceivable future.
    Cameron will as he has stated move on in about four years and a successor, maybe Boris (bless him, he would at least be comical). This new leader of the Conservatives would have the opportunity to lead the country, with a weak and divided opposition, which is an unhealthy prospect.
    The biggest threat to Britain is the break up of the Union, I am strongly opposed to it, it is not on the horizon for Wales, but Scotland is another matter, the one party system which is now in place is a disaster, there must be someone who is viable to oppose the party of government, were Labour really that bad that nearly every constituency voted them out. The new Labour leader, what will he do for Scotland?, what will he do for Britain?, his policies are not for the 21st century World or economic climate, they are failed policies of the past century. He wants state policy to be decided upon by the party and the people, I thought that is what a democracy elects representatives to trust to decide for it. Is the other system not called a sort of Communism?

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