A very strange British election
The good people of the United Kingdom went to the polls last week, and a very strange outcome ensued.
No party managed to garner sufficient votes to command a majority in parliament. David Cameron’s Conservative Party gained the most seats, but fell short of a majority. Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Labour got hammered in the polls after 13 years in power, but still retained second spot. Newcomer Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats, previously the wallflowers of British politics, now held the balance of power and were the centre of attention as a coalition government loomed.
Cameron was triumphant, pointing out that his party had enjoyed a massive swing in the vote, and was clearly the people’s choice to rule. Instead of resigning and allowing Cameron to form a government, however, Prime Minister Brown had other plans.
He quickly sat down with Clegg, convinced him of the political affinities of the Labour and Lib-Dem parties, roped in some nationalist fringe parties with promises of government largesse, and announced that a Lab-Lib coalition was on the cards, with the unpopular Brown himself at its helm.
The outrage across the land was immediate. Cameron denounced the plans as a “coalition of rejects”, and made pointed reference to strange irregularities in various polling stations, including people being denied the right to vote. Brown had to abandon an attempt to be sworn in at dusk at Buckingham Palace, where he was chased out by an angry Queen in her nightgown.
The Tories enjoyed overwhelming support in the City of London, the country’s financial heart. Leading City figures began making statements claiming a Lab-Lib coalition would be catastrophic for the economy. The pound began plummeting, and share prices went quickly south. In the affluent heartlands of Conservative support, people began marching in the streets denouncing the deal. There were threats to uproot railway lines and invade Heathrow Airport from Surrey to prevent flights from taking off or landing.
As the UK threatened to descend into civil war, the international community began intervening. The Kenyan High Commissioner in London asked all parties to the dispute to behave with maturity and make decisions in the interest of the people, not themselves. The European Union sent in their president with an offer to mediate, but he was sent packing. The Prime Minister’s spokesman stated that the EU president had just “come for a cup of tea.”
As the whole region watched in disbelief, the UK came to a political and economic standstill. African countries decided to take charge. Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General and successful broker of a coalition deal in Kenya, flew in to offer his services. He was accepted by both sides, and soon headed a reconciliation process.
However, the talks threatened to derail due to intemperate language, and Annan roped in Kenya’s president Mwai Kibaki and prime minister Raila Odinga to explain to the warring factions the need for national unity at a time of crisis and for leaders to make sacrifices in order to heal the nation. Kenya was held up as an example of successful coalition government that had shown the way.
It is reported that a personal private intervention by President Kibaki swung the day. He is believed to have advised the British leaders that if the UK did not get its act together its citizens might be barred from viewing Kenyan wildlife, and from participating in the annual Kenyan Rhino Charge. Sources confirmed that looks of genuine fear flashed across the negotiation room.
Shortly afterward, the three leaders came out in front of the world’s cameras and announced that Brown would resign with full honours, and Cameron and Clegg would lead a new government. There were handshakes and cheers all round, with Annan, Kibaki and Odinga clapping their approval.
OK, you know very well that most of that didn’t happen. But it’s always a joy when the Brits get themselves into a spot of bother. The truth is rather different. Brown made only the most half-hearted attempt to cling on, and soon saw the mood of the country was against him. There was no violence and no need for outside intervention. No foreign ambassadors needed to issue statements and ultimatums. The will of the people, who did not see it fit to give a majority to any one party, was reflected in the final government that was formed.
A coalition government was in place less than a week after the election, and held its first cabinet meeting immediately to focus on the economy. Note also that the cabinet lineup contains people like William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Ken Clarke, all former prime ministerial aspirants, now accepting more modest cabinet posts. The cabinet’s first act was to announce a 5% pay cut and five-year salary freeze for ministers.
We have great lessons to learn in political maturity.