Tasmanian Times


Two Nicks trying to change adversarial politics

Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats in Britain is going very well in the polls and in three-way leaders’ debates. His party is currently the third political force in UK politics.

David Cameron, leader of the Conservatives is hoping to end the long reign of the British Labor Party under former Prime Minister Tony Blair and latterly the hapless Gordon Brown.

Gordon Brown’s Labor Party is relegated into third place in all the polls but it smugly believes that the Liberal-Democrats will allow them to govern in minority. Nick Clegg’s Liberal-Democrats have increased their popular support to be neck-and-neck with the Conservatives. Mr Brown is relying on its strong concentrations of Labor constituencies to retain sufficient seats in the House of Commons to command a chance to form a minority government with the aid of the Liberal-Democrats.

Unlike Tasmania’s Hare-Clark proportional representation system, the British first past 50% of votes-plus-1 electoral system means that although Mr Clegg may have over a third of the popular vote in Britain, they will obtain far less than that proportion of the seats in the Commons. That’s their system.

There are some stiking similarities and points of difference between Tasmania’s recent election outcome and the likely result of the up-coming British election. Both elections are three-way contests in Westminster-style democracies. The emergence of a third political force has emerged out of disillusionment with the two mainstream political parties epitomised by stale politics, self-serving parliamentarians, a lack of ethical conduct and a series of political scandals.

Mr Clegg and Tasmanian Greens leader, Mr McKim have more in common than their first name. Both are conviction politicians and leaders of relatively new political parties. Both want to be part of government and realise they can be king-makers in a minority government.

After David Cameron went public stating that a vote for any party other than the Conservatives would be a vote for a re-elected Gordon Brown-Labor government, Nick Clegg went on the front foot immediately. He courageously told Britains that if Labor was relegated into third place in the popular vote – as the poll continue to predict – his party would not be awarding government to Gordon Brown by default. BOOM BOOM!!

Gordon Brown had taken it for granted that even in a minority Parliament, Labor would get back in AGAIN on the back of Liberal-Democrat support. Apparently not!

See the contrast?

It’s still a few weeks out to the election – dirty tricks from Labor could still happen to try and kill off the Liberal-Democrats vote – but Mr Clegg certainly senses that the British electorate is in no mood to see Labor re-installed for another 4 years!

Unlike Nick McKim, Nick Clegg has declared his hand before the election and stated that in a minority Parliament he will not be supporting the incumbent.

Both are modelled on British-adversarial parliaments, yet one is a very large democracy of over 65 million people and the other, a diminutive one of half a million. Political tactics is an art as much as a science; sensing the popular mood, anticipating the reaction of your political opponents and predicting the turn of events makes politics the hubristic power game that can turn good, altruistic individuals into bullies and psychopaths.

The Tasmanian Greens and the Liberal-Democrats in Britain are both third-force, new-age parties. I watch with interest their tactics of their leaders and how successful they are in gaining influence in minority governments.

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  1. Dr Kevin Bonham

    April 26, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    Clegg’s comments about the popular vote could well set up a rerun of what has happened in Tasmania where there was a mainstream media feeding frenzy about who would govern, based on such comments by the leaders, that ignored the fact that governments are formed as a result of confidence or otherwise on the floor of the House, which often depends on the outcome of negotiations between the parties.

    It’s all very well for Clegg to say he will attempt to cut a deal with the Tories first if Labor are third in the popular vote. But the sticking point for the LibDems is and always has been electoral reform to a PR system. If the Tories won’t consider that reform while Labor will, then it probably makes no difference who the LibDems try to negotiate with first.

    All Clegg is doing here is setting himself up to be wedged from both sides – now Brown has ammunition to say that a vote for the LibDems is a vote for the Tories. Indeed this is already happening:

    “voters who flirt with Nick Clegg are likely to end up married to David Cameron” – Lord Mandelson.

    Technically, “the popular vote” in single-seat systems is almost always humbug in some way or other as an indicator of support for parties. This is because incumbent governments will always pursue strategies aimed at retaining close seats, many narrow victories being better than a few large ones. In the UK, the popular vote is especially meaningless because strategic voting is rife, co-ordinated and openly encouraged.

    The Greens here did declare before the election that they were prepared to negotiate with either party and they did not set any real restrictions on negotiation (apart from hints that a few policy areas were important to them and unlikely to [i]really[/i] be on the table). They did not say anything that committed them to dealing in any particular way and that would have allowed for effective stereotyping along the lines of “a vote for the Greens is a vote for Liberal/Labor” (there were attempts in both directions but these fell flat.) This is a small part of the reason the Green vote was so high.

    Post the election, it is not as if the Greens have played a card they did not declare before the election. They had always strongly indicated they might well pursue some kind of power-sharing arrangement with either party or both parties. Rather, the ball was in Will Hodgman’s court if he wanted to assume government, and he just wasn’t interested, so Labor was the only available option.

  2. Doug Nichols

    April 26, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    “…the British first past 50% of votes-plus-1 electoral system…”??

    Where does this description come from? Isn’t the British System generally termed “first past the post”? The “50% plus 1” label sounds more like what the House of Representatives’ system attempts to achieve and doesn’t properly describe the British system, where all you need is more votes than any other candidate (if you got 50% plus 1 of the votes then you would have every right to claim the seat). Although it is a poor system, it has to be said that however you count up the votes in a single-member system (first-past-the-post or preferential), the results will always be skewed in favour of the major parties. Hare-Clark produces a fairer result chiefly because of its multi-member electorates. We’re very lucky.

  3. Dismord

    April 26, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    My suspicion is Garrett didn’t actually believe his own spin, just as numberless consequently wealthy rock stars have learnt, appearing to care about the environment etc is all that matters.

  4. autofear

    April 26, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    Why didn’t either major party see the world economic collapse coming? What were they doing?
    They were both causing it, with backward policy that is invariably the same as their ‘opponents’.
    How many whales has Peter Garrett saved? Why do both support trashing Tasmania? This clip doesn’t have the answers but it has some of the ‘evidence’.

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