Yesterday, The United Kingdom held a general election for Parliament, called for by Prime Minister Theresa May. With the results in for the most part (one seat remains in the ether apparently) it appears that there is a “hung parliament.” For Americans (and non-parliamentarians) this may be a confusing phrase. So I decided today to look into it and write about it. If you happen to be british, and want to expand or correct something in my essay, feel free to leave a comment. I’m always willing to learn, and I’m using primarily online sources right now, which can be a bit vague or misleading at times. If you are not British or American, I apologise for the americentric viewpoint of this essay. I’m doing this from the viewpoint of an US citizen trying to understand British government. If you want to share how your government compares, I’m also interested in hearing it.
The UK is a democracy that works under a parliamentary model. Which the US does as well, although we added our own twists on things. There are some similarities between Parliament and Congress. For example, its bicameral, although how representatives are elected to both houses is different. Parliament’s two houses are the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The House of Lords, as the title suggests is members of noble families and members of the clergy of the Church of England, and they are appointed, rather than elected. The House of Commons on the other hand is an elected body.
Within the House of Commons, there are several parties. Unlike in the US, the UK is not a two-party system in practice or theory. There are several parties, and 650 seats. A party with a majority of more than 50% of the vote is considered the head of the government. However, when there is no sure majority the parliament is known as a “hung parliament”. In this case, two or more parties will join together to form a coalition government.
This is different from the United States, which uses a simple Majority style. The party with the most seats is head of the house in which they are in(currently the Republican Party). They in turn elect the person who would hold the senior positions in the house (Speaker of the House; President Pro Tempore) In the UK, even if a party has more seats, it does not automatically give it power. They have to have a strong majority, with over half of the votes. Once that is settled (or a coalition/minority government is formed), the Queen will choose a Prime Minister from the party which holds the majority.
Its near impossible for the United States to have a similar situation. If the Senate (with 100 members) was equally divided) they would still have the President of the Senate – the Vice President. This would create a majority for one party or another. The House has 435 members, which makes it hard to really have a 50/50 vote. On the other hand the United States also has a hard-stuck two-party system which has denied many other views/parties into the mainstream campaigning.
Elections are held every five years as of 2011 in the UK unless a vote is taken to make a special election (as what happened this year) and receives a 2/3rd majority vote in the House of Commons. Prior to yesterday’s election, the Conservative party (sometimes known as Tories) had the majority, and thus their prime Minister was Theresa May. The Prime Minister appoints the rest of the cabinet as well, which is the government formed.
With a hung Parliament we will have to see which parties will join to create the coalition government. Coalition governments usually come in two forms – a formal arrangement where the two parties join together to pass legislation and both hold roles in the cabinet/government, or an informal one where the smaller party agrees to support the larger parties agenda without a strong role in the government. Reports so far seem to be Conservatives (who have 49% of the vote and still a technical majority) and the Democratic Union party (who has 1.5) will be joining together to form an informal coalition of 50.5 percent of the vote. An unlikely but also possible scenario is that a re-election in August might be made if the Conservatives can not form enough of a working majority to push for their agenda.
It should be interesting to see what happens in the coming months as Brexit negotiations begin and the new government formed by Minster May gets working.
It also shows an interesting look into what may happen in the future elections in the US. The Conservative rule that seemed to be elected in the last few elections in various countries seems to be swinging to a more moderate stance. This could affect the United States too as it comes to mid-term elections next year.
Wikipedia: Parliament of the United Kingdom
Wikipedia: General Election 2017 Results
Guardian: What is a hung parliament
BBC: General Election what you need to know
CBS: What happens if the Senate splits 50-50