The most important British election in decades is happening today, with the possibility of third-party success and real electoral reform as an outcome. Polls right now (also here) have the Conservative Party leading at 36%, Labour at 28%, and the Liberal Democrats at 26%. Because Britain does not have proportional representation, but rather a plurality system like the United States, those do not likely represent the percentage of seats won in Parliament, where a party needs 326 seats in the House of Commons to get a working majority. Fivethirtyeight predicts 308 seats for the Tories, 198 for Labour, and 113 for the Lib Dems:
The interesting part is that neither the Conservatives nor a Labour-Lib Dem bloc in this scenario would be able to form a government, leading to a hung parliament and a possible Tory minority government.
The U.K. Telegraph, however, is reporting that the Conservatives might make a deal with some Ulster Unionists in order to secure a working majority. While this would likely be wildly unpopular I wouldn’t put it past the Tories to accept this coalition.
What all this hopefully means, though, is that electoral reform is on the horizon in Great Britain. Even if the Liberal Democrats don’t win a majority of the popular vote, the dissatisfaction of Britons with the two main parties and the unrepresentative character of British elections is likely to lead to major changes in the direction of proportional representation there in the future. Now more than ever, a popular Lib Dem party winning 28% of the total vote but being awarded ~17% of the seats (~113 out of 650) is going to be seen as grossly unjust. Of course, whether a vote is forced on electoral reform is questionable unless there is considerable public pressure; David Cameron and the Conservatives are adamantly opposed to it and the Labour Party has tossed out the idea of a referendum if there were to be a Labour-Lib Dem coalition government, but nothing more. Neither party apparatus wants to lose seats due to electoral reform, and the power of big finance capital in the City of London doesn’t seem to care much either – so any pressure to change will have to come from below.
Personally, I would argue for a vote to the very good Green Party UK. Greens have been working hard there against climate change, for electoral reform, against the war, for labor rights – virtually the same as we Greens here in the United States. The GPUK has even brought attention to the Lib Dem wavering commitment on electoral reform in the UK as a precondition of any coalition government.
Regardless, the outcome of this election is likely to be immediate and crucially important for the future of British politics.