Friday, April 30, 2010


Thanks to the ever-splendid Economist, I discovered a new word this week: psephology, the study of elections, voting patterns and electoral behaviour, and the forecasting of election results.

I don't know how many of you follow UK politics, but the general election is coming up, and the race has been shaken and stirred by the country's first televised debates between the leaders of the three main political parties: Labour (Gordon Brown), Conservative (David Cameron), and Liberal Democrat (Nick Clegg).

Yes, the first. Ten years into the 21st century, the UK has dipped its toe into the 20th century media approach to electioneering. The psephologists are having a blast.

UK elections are not like US elections. For one thing, UK voters cast their votes for the party (that is, for a Member of Parliament), and the parties select the leaders. The leader of the party with the most MPs becomes Prime Minister. The PM is not, officially, the head of state--that job is taken (hint: she wear a big shiny crown)--but head of government.

There have been three political parties in the UK for a 150 years or so. But since the 1920s, elections have been a two-horse race between the Conservative Party (also known as the Tories) and the Labour Party. The Liberal Party (now the Liberal Democratic Party) got sidelined.

Anyway, the televised, presidential-candidate style debate has turned the whole thing upside down. Various polls put the Tories in first, the Lib Dems in second, and Labour third. (They're changing all the time. It's pretty exciting--y'know, as these things go.)

This could be huge. For one thing, whoever wins (it'll be the Tories) will need to play nicely with the Lib Dems. Which means the Lib Dems' policies, particularly their long-held belief in proportional representation, will have to be taken on board. Which means the whole 2-party, first-post-the-post structure of UK elections will change. The UK will become more like many European nations, with coalition governments. This is a good thing, in my opinion. They'll have to start acting like grownups instead of hooting at each like children when parliament is sitting.

So who would I vote for? Arthur, of course.

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