An American Primer to the U.K. General Elections – Part 3

To get up to speed, feel free to read parts one and two. Meanwhile, here is the Boffin’s take on what actually happens during the election.

Becoming the Prime Minister is not like becoming President.  While there is a first past the post system, it is the number of seats in Parliament which your party has that is important, and you don’t need to get past the post in order to be Prime Minister.  Confused? You will be!

The system is based around a simple premise that in order to hold onto power as Prime Minister, Parliament needs to have confidence you can get the job done.  While there isn’t a drinking competition to prove your ability to govern, there is a useful tool called a ‘Vote of No Confidence’.  In such a case, the members of the House vote on whether they think that the Government is a bunch of wankers.   If they get a majority of votes, then the Prime Minister has to go to the Queen and apologize for being a dickhead and resign.  The Queen can offer the opportunity to create a new government to anyone else.  Usually they don’t want to, and, instead, the opposition rub the nose of the previous government in it by forcing a General Election.

Therefore, the game of a general election is to get yourself in a position where you will survive a vote of no confidence.  The best way, of course, is to win more seats than everyone else put together, so you can sit around like the smug bastards you are knowing that, unless you have an internal revolt, you are safe.  However, this is not the only way.  One option, as we had recently, is to go into a coalition where one or more other parties get keys to the executive washroom and act as if they didn’t believe in anything they said during the last election about how bad you were.

Another way is to convince another group of bastards to not vote against you, then you can be the proud leader of a ‘Minority Government’.  In this case, the smaller party finds itself with all the power [Insert evil laughter].  They don’t have to vote with the government like they would if they are forced into in a coalition, instead they do it out of the kindness of their heart [More evil laughter].  First they only ask for small favors, so that they are seen to have done something in return.  Then they ask for a bit more, and then a bit more.  Finally, the government decides it’s better to go see the Queen than wonder whether the smaller party will be asking for your underwear next.  Minority governments don’t tend to last long.

So while the other parties just try to fuck it up for the two main parties, Labour and the Conservatives go into a general election with the goal of getting a majority.  Having played the game dozens of times, they are quite good at the tactics.  At the end of the day, it is less about beating the other party and more about stealing his wallet, kneeing him in the nuts, and slashing his tires.  You only care that, when the votes are counted, you have more seats than everyone else put together.

So how do you win an election?  With 650 seats in play, how do you walk away with the magic 326 (or 323 because of those nice Irish lads).  First of all, Labor and the Tories come to the starting line with at least 165 safe seats.  These are seats where your candidate could be Genghis Khan, and he would still be elected.  There are 16 seats in Northern Ireland that are ignored, and the other mainland parties have 34 safe seats.  So while you think you are looking at 650 seats, the real number is about 270 seats which matter, and if you are one of the two major parties, you need about 160 of them to win a majority.

Now you start your tactics.

  1. First you figure out where the other party is weak.  If it is your candidate who is second, then you don’t go after the first party’s voters, you go after all the other votes.  Because a seat is won not because you have the majority of the votes, just the most, you can try to bundle up the other voters in order to get ahead. Phrases like ‘A vote for the Liberal Democrats is the same as a vote for the Labour Party’ are very common.  It is a weird tactic, but it works.
  2. Now in the case that your candidate is third, and has no hope of amassing enough votes, you strongly consider pulling out or at least capitulating. Whether they learned this from studying European political tactics during WWII, I am not sure. However, it has merits. Basically, as your secondary goal is to prevent your main opposition from also amassing a majority, you have an opportunity to screw things up for them. You start playing up the strength of the second place candidate so that your votes go to them and not the bastards in the lead. Of course, this is not done unilaterally. Instead, you may agree with another party to do the same in another seat at the same time. That helps you with your #1 strategy.
  3. This is probably the most diabolical tactic out there, and only works if you are Labour or the Conservatives.  In some areas, there is a vote ceiling. Here, you might have incensed the majority of the voters due to your policies, something your leader said, or just because you’re a bit suspect. The result is that there is no way most of the people will vote for you. You’ll never get a majority in the constituency, but you will come a very strong second, as there is no way your voters would vote for anyone else. Therefore, strategies #1 & #2 will not work. If these are the only weapons in your arsenal, you might as well go down the pub and make stupid faces. However, if the third place candidate is also strong, then you play your ace and start ensuring that they do well. It sounds like they’ve already been down the pub, but hear me out. If due to your cooties you can only get 40% of the vote, then by de facto, one of the other parties could get 60% and wipe the floor with you. However, in a three party system you can try and ensure that the people not voting for you are evenly split amongst your opponents. As long as neither of them has more than 40% when the counting is done, you win. In this strategy, you attack the stronger party in a way that some of their votes go to the third place person. (Remember, they will never vote for you.) You might suggest that the two opposition parties are really the same, and there is very little to distinguish between them. Finally, you might even talk up the third place bastard and explain that they have better ideas than the other party. Remember, your sole intention is to have the voters not voting for your candidate fairly evenly distribute their votes amongst the opposition candidates, so that neither of them have more votes than your candidate.  As long as you can make this happen, then your job is done. If you are really good, then you can win a seat with only 34% of the votes (with your opposition each having 33%). Add in a 4th party like UKIP, and you might even get yourself down below 30% and still win. This is British politics at its finest.
  4. Finally there are a few seats, not many, where it is a two horse race, and you have to get in the mud and throw it.  Generally, you will pick a pit bull candidate who rip the jugular out of their opponent and piss on his remains.  With only 6 weeks, this is a street fight and only one person will come out standing. Oh, and you do it in the old fashioned way by knocking on doors and talking to people.  There are campaign finance limits in the UK, with the result that each local candidate is limited to about $50,000 in total spending money. After you’ve printed off a load of leaflets and hired someone to make the tea, you don’t have much left.  Therefore most fights are done in the streets, door-to-door, actually talking to the voters during a national campaign. Now there’s a concept.

Karen here.  Did you get all that?  I thought so.

For what it’s worth, it is all going to be over come Thursday, and the Britons will be watching the results on the telly.  We will be tuning in through our proxy server and VPN, and I am looking forward to seeing the Swingometer in its cool 21st century computer graphic form and not the Monty Python version that most Americans know.

I would like to end this on a serious note though.  My wish is that the U.K. finally have relief and resolution and get a government that truly serves the people’s needs.  They deserve better than what they have been getting.

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