Judgment Day in the UK

Today’s a very important day to me. It’s the first time since I started seriously studying the British political system that the country is having a general election.

At this point, roughly five hours before actual results start coming in, I have no idea what party is going to win. That’s what makes it so exciting and so nerve-wracking. As someone planning to move (legally, thank you) to the UK in September for school, I like to think I have some small stake in this election, even though I’m not a citizen.

The British system is also interesting to follow because of how different it is from our U.S. system. In Britain, a parliamentary democracy, you vote for the party, not the candidate. The party that wins the majority of seats gets to form a government (what we in the U.S. would refer to as an administration). Districts have MPs like we have congressmen in the U.S., but you can’t, say, vote for an MP of one party and a prime minister of another. It’s straight-ticket voting.

It’s been fascinating to read people’s complaints and comments on the BBC for the past few days. There’s talk of tactical voting — voting AGAINST one party, just to keep them out, but not necessarily voting for a party that has a legitimate chance of winning. There are complaints of the “first past the post” system, which disallows run-offs and makes it so a party could theoretically get a smaller popular vote percentage and still win. And, just like in the U.S., people are worried about immigration (don’t worry guys, I speak English), their pensions (“I don’t have enough to retire on!”), council taxes (they’re really too high) and the national debt (which they seem to equally blame Labour and the Conservatives for — Labour for being in power, the Conservatives for being pro-business).

As to who I’d vote for given the chance, I really can’t say (and not even sure that I should). I just know that this is high political drama at its best and that everyone should be paying attention, even if you don’t know who on earth Nick Clegg is (he’s the leader of the possibly king-making Liberal Democrats).

Auntie Beeb has a nifty little election section on its site. If you go to the main BBC News site, you’ll see the election coverage relegated to the upper right-hand corner, with major international news getting front-and-center play. It’s such a British thing to do — “Move on, nothing to see here! Oh, right then, suppose there’s an election today of some sort…”

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