A Quick Overview Of The UK Political System
The Ukanian constitutional system is quite unusual and seems archiac in many respects. This is due to the fact that there has been no major revolutions in recent history so reform has been piecemeal and built upon quasi-mediavel foundations. There are two houses in the legislature, the Commons and the Lords. The Commons is democratically elected via the first past the post system. The Lords (weak UK equivalent of the Senate) is unelected and consists of Prime Ministerial appointed peers, heriditary peers, bishops of the Church Of England and senior judges or 'Law Lords'. As you can imagine the undemocratic nature of the Lords means that governments are formed from the majority party in the Commons but this is a custom, not a an actual law!
The formal powers of state rest with the Queen and she appoints the Prime Minister. She bestows upon him the Royal Perogative which gives him executive powers which are much broader than that of a US President. Again it's a custom not a law that the Prime Minister comes from the majority party in the Commons. The more centralist nature of the UK means that the Prime Minister has a lot more power over a Ukanian citizen than a president or prime minister of a Federal State such as the USA or Germany as there are no equivalents of state governments apart from Scotland and Northern Ireland (more anomalies!).
The prime ministerial candidates normally come from the leaders of the two major parties, the Labour Party and the Conservative Party. The party leaders themselves are elected by party members not in an open primary like the US. The Labour Party is on the centre left of the political spectrum and the Conservative Party is on the centre right. Similar to the Democrats and Republicans although the centre ground in British politics is further to the left than in the US and futher to the right in European terms. To make matters more confusing there is strong national third party called the Liberal Democrats who claim the absolute centre ground between the two main parties. And in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland there are strong regional parties.
Unlike other countries there is no state funding of political parties and no adverts are allowed to be run on TV. Instead broadcasters alot five minutes slots free of charge to the main political parties. This means that British national election campaigns are fairly cheap at around USD 100m in total for all parties.
Leaders and policies
The Labour Party led by Tony Blair is the favourite to win this election. It has a commanding lead in the polls of around 20% over the Conservatives. The Labour Party is standing on its fairly competent record in government and its commitment to improve public services. It is definitely in favour of big government and has a slighly authoritarian approach to social issues. Media obsessed, it will run a slick campaign. It is well funded through its links to the trade unions and certain businesses. A lot of businesses support Labour because it is more pro-European than the Conservatives and because it has managed economy reasonably.
Tony Blair has high approval ratings and has been a fairly strong prime minister. He seems to be trusted by 'Middle England' more than other Labour politicians as he is viewed as not being a socialist. His weaknesses are a tendency to dither on important political decisions and being overworried by short term media squalls. He also not a very spontaneous debater in parliament and gets regularly beaten on points by William Hague.
The Conservatives are a shadow of themselves compared to their heyday under Magaret Thatcher. They are split between pro Europeans and anti Europeans and between social permissives and social authoritarianists. They are campaigning on a xenophobic platform of against joining the Euro ("Save Our Pound") and against bogus assylum seekers (a not so subtle anti-immigration message). The free market economic policies which once united them have been stolen by Labour and in terms of government spending they are more or less keeping to what Labour has proposed.
Wiliam Hague, the leader, has many good qualities including intelligence, wit and good public speaking skills. However due to the divided nature of the Conservative Party, he comes accross as a weak leader. Also the fact that he is baby faced and balding doesn't help. He has to improve on the Conservative's crap performance in 1997 election or else he's out of the job after the election. Noone is expecting him to win though.
So how does this election affect Britain's relations with the rest of the world
If Labour wins again then expect a referendum on joining the Euro in the next couple of years. Relations between Britain and the US will be not as close as in recent years due to the differences in ideology betwen the two governments. They will reluctantly go ahead with supporting the US on the Missile Defense system but will try and delay it as much as possible. The UK will be a big supporter of UN peace keeping due to the 'idealistic' nature of the leadership of the Labour Party (ex ANC supporters etc).
If the Conservatives win then George Bush will have a great ideological soulmate as an ally. Expect visits to the US by the more mad elements of the Conservative Party to see if the UK can join Nafta. Missilew Defense, no problems. In Europe expect massive great rows with everyone and a lot of paralysis of decision making. Less likely to intervene miliarily unless Britain's commercial and strategic interest are at stake.