The United Kingdom is going through election turmoil which is vaguely reminiscent of the Florida recount here in the US in 2004.
The British have, as you learned in Mr. Vince Mirandi's world history class in high school, a parliamentary system of government which means, at its most basic level, the head of the legislature is also the head of government.
If we had such a system, Nancy Pelosi would have those jobs. Prime Minister Pelosi.
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Sorry. I had to buy, pour, and drink a small cask of medicinal brandy after I typed that, to settle my nerves.
The British Prime Minister (and all the other ministers) tend to be of the same party, which is pretty efficient. However, in some elections, such as the one which was held last week, none of three main parties: the Conservatives, Labour, nor the Liberal Democrats, won a clear majority of 326 seats in the 650 member body.
The results of the election (with one seat still undecided) are:
- Conservatives 306 (+97 from the previous Parliament)
- Labour 258 (-91)
- Liberal Democrats 57 (-5)
- Others 28
The sitting Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, of the Labour Party, continues to function as Prime Minister while the head of the Conservatives (also known as the Tories), David Cameron and the head of the Lib Dems, Nick Clegg, try to work out a deal which would give the Tories a majority and allow Cameron to form a government.
This situation has only happened four times in the past 100 years - the last time in 1974 - so there is not a great deal of institutional memory of how this should work in practice.
Even though the United Kingdom is officially known as a "constitutional monarchy," there is no single document which Britons can point to as their constitution. The government operates based on a serious of laws, court rulings and official agreements, and commonly accepted practices (common law) which have stood the country in good stead over the past 750-or-so years.
As an example, in the British system no bill can become law without the approval of the Sovereign - known as the principle of Royal Assent - from which the concept of the power of a U.S. President to veto a bill adopted by Congress derives.
In the U.K., this power has not been invoked since Queen Anne did it in 1708.