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.
Over the weekend the BBC reported that Gordon Brown remains at Number 10 (10 Downing Street is the address of the Prime Minister's Residence) because he is: "He is sticking to the letter of Britain's unwritten constitution."
One doesn't know if "sticking to the letter" of an "unwritten constitution" was an example of British understated humor, as dry as Gordon's gin (which, because I was writing about Gordon Brown is an example of broad, in-your-face, Mullings humor); or, it was the result of the BBC editing staff having taken the weekend off.
The United Kingdom has been reduced in importance and influence in world affairs. In fact, if American's didn't love the way high-class Britons speak English, we might not care about them at all.
The U.K. ranks behind the U.S., China, Germany and maybe Russia. But the U.K. is way ahead of France on the "who-cares-what-they-think" scale.
Sometime this week there will be a new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He will come to the U.S. to visit with President Obama who, as we speak, is having an updated collection of his speeches burned to a CD, along with an autographed official Presidential to give as a present.