Discussion: The Voting System
Public confidence in Brown’s economic crisis-management skills briefly boosted his standing in opinion polls, but his lackluster personality and a sluggish economy set the stage for a Conservative comeback in the May 2010 elections. The British economy has bounced back from the post-2008 global recession faster than the EU as a whole. The UK had one of the lowest unemployment rates in 2014-2015 and the highest rate of GNP growth among Europe’s major economies. Britain’s addiction to deficit spending and public debt continues despite unpopular austerity measures that the Conservatives under Prime Minister David Cameron have put into effect.
In a referendum held in May 2011, British voters roundly defeated a proposal to change the UK’s tradition-bound first-past-the-post electoral system to a new Alternative Vote (AV) system. Under the AV system, voters rank candidates in order of preference; if no one gets 50%, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated and voters’ second choices are allocated to the candidates; that process continues until a winner emerges. The Conservative “Lib Dem” coalition pushed for this change. Labour opposed it, fearing it was part of a larger Tory strategy aimed at changing constituency boundaries (called “redistricting” in the United States)
In 2010, PM Cameron unveiled a plan calling for deep cuts in public spending as a cure for Britain’s chronic budget deficits. This austerity plan came at a time when sluggish growth and rising unemployment prompted many economists to call for stimulus rather than austerity. Cameron’s deficit reduction target for 2012 was missed, despite the Tory government’s unpopular belt-tightening policies.
Even a steadily falling unemployment rate in 2013–2014 did not placate disgruntled voters. In 2014 by-elections, the populist UK Independence Party (UKIP) won 17% of the popular vote nationally—roughly the same share as Labour—taking half its votes from the Conservatives. That showing positioned UKIP to be the spoiler in the May 2015 national elections.
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