Near-Anarchy in the UK

Saturday, May 8, 2010
By Paul Martin

By Colby Cosh

By Colby Cosh

It is all crawling toward an uncertain conclusion, but the sanest guess I’ve heard, though also among the most counterintuitive ones, came from the historian Simon Schama at about 9 a.m. British Summer Time today. Schama did not put it quite this way, but he believes that Britain is about to become Canada—a country governed by a Conservative minority with the tacit support of the Liberals. He didn’t explain why, but here’s my theory.

Literally all the major parties are losers as of this morning. The Conservatives have enjoyed their greatest seat gain since 1983, but are certain to pull up somewhat short of a majority. Labour has been reduced to what are ordinarily called “Michael Foot levels” of parliamentary strength and vote share. The Lib Dem boom has translated into no seat gain to speak of—indeed, perhaps a very small loss. But the Conservatives and the combined Lib-Lab forces may be so close to one another in seat count that neither will be able to govern without the aid of the smaller nationalist parties of the Celtic fringe—the Scottish Nationalists, Ulster Unionists, and Plaid Cymru, in some combination.

It looks like Britain will have not just a hung parliament, but one positively tied up in sadistic Japanese-style rope bondage. In any other election, this might not be a problem. But the idea here is to form a government that will be able to inflict Spartan budget agonies on the public sector—a part of the economy that is most outsized in Celtica. For the nationalist parties, the price of support in the Commons will be the same as it always is: money, in the form of new public services. (Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalist party, has been particularly successful on this score over the decades; in 1979 they obtained an eventual total of a quarter-billion pounds in compensation for infirm Welsh miners, and are credited with the creation of the Welsh television station S4C.)

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