openDemocracyUK

The slow death of the "Westminster model"

Patrick Dunleavy has another fascinating post up on the LSE Politics and Policy blog in which he examines the future of the "Westminster model" in light of the recent Australian election which delivered a hung parliament in which neither Labour nor the Liberal-National coalition can form a majority.
Guy Aitchison
24 August 2010

Patrick Dunleavy has another fascinating post up on the LSE Politics and Policy blog in which he examines the future of the "Westminster model" in light of the recent Australian election which delivered a hung parliament in which neither Labour nor the Liberal-National coalition can form a majority.

Dunleavy observes that:

For the first time in history, the Australian outcome means that every key ‘Westminster model’ country in the world now has a hung Parliament. These are the former British empire countries that according to decades of political science orthodoxy are supposed to produce strong, single party government. Following Duverger’s Law their allegedly ‘majoritarian’ electoral systems (first past the post and AV) will typically produce reinforced majorities for one of the top two parties.

But now the table below shows that four of the five key countries have coalition governments in balanced parliaments where no party has a majority. The one exception is Canada, where the Parliament has been hung since 2004, across three general elections. 

Dunleavy produces the following table showing the dynamics favouring electoral reform in five key Westminster model countries as they move towards multi-party systems in which hung parliaments are increasingly the norm.

Country (and population) 

Current Parliamentary and government situation

Electoral reform position

India
(1,187 million people)

-Hung parliament including a large number of parties (perhaps 45, depending how you count them).
-The government is an 18 party coalition, headed by Congress; the rival BJP bloc also includes many parties.

-Political movements for the Dalit people ("untouchables") are campaigning for proportional representation, and reform is backed by the Indian Communist Party. However, electoral reform debates are still at an early stage.

United Kingdom
(62 million people)

-Hung Parliament
-A Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government is in power.

-A referendum on adopting the Alternative Vote electoral system will be held in May 2011.
-The coalition government will announce plans for a wholly or mainly elected upper house, reforming the House of Lords, in January 2011.
-PR elections are already in place for Scotland, Wales, London and electing Euro MEPs.

Canada
(34 million people)

-Hung Parliament across three general elections
-A Conservative minority government is in power.

-There have been significant efforts to change from FPTP elections to PR elections in several provinces, so far unsuccessful

Australia
(22 million people)

-Hung Parliament and two top parties neck and neck - whoever forms the government will depend on the votes of Independent MPs

-The Alternative Vote is used for the lower house, and STV for upper house elections.

New Zealand
(4.4 million people)

-A coalition government is in power, and no party has had a majority in balanced Parliaments since the voting system reform in 1996.

-New Zealand adopted an Additional Member system of PR in 1996, following two referendums for reform.

He concludes that:

Although ‘Westminster model’ countries continue to share a powerful institutional heritage, it seems doubtful that the electoral aspects of the model can ever be the same again. For the UK’s forthcoming referendum on adopting the Alternative Vote, this recognition that the world as a whole is changing towards more complex and multi-party politics may sway some more voters and politicians towards backing reform.

Then again, since the Australian system, like ‘first past the post’ elections, has now failed to produce a clear electoral outcome, those who hanker after artificial majorities may take it as further reason for opposing change.

Read more about the AV referendum in OurKingdom's Referendum Plus section.

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