US and UK politics – fair or unfair?

by: Mohamed Awil 

In this article, we will focus on some aspects of British and US politics.

British politics can be confusing sometimes so I will try to break it down for you. The British parliament has two chambers, the House of Lords and the House of Commons; we will focus on the latter.
The House of Commons consists of members elected by voters from the different districts. The United Kingdom has a winner takes it all system that benefits the two major parties, but contrary to US politics, other parties can have a political impact. British politics consists of the two major parties; the Conservatives and the Labour party, but we also have the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish Nationalist Party, Plaid Cymru, the Green party, UKIP and the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party.

On the 8th of June Theresa May, the PM from the Conservative party also called the Tories, lost a snap general election that she had called for a few months earlier. The Conservative party already had a decisive majority of seats in the House of Commons, but she wanted to increase this majority ahead of the Brexit talks.
The polls gave May and her party a lead of about 20 percent ahead of her rival, Jeremy Corbyn from Labour. Nobody thought that Corbyns hard-left socialist rhetoric would appease the voters. He and the Labour party surprised all the media pundits when they gained almost 20 new seats, and increased their percentage of the vote by nearly 10 percent. The Conservatives on the other hand actually lost 13 seats and was forced to make a deal with the DUP(Democratic Unionist Party) to maintain majority if a vote of no confidence was ever to happen.

But how does the British election process happen?
Each party has nomination processes, where the members of the party elect their PM candidate, but this candidate also needs to have the support of the MPs(member of parliament). After that, they campaign for people to vote their party, not for the PM candidate but the party. That is because in the United Kingdom you have 650 constituencies where you elect one MP, who will later elect the PM on behalf of you and your party. They use the winner takes it all system. So the PM must have the backing of the parliament, and that’s why PM May was so desperate to make a deal with The DUP.

If we take a look at how things are done across the Atlantic ocean you would notice some difference. In the US we have the primaries, and then the general election where everyone who can vote has several names to choose between. In the primaries, registered members of the Democratic Party or the Republicans can participate and vote for their candidate. When a candidate is chosen, a delegate binds him or herself to the candidate and pledges to vote for him or her on the day of the party convention.
You also have constituencies in the US, and here they use a political technique that is different from Norwegian and British politics. It’s called gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering is a term created by a local newspaper in the 19th century when they wrote about a politician called Gerry. He redrew the legislative districts for political reasons. This has been the tradition from that time in both major parties. If we look at some selected states, we can see that the Democratic Party received more than 40% of the vote, yet they only got a quarter of the representatives in the state assembly.
They use this method so that they can win more districts. Gerrymandering for partisan reasons is legal, but for racial reasons is illegal and punishable by law.
Gerrymandering is quite common in the US but does not exist in the UK or Norway.

I believe that gerrymandering is dangerous for American democracy, and diminishes the power of the voters. However, the United States isn’t the only nation that somewhat suppresses the voters’ powers by political techniques. In the British general election of 2015, the United Kingdom Independence Party or UKIP won 12 percent of the popular vote, yet they only received one seat in the House of Commons. The Scottish Nationalist Party received 4,7 percent of the vote but had more than 56 seats in the House. This is because of the winner takes it all system, that mainly benefits the two main parties, but also nationalist parties. How can you claim that all voices are heard when 12% of the voters almost did not have any representation in the House of Commons?

American and British politics and democracies are admired around the world, but they do have their flaws. No democracy is perfect, all we can do is work for the betterment of our social institutions.

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