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UK Election 2010: What's So Bad About a Hung Parliament?

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The top term in this week's UK election 2010 seems to be "hung Parliament." I'll translate this British phrase for Americans in a minute, but first let's look at the numbers.

The Parliament of the United Kingdom, the 'Mot...

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According to the general election 2010: poll of polls in guardian.co.uk, Conservatives lead with 34.8 percent, up a tick from a week ago. Labour and Liberal Democrats are tied with 28.0 percent, roughly were they were a week earlier.

In other words, the second leaders debate on the Sky News HD channel, which only pulled in a total live audience of over 4 million viewers on Thursday night, didn't change the dynamic of the three-horse race. As David Worsfold corrected predicted on April 22 in the Parliamentary Connections blog, "The second leaders' debate was much closer than the first and for that reason I imagine all three parties will be taking some satisfaction from the performance of their leaders. I wouldn't be surprised if the polls end up making it a score draw."

If you look at Google Insights for Search, you'll see a different picture. Web search interest in Nick Clegg remains higher than David Cameron and Gordon Brown. So, maybe voters are still trying to get comfortable with Clegg, who isn't as well known as Brown and Cameron.

If you look at regional interest, it's especially high for Clegg in Scotland and England as well as Manchester, Brentford, and London.

If you compare how many Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and YouTube views each of the three parties had a week ago on Sunday, April 18, and how many they had yesterday, April 25, here's what you'll see:

The Labour Party's Facebook fans increased from 24,205 to 29,852 in the past week. UK Labour's Twitter followers barely moved from 14,693 to 15,371. But total upload views on theuklabourparty's channel on YouTube jumped dramatically from 1,247,495 to 1,333,861. In fact, the channel was the #47 Most Viewed this past week in the Gurus category in the United Kingdom.

The most popular Labour video with 87,290 views is Eddie Izzard - Brilliant Britain.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives' Facebook fans jumped from 48,525 to 64,658 in the past week. The Conservatives' Twitter followers increased modestly from 27,186 to 28,632. And total upload views on webcameronuk's channel on YouTube jumped dramatically from 1,885,421 to 2,061,288. In fact, the channel was the #31 Most Viewed this past week in the United Kingdom.

The most popular Conservative video with 109,818 views is WebSamCameron: Samantha Cameron visits Yorkshire. But right behind that with 108,239 views is David Cameron: What it takes to change a country.

Finally, the Liberal Democrats' Facebook fans jumped from 36,822 to 65,236 in the past week. The LibDems' Twitter followers increased from 14,651 to 17,440. And the channel views on LibDem's channel on YouTube jumped from 109,026 to 117,173. In fact, the channel was the #52 Most Viewed this past week in the Directors category in the United Kingdom.

The most popular LibDem video with 22,023 views is Liberal Democrats: Say goodbye to broken promises.

In other words, it's trench warfare in social media as well as mainstream media in the UK election 2010, where each party battles in no man's land for a few yards of ground.

This has led many political observers to conclude that the UK Election 2010 will end with a "hung Parliament."

Now, according to Wikipedia, "a hung parliament is one in which no political party has an outright majority of seats." That's fairly normal in Germany, Italy, and the Republic of Ireland. But a hung parliament is a rarity in the United Kingdom.

The most recently elected hung parliament in the United Kingdom followed the February 1974 general election, and it lasted until the October election that year.

Many Americans, who grew up in a system of checks and balances, may not think that a hung parliament sounds like such a bad thing. But the British, who expect their government to be able to actually do things, are repelled by the very notion.

And with the current lack of bipartisanship in our two-party system, maybe we should be a little more understanding about the challenge facing their three-party system.

Or, we can always stand back and poke fun at them.

There was an editorial in yesterday's Boston Sunday Globe today entitled, "British debaters: 'You're no Jack Kennedy.'" It poked a little fun at "Britain's belated surrender to the American way."

First, the Brits staged televised debates among the leaders of the three parties. "This abject submission to American-style politics turns British traditions upside-down and inside-out," warned the newspaper.

Next, the Brits adopted the "Yankee innovation of instant 'dial groups.'" So, "no sooner had the candidates ceased speaking than kibitzers in a TV studio concluded that the indisputable winner was the heretofore little-known leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg," wrote The Boston Globe.

The New England newspaper worried that "Britain's parliamentary system is being subverted. Thanks to practices borrowed from American presidential campaigns, a two-party race has become a three-party affair and instead of choosing a stodgy party, as they are accustomed to doing, British citizens are being asked to vote for a charismatic prime minister."

The editorial concluded, "Where will it all end? Will Labor's Gordon Brown ask Nick Clegg, 'Where the beef?'' Might Conservative leader David Cameron say to Brown, 'There you go again?'' We Americans can only hope Britain's new supreme court does not end up anointing the next British prime minister."

Remember how the rest of the world poked fun at Americans after the 2000 presidential election made "hanging chads" a search term? So, let's cut our British cousins some slack for thinking that a "hung Parliament" may be a bad thing.

As Samuel Johnson wrote back in 1777, "Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."

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