One of the most common complaints about the coalition government in the UK, going by online comments left on various news articles and op-ed pieces, is that “no one voted for this” – this being the Liberal Conservative coalition and its recently released platform.
There is some truth to that statement – indeed, no one did vote for a coalition government. However, no one voted for any sort of government.
In a parliamentary system, people vote to elect someone to represent them in the legislative body. The elected members of that body then decide what form the government will take. That is the reality of our system; unfortunately, too many forget that, or don’t understand that. They go to the polls thinking “I want Party A to win”, or “I don’t care who wins, as long as it’s not Party B”. People vote for a party (or against a party), or for that party’s leader (or again, against a certain party leader). They may not even really know the names of the various candidates in their riding – they look for the party name and mark their ballot accordingly.
What the people voted for in the UK resulted in 307 seats for the Conservative Party, 258 seats for Labour, 57 seats for the Liberal Democrats, and 28 seats going to MPs from other parties, a minority, or hung, parliament. With no party claiming a majority of the seats in the House of Commons, what happened after that is exactly what was supposed to happen – the elected MPs started negotiating, and ultimately formed a government consisting of a coalition between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
Voters who supported the Conservative and Lib Dem parties did so based on those parties’ respective manifestos (one hopes). They did not vote for either the Conservatives or Lib Dems thinking they would form a coalition, or based on the coalition programme released on 20 May 2010. Of course key policies of both parties were dropped in favour of a joint programme, consequently, it’s natural that supporters of both parties would be disappointed – especially if one of the policies they liked the most is one that was dropped.
But this does not change the fact that the system worked the way it was supposed to, and that the resulting government is perhaps closer to what people voted for than any majority government has been. Together, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats represent 55% of the seats, and almost 60% of the popular vote. The last majority Labour government was formed with only 35% of the popular vote (winning 55% of the seats) – clearly a result far less representative of what people actually voted for.