David Cameron, the British election, and the peril of an Absolute Majority

British Prime Minister David Cameron is riding high. Having led his Conservative Party to an absolute majority in the House of Commons he is in a position of political power rarely experienced in western democracies.
And he’s got it for five years –David Cameron that’s how often the Brits have their elections. Such opposition as exists is in disarray, the leaders of each of the defeated opposition parties having fallen on their swords within hours of the election result being declared.
It must be a huge relief to a political leader to win a general election with an absolute majority. That is, to have more than half the votes cast come your way.
With an absolute majority you don’t have to think about anyone else.
It’s you and your mates ( male or female!), your policies and your programme. And five lovely years stretching out in front of you. That’s if you’re British Prime Minister David Cameron, that is.
Effectively, that’s what happened to John Key and the National Party in last year’s New Zealand general election. Sure, he had the support of ACT, United First and the Maori PartJohn Keyy but they are “yes, sir” parties and would have been consigned to political oblivion without him. And national began to look as though they would throw their weight around – until Winston Peters upset their applecart by winning Northland.
Absolute power, even in a democratically elected government, is fraught with danger.
Firstly, the Westminster system of government, which we have inherited, is about winners and losers. To the winners go the spoils. It is simpler to understand than any form of proportional representation, and more clear cut, and as such is the darling of the dominant party. You can be quite sure that David Cameron won’t be pushing for electoral reform any time soon. And that’s why National would love to see it return to New Zealand.
But with an absolute majority it is so easy to ride rough shod over the ideas and disagreement of the minority who didn’t support them. You don’t have to negotiate or compromise. In so doing, a huge number of citizens are disenfranchised because the government with ab absolute majority doesn’t have to listen to them.
Proportional representation, with all its faults, does mean that many, many more people are represented at the decision making tables of government.
Secondly, an absolute majority presents to its leaders the risk of hubris. Hubris in a political environment may be defined as excessive self-confidence. It is the over-arching pride that makes you think you are infallible and that everyone loves you. It’s the pride that causes you to think that you really can outsmart the gods, or that standards of behaviour that you wouldn’t accept from anyone else are excusable for you.
It’s hard to escape the thought that it was hubris that caused National to initially take Northland so casually, and then panic. Not to mention the embarrassment of the Prime Minister’s pony-tail pulling incident. Or that causes National-led select committees to set almost impossible deadlines for people to make submissions on some important issues.
The tragedy – in political as in personal life – is that the ultimate outcome of hubris is often disaster.
David Cameron is a good man. I like him and I hope that he can lead Britain in the next five years in such a way that really is inclusive of those who didn’t vote for his party, and that he retains the dignified humility that he presents in the media. To do so will be to model some political behaviour that would be worthy of emulation here in the Southern Hemisphere, on both sides of the Tasman Sea. Bring it on, David!


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