The Hung Parliament

Yesterday, The United Kingdom held a general election for Parliament, called for by Prime Minister Theresa May.  With the results in for the most part (one seat remains in the ether apparently) it appears that there is a “hung parliament.”  For Americans (and non-parliamentarians) this may be a confusing phrase.  So I decided today to look into it and write about it.  If you happen to be british, and want to expand or correct something in my essay, feel free to leave a comment.  I’m always willing to learn, and I’m using primarily online sources right now, which can be a bit vague or misleading at times. If you are not British or American, I apologise for the americentric viewpoint of this essay.  I’m doing this from the viewpoint of an US citizen trying to understand British government. If you want to share how your government compares, I’m also interested in hearing it.

The UK is a democracy that works under a parliamentary model.  Which the US does as well, although we added our own twists on things.  There are some similarities between Parliament and Congress.  For example, its bicameral, although how representatives are elected to both houses is different.  Parliament’s two houses are the House of Lords and the House of Commons.  The House of Lords, as the title suggests is members of noble families and members of the clergy of the Church of England, and they are appointed, rather than elected.  The House of Commons on the other hand is an elected body.

Within the House of Commons, there are several parties.  Unlike in the US, the UK is not a two-party system in practice or theory.  There are several parties, and 650 seats.  A party with a majority of more than 50% of the vote is considered the head of the government.  However, when there is no sure majority the parliament is known as a “hung parliament”.  In this case, two or more parties will join together to form a coalition government.

This is different from the United States, which uses a simple Majority style.  The party with the most seats is head of the house in which they are in(currently the Republican Party).  They in turn elect the person who would hold the senior positions in the house (Speaker of the House; President Pro Tempore) In the UK, even if a party has more seats, it does not automatically give it power.  They have to have a strong majority, with over half of the votes.  Once that is settled (or a coalition/minority government is formed), the Queen will choose a Prime Minister from the party which holds the majority.

Its near impossible for the United States to have a similar situation.  If the Senate (with 100 members) was equally divided) they would still have the President of the Senate – the Vice President.  This would create a majority for one party or another.  The House has 435 members, which makes it hard to really have a 50/50 vote.  On the other hand the United States also has a hard-stuck two-party system which has denied many other views/parties into the mainstream campaigning.

Elections are held every five years as of 2011 in the UK unless a vote is taken to make a special election (as what happened this year) and receives a 2/3rd majority vote in the House of Commons. Prior to yesterday’s election, the Conservative party (sometimes known as Tories) had the majority, and thus their prime Minister was Theresa May.  The Prime Minister appoints the rest of the cabinet as well, which is the government formed.

With a hung Parliament we will have to see which parties will join to create the coalition government. Coalition governments usually come in two forms – a formal arrangement where the two parties join together to pass legislation and both hold roles in the cabinet/government, or an informal one where the smaller party agrees to support the larger parties agenda without a strong role in the government.  Reports so far seem to be Conservatives (who have 49% of the vote and still a technical majority) and the Democratic Union party (who has 1.5)  will be joining together to form an informal coalition of 50.5 percent of the vote.  An unlikely but also possible scenario is that a re-election in August might be made if the Conservatives can not form enough of a working majority to push for their agenda.

It should be interesting to see what happens in the coming months as Brexit negotiations begin and the new government formed by Minster May gets working.

It also shows an interesting look into what may happen in the future elections in the US.  The Conservative rule that seemed to be elected in the last few elections in various countries seems to be swinging to a more moderate stance.  This could affect the United States too as it comes to mid-term elections next year.

Wikipedia: Parliament of the United Kingdom

Wikipedia: General Election 2017 Results

Guardian:  What is a hung parliament

BBC: General Election what you need to know

CBS: What happens if the Senate splits 50-50

 

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The Articles of The Confederation: Part 5

Ratification & Repeal

Once drafted, the Articles of Confederation were sent, as a pamphlet, along with a letter from the President of the Continental Congress: Henry Laurens to the 13 states.  They were all asked to look it over and be prepared to vote on it by March 10, 1778.  Most of the states had requests for alterations so the date got pushed back to July.  States started to send in their considerations for amendments to the Articles but in the end none of them were used.   Continue reading

The Articles of Confederation: Part 4

The Last Articles

Article 9

It gives Congress the following powers.

  • exclusive right to determine War/Peace (exceptions for Article 6)
  • Foreign Affairs such as ambassadors, treaties, etc.
  • Establishing courts to prosecute cases of piracy
  • Giving out senior ranks during wartime
  • The power to answer any disputes between states​

It also creates a system for how Congress will work.  They must meet often enough that no break between gathering is more than 6 months.  They also must record in a journal all the votes cast unless it’s a top-secret operation that requires that it not be public knowledge yet.  The idea was that Congress would be very open about what it did while in session.  It would send out monthly reports, including the vote rolls.  They also must put forth the journal should any delegate or state request it.

Congress was given very limited powers.  Most of the powers went to the states.  It reiterates this point by stating that no decision of congress on several matters (including war, debt and national security) shall be in effect unless 9 states (2/3) agree to it.    At this point in time the colonists who were forming their own country were afraid that a stronger government would abuse their powers, such as they saw Britain having done.

Later they would find that having too weak a central government caused problems as well.  One of the things the Constitution set out to do was correct the imbalance and make a stronger Federal government that wouldn’t be too strong to abuse its powers.

Article 10

This article allows for the states to take the powers of Congress into their own hands should congress be in recess when need arose.  It still required 9 states to agree to it, and if congress was in session, it would of course revert to Congress to have those powers.  I’m not entirely sure how well this article would work out in practice.  I tried researching this article to see if had ever been invoked but at the time of this posting, I haven’t found anything yet.

Article 11

I think this is my favorite part of the Articles of Confederation.  Article 11 is a side note to Canada letting them know they can come join the US if they get tired of Great Britain’s rule.  It basically says that they can come and join us and we’d be okay with that, but after them, everyone has got to be agreed on by at least 9 states (effective 2/3rd majority).

Considering this is not in the Constitution, I guess in ten years they gave up on the idea of the State of Canada.

According to the National Constitution Center, the US actually attempted to get Canada ceded over to them by the British in the Treaty of Paris.  As you can tell by the fact Canada is not part of the United States, the British did not agree. America tried to take over Canada twice – in the American Revolution (failed) and in the war of 1812 (Failed – and led to the White House being burned).  There was a poll done relatively recently and it should come as no surprise that not a large group of people feel that America and Canada should be one.  On either side of the border.

Article 12

This is an article that makes its way into the Constitution.  The US had lots of debts in its early years.  While at war, they needed supplies, had to have a way to pay the soldiers who fought for independence and otherwise fund their government.  This article pronounces that these debts will be recognized by the United States and the United States will pay them.

The Constitution notes that they will continue to recognize/pay these debts. It was important for the young nation to recognize what it owed to keep the allies it had made as well as keep the trust with any soldiers they may need to enlist in the future.  Failure to accept the debt would make trusting them a bit harder.

Article 13

This is the article that gives the document its power.  The declares that all the states shall abide by what had been decided in this congress of their representatives.  It does not allow for much change, which the Constitution does.  The only way to alter the document is for Congress to agree to it and for every state to agree to it.  The Constitution made a method for Amendments where Congress proposes/passes them, and a 2/3rd majority of the States can ratify them.  So in that it is more flexible to changing needs of the Nation.

Articles of Confederation – University of Minnesota Human Rights Library

Articles of Confederation – Revolutionary War.Net

When Canada was invited to join the United States – Constitution Center Blog

 

The Articles of Confederation: Part Two

The First Four Articles

Preamble

The Preamble introduces the states that will be part of a “perpetual union”.  Its interesting to read it because not all the states have the same name today.  For example, Massachusetts is still referred to as Massachusetts Bay, and Rhode Island is called Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Otherwise the States remain the same.

The original Thirteen were Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Delaware, Maryland, Connecticut, Virginia, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

It dates the document as November 15, 1777 and the second year of Independance.

Article 1

Article One is perhaps the most straightforward piece of legislation I have ever read.  It simply reads that this country shall be named “The United States of America”.   This time around it had a bit more literal a meaning, as it was to represent a union of states rather then a government that had states.  The Articles of Confederation were very strong on the side of individual state rights.

A Confederation is defined as being a group of states with a central government with with independance of internal affairs.  This was the style of government the US tried first. Our current government is a Federation – meaning it has a strong central government.  Confederations have weaker central governments, with more power being distributed to the indivusual members of the union.

Article 2

The States get any power not delegated to Congress as their representatives, and retain their sovereignty.  This is important. State rights have often been an area of contention between those who favor strong central governing from those who prefer uncentralized (State/local) power distribution.

In fact, it was over this fact that the first political parties were formed.  George Washington had no party, and found the idea an horrible one. Clearly no one listened, and parties were formed.  The first two major parties in the US were the Federalists (those who believed in a strong central government) and the Democratic-Republicans (those who favored a weaker central government and stronger State governments).  The first election where this became an issue was when John Adams ran for President afer George Washington stepped down.

This all happened after the constitution, which gave the central government more rights then the Articles do.  In the Articles, the central government really only has the power to deal with foreign affairs, such as payment of debts, declaring war & peace, and dealing with diplomatic channels.  But there is a section on that so we will get to that later.

State Rights have been extremely important in American History. It not only created the first party divide, and political divisions, it also created some of the incentive for the Civil War which would occur less then 100 years later.

Article 3

One of the many reasons the states entered into this union was the fact that there were a few common needs the states faced where a central government would come in handy.  One of them was mutual defense.

Article 3 was an agreement between the states to come to each other’s aid for common defense, general welfare and resistence against outside forces trying to attack the state in question through religion, soverneignty, trade or other issues.

Article 4

In the fourth Article, the Confederacy states that any citizen of the United States shall have their rights respected by all states, and can move freely around the country as long as they are not convicted of a crime.  It also states that if someone is on the run from a crime and is found by another state, that state shall render the suspect back to their original state upon request from the executive of said state.  This may sound familar because the Constitution also states this.  However, the articles have a much weaker central government and much stronger state governments. The Constitution gave Congress more power to enforce such regulations.

To make an analogy, perhaps this is like the EU (although I admittedly have little knowledge on how governmentally the EU is set up.)  The EU allows for its members to pass freely from country to country, no passports needed.  However each country is independent.  Under the Articles of Confederation, States had individual powers over many things we now consider Federal responsibility.  They were able to create their own currencies and more.  It would eventually cause problems, but this article enforces the idea that citizens of one state must have the same rights as a citizen of another state.  So you can’t ignore someone’s rights just because they are from New Jersey and made the mistake of going to Philly for some cheesesteak.

Further Reading

Articles of Confederation – Library of Congress

Confederation – Vocabulary.com

The Federalist Papers Project – Article Four

The Articles of Confederation: Introduction

Introduction:

The Constitution of the United States was not the first attempt to organize our government once the United States declared Independance.  The original “constitution” was called the Articles of The Confederation and Perpetual Union or Articles of Confederation for short.  For simplicity I will refer to it as The Articles in this essay series.

I’ve been doing this series a little backwards, starting with the Constitution’s amendments, then the Constitution itself and now the forerunner document, but if you are reading this after the fact, you may be starting here.  So it all depends on if you are going in tag order, chronological order or in the order the documents were written.  Welcome to my journey of amatuer history commentary.

But lets get back on topic. When the young nation first declared independence, it was quickly seen that something needed to be done about forming a new government to replace the one they had rejected. The influences on this document started long before independance.

Continue reading

The Constitution: Article 7 & Conclusion

Article 7 is a bit of a misnomer, its more of a conclusion (hence the title of this post.  It merely states that a majority of 9 states out of the 13 then involved would be required to ratify it before it was made officially law.  9 is 2/3rds of the original 13 states, a standard that continues today with amendments needing to pass 2/3rds of the States.  That is currently 33 states, since we now have a total of 50.

Of course, given that it is the constitution, it was prefered that all states would ratify it (which they eventually did)  Otherwise some states may still have been under the governing of the Articles of Confederation, which would be very awkward when trying to make laws, or making governing decisions between states.  It also was a political move to make the states ratify it early to be able to be on the decision-making team when it came to alterations (Amendments) and putting together the details that the constitution left vague. Continue reading

The Constitution: Article Six

Article Six addresses various other items that were of a concern with creating a new constitution and a new Federal government.

Clause 1:  The US will still honor its debts.

There was some concern that with a new constitution/government that the US wouldn’t honor debts or contracts entered into under the Articles of the Confederation (The First constitution that the United States had ratified).  The first clause addresses this concern by saying that the Constitution will uphold anything debts that occurred or engagements (such as treaties and contracts) shall be continued under the new constitution.

Basically it means that the US is under new management, but the old deals still apply.

Clause 2:  The US Constitution shall be the ultimate law of the land.

This directs that any law, judgement or other actions by the government must adhere to this document.  It also states that all states are subject to the Constitution and Federal law, effectively bringing them under the same umbrella.  One of the ongoing issues with the Articles of Confederation was the lack of power the federal government had to do anything.  The confusion as states formed their own money etc couldn’t be corrected by the federal with much power behind it.  This government however was stronger, and made sure to specify that this document was the supreme law.  This also effectively transitions the country from working under the Articles of Confederation to having a new constitution.

Clause 3:  All officers of the government shall uphold the oath.  None of them will be forced to prove their religious faith.

There are two elements to the third clause.  One is that every officer of the government is to swear an oath of allegiance to uphold the constitution when taking office.  The other element is that no officer has to prove his religious choices to get into office.

This particular element has come under recent speculation,  This clause basically assures that there is no government backed religion, that no person who works in the government will have to prove their religion in order to take office.

With fundamentalism of many religions being more visible, many people are being asked unofficially to prove that they belong to one religion or another. Personally I believe that this clause in the Constitution makes it unconstitutional to make someone prove that they are part of a religion (regardless of said religion) in order to do their job (i.e. take office), or seek services from the federal government.  Many have alternate points of view on the subject.

The Supreme Court expanded this clause to the states in 1961’s Torcaso v. Watkins. Now no governmental employee, federal, state or otherwise, is required to prove one’s religious conviction or religious orientation to take office.

I found Heritage Guide to the Constitution had an interesting background for this particular clause (I’ve included the link below in the further reading) which also goes into people’s concern about secular language (a argument still had today).

Further Reading:

Law.com – Article 6 – Kids

Us Constitution.net – The Constitution Explained

Heritage.Org – Religious Test

Justia.Com – Supreme  Court Case Torcaso v. Watkins (1961)