Thanks, folks! I recognized the Swingometer from the Monty Python sketch.
I guess one of the differences I may not be quite clear on is that, for instance, in the US if there’s a special election in, say, North Dakota, it will not be on TV all night in Seattle - unless there’s something really strange about the election and even then it probably wouldn’t be ongoing coverage.
I think this must have been where Blackadder’s “Standing in the Back Dressed Stupidly and Looking Stupid” party came from.
Whether the elections being parodied are general elections or by-elections, they are for the national Parliament, and so have an effect on which party forms the national government and who will be Prime Minister. There would be less attention paid to local elections in Britain. But these are like elections for the House of Representatives, the Senate and for the President (via the Electoral College) all rolled into one, because the House of Commons basically has all the functions of Congress plus the Electoral College. (The House of Lords has a very limited role, and the Monarch only acts on the advice of the Prime Minister).
I gather that even if the balance of power is not at stake in parliament, a bye-election still garners interest as a kind of barometer of the public approval of the government. In the U.S., we would consider a special election in North Dakota as more of a local election in which local political issues are likely to dominate; whereas, in the U.K., even if it is only one constituency voting, they are likely to vote on the basis of national issues, not local ones.
I don’t think the LaRouchies can really be considered a third party. They usually run as Democrats. In cases in which a LaRouchie has managed to get the Democratic nomination (usually it’s an accident), the real Democrats have often run an independent candidate or even endorsed the Republican.
Going back to the Python era, I would guess that there would be no live coverage of a by-election result. Nowadays there certainly is, to appease the gods of rolling news.
It’s worth noting that ‘local elections’, in British terminology, are a national event - when we have a general election, that’s the only thing we vote for, whereas the county council, district council, or whoever, are elected separately at different times. The process is the same, just with far less media interest. And then there’s European elections, and I’ll buy a coffee for anyone who can explain them without sending us to sleep
Local (i.e. state-equivalent) politics attracts very little interest from anyone here; only about 30% of the electors bother to vote in local elections at all. This is not surprising given the hollowing out of local politics which began in the 1970s which left local politicians with very little power to decide anything that matters.
Why he bothered to run as a Democrat isn’t clear, since his views are so far out in the stratosphere that he’s no closer to mainstream Democrats than to mainstream Republicans. He’s considered more of a joke than anything else.
Re. barometer of public opinion, well not always, but quite often, albeit that often the media are looking for one where there is none really. However, there have been a few recently:
Haltemprice and Howden did not matter much, it being a bit unusual, to say the least.
The Crewe and Nantwich by-election appeared to come of something of a shock (not a surprise, though, I shouldn’t think) to the ruling party.
The most recent by-election in Glasgow East on 24th July will be something of a barometer, because it was previously considered a VERY safe seat for one party, and this was particularly because it was thought that Gordon Brown could count on certain constituencies in Scotland. Of course, considerations regarding the financial probity of the retiring Member of Parliament were some cause for this change of vote, but for some voters, this would have been a vote about the current government. And voters might just have been a tiny wee bit upset about details such as food and electricity and fuel in general becoming a LOT more expensive, and so on. That sort of little detail.
Sadly the Monster Raving Loony Party did not stand in this most recent by-election. A bit sad, because who can not love a party that had a cat as a joint chairman. (Unfortunately, the beloved leader, Cat Mandu, met a road accident in 2002 and thereafter failed to do the nine lives trick. Sad.) Likewise, poor old David Screaming Lord Sutch http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Screaming_Lord_Sutch had died previously.
I think perhaps the dear old Monster Raving Loony Party just might not choose to afford the deposit these days. A bit sad, but there are quite enough nutters around for the moment, and interesting enough they are.
In parliamentary systems, the press try to talk up bye-elections as barometers, but they are not truly so. Since the government is only very rarely likely to change hands on the basis of one seat, bye-elections don’t matter, and the voters at the bye-election know it.
So they are free to “send a message” to the government of the day in a way they would be much less willing to do if there was a real risk the government might change hands. Accordingly, the results in bye-elections tend to skew very strongly against the government on the protest vote principle, but the results are not really reflective of how the population as a whole (or even that seat) would vote at a general election, where the Big Prize is up for grabs.
Makes some fun for the chattering classes for a few days, sells some papers, but doesn’t mean much.
I am glad to learn how these things work: thank you.
But would you not agree that certain situations, e.g. a swing of 22.54% in a seat that has been previously assumed to be extremely “safe”, might just mean a little bit more than a bit of amusement to your “chattering classes”.
You know, that little detail about the trouble they had even finding a candidate to stand, (when the first choice failed even to bother to turn up at the selection meeting, at which point the whole “candidate selection” meeting idea was quickly called off, thus indicating that there was no real intent even to pretend to any democratic choice of that party’s candidate), and it rattled around and settled on the fourth or fifth choice. Of course, as you would know, things were a little bit tricky as Wendy Alexander had also just resigned. You would, I am sure, be quite knowledgeable about the details there, and the reason for the sudden retiral of the sitting M.P. and the reason why the anointed candidate might just have chosen not to go for it. You are probably very well acquainted with the situation in that Glasgow East constituency, otherwise you would not presume to give us such a general purpose little mini-lecture about by-elections. Or perhaps you are right, after all, and perhaps Gordon Brown is not the tiniest bit concerned just now. Not concerned at all. Not at all. Not the tiniest bit.
Swing of about 17 % in Crewe and Nantwich looks pretty bad but a swing of 22% in Glasgow East looks rather worse.
I do still regret the lack of the Official Monster Raving Loonies, though.
No-one can hold a candle to the English in the gently deranged nutter stakes, but I feel that we Aussies scored a singular victory with the 1998 ACT Local Government elections. The Australian Capital Territory is more-or-less our equivalent of the District of Columbia, an extra-state area in which the national capital is located. In 1998 the Federal Government decided that they would no longer directly administer the territory but would allow it self-determination, despite a plebiscite of the residents explicitly preferring otherwise.
The first election for local governance had a number of eccentric entities due to the lax nature of the nomination requirements, including the Surprise Party, the Party! Party! Party!, the Sun Ripened Warm Tomato Party, and perhaps inevitably the Abolish Self-Government Coalition. Satisfyingly the latter party, whose platform entirely consisting of not implementing self-government, won a seat in the government they opposed the very idea of, and so had the magnificent task of advocating their own abolishment alongside that of all other parties.
Not The Nine O’Clock News would be an excellent start, IMHO- they used a lot of news footage from the day to lampoon politicians and current events, as well as coming up with some brilliant original stuff like Nice Video, Shame About The Song, the Beer Drinking Match, and the classic Gerald The Gorillia sketch…
I’m often surprised that there isn’t an Australian equivalent of the Standing At The Back Dressed Stupidly And Looking Stupid Party… the electoral laws aren’t especially onerous, provided you have 499 mates and about $200. Maybe we could look at starting a Non-Serious Political Party for the next lot of elections?
One crucial detail about the Blackadder coverage of the Dunny-on-the-Wold by-election which is now less obvious than it was at the time is that the reporter was Vincent Hanna playing himself. Hanna had single-handedly transformed the BBC coverage of by-election campaigns by recognising that they didn’t have to be taken too seriously. That has set the tone for the bulk of the press coverage since then. So, with the media itself usually taking the line that they are mostly just media circuses, the fact that other silly parties have since followed the lead blazed by the Monster Raving Loonies isn’t so surprising.
Aren’t the European Parliament elections the only elections in Britain where proportional representation is used? I remember reading a while ago in a text on the pros and cons of proportional representation and single-member constituency voting that until some time ago, Britain was also divided in European Parliament constituencies, until some Regulation from Brussels ruled that the Member States had to use proportional representation for the allocation of thei EP seats.
No, the devolved parliaments and assemblies use PR. Scotland, Wales, and London use Constituency plus Additional Members systems and Northern Ireland uses a Single Transferable Vote system (yes - I know Northern Ireland is not actually part of Britain ).
We do stubbornly cling to our One Member, One Seat system for parliament and local councils. Not surprising really as the party that has just won the general election has no incentive to change a system that apparently favours them :dubious:
I think that the thing that Python played with the most (and, sadly, the thing that you’re least likely to be able to recreate for yourself) was the actual experience of watching the BBC at the time. Not just the programmes themselves, but the station idents, the continuity announcers and so on: to the extent that, watching as it was broadcast at the time, it was sometimes difficult to be sure when exactly the programme started and finished.
It had the effect of completely subverting anything that followed it – so that it was possible to watch a good five minutes of a documentary about North Sea fishermen, or an arts programme on Berthold Brecht, before you realised that you were supposed to be taking it seriously. By which time, of course, it was often impossible.
Yes, I wondered about that…MP uses the big blue-on-black spinning globe station identifications quite a bit. (“If you missed 8:45 you can see it tomorrow at quarter of nine…I just get so bloody bored!”)