Today was the big election day.  The core of the election is the same as the US.  The different parties beat each other up and promise a better society.  Here are a few differences:

Electioneering only really goes at it for a month, once the current Prime Minister calls an election.

Elections don’t happen on a regularly scheduled time ever x number of years.  There has to be an election every 5 years, but it can be called more often if the PM wants to call one.  There are no term limits, as far as I’ve heard.

The day of election is usually on a Thursday, and the polls are open until 10pm.  Interestingly, even with this late timing, there were several places where they were waiting in a queue (a line) to vote, but they then turned away because of time in some places.  I’m sure it will be reason for court battles.

There are 3 main parties here–Tories/Conservatives, Labour, and Liberal Democrats.  The first 2 are equivalent to the Republicans and Democrats, respectively.  The Libertarians in the US are larger than all the third parties combined with about 1-2% of presidential votes in the last couple of elections, but they’re no where near as large as the Lib Dems here, which seem to get about 10% of the seats.

With 3 major contenders this has caused a stir this year because neither of the 2 big parties seem to be set to get an outright majority of 326 seats this year so that they can choose their PM.  This is termed a ‘hung parliament’.  As a result, there will be some wrangling with the Lib Dems to see whom they will form a coalition with to form an overall majority.

As a parliament, you only elect your local MP (member of parliament), and the PM is just selected from the party (or coalition) that has the majority.  (I like the US system better in that you can elect the president separately from the local representative.)

The House of Lords is not elected at all, though there is talk of reforming that.  An interesting fact is that Anglican Bishops sit ex officio in the House of Lords.

The funny/crazy thing to me is that there are 650 MPs for the House of Commons.  So, for a country with only 20% of the US population (60M vs 300M+) has a 50% greater number of representatives.  The UK deficit is bigger by percentage than the US, and much of the electioneering has been about cutting it.  It seems to me that they could cut the number of MPs by 1/3 and save lots of dosh (money, that is), and still have adequate representation.

Interestingly, this election saw the first televised debates between the top three candidates for PM.  This gave a big boost to Nick Clegg of the Lib Dems, but from exit polls it doesn’t seem to have turned out for much in this election.

The voting is by pencil and paper, so all the counting takes a while since it is by hand.  Apparently people stay up until the very early hours of the morning watching all the talking heads.  There’s only one time zone and no issue of the electoral college, so no excitement of forecasting president.  But there is plenty of forecasting as I write regarding the potential of the conservatives taking control of the parliament after 13 years of labour control.

As of midnight, only 3 of the 650 seats have been declared.  It will be interesting to see how it all turns out.