This Thursday will see a General Election in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK). All 650 seats in the House of Commons are up for grabs.
Over the last 5 years the UK has been governed by a coalition government, made up of two parties that were able (together) to achieve a majority in Commons. For a government can only be formed and sustained in the UK if that Government has what is known as the “confidence of the House”. That sounds very mercurial, but in reality it means that it can survive a vote of “non conference” and can pass a budget for government to stay operational.
This last coalition has been made up of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrat parties under the leadership of Prime Minister David Cameron. It was seen as unusual, as for all but a short period since World War 2, the UK has been governed by a single party in the House of Commons.
According to every single poll, the election on Thursday will result again in no one party achieving a majority in the House, but also not even two parties together achieving this – well part from the Conservatives (read GOP ) and Labour (read Democrats) together – and this would never happen outside a World War (which thankfully we are not in).
So it seems that the UK will be without a stable Government for a few weeks, until three of four parties can agree on a coalition of sorts, or there will need to be a new election within a few weeks!
This whole process will not be easy or pretty, and the United States has a strategic interest in its partnership with the UK – especially at a time of Middle East conflict, mass migration from North Africa, rumblings in Afghanistan, trade partnership discussions – and never mind Russia – this process is important to Washington.
So what are the four key issues that the United States should watch out for in any coalition deal?
- Defense Spending
The UK is the main partner to the United States mainly because of its military partnership, nuclear defense and military capabilities.
Over the last UK Government we have seen this military partnership shrinking due to cuts in their defense budget resulting in the shrinking of capabilities. There has also been the almost never-ending putting off on the replacement for the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent (Trident).
Some parties that may make up the next Government have already indicated they want further defense spending reductions and even the scrapping of Trident. This will vastly destabilize the US-UK partnership.
- Strong EU engagement and leadership
Over the last few years the UK’s leadership within the European Union has decreased due the Conservatives euro-skeptics. This has affected U.S. engagement with the UK on the European stage – and also on Russia.
A number of parties in the upcoming election want to go further and pull the UK completely out of the EU. Were this to happen, or credibly threaten to happen via a popular referendum, the US would have no choice but to increase engagement more with Berlin and Paris rather than an isolationist London.
- Partnership with the US on Middle East, Africa and other immediate concerns
Over the last 40 years the UK has been a strong partner with the US all around the world on development assistance, capacity building, energy security, climate diplomacy and also countering terrorists groups like ISIS.
Many parties in the election on Thursday want to change this balance, either by vastly cutting international aid, denying climate change, the energy mix, or pulling back military bases around the world. Altering this long established policy will create seismic shifts on how Washington sees London as a global player and partner.
- A strong UK economy
Finally, the UK cannot be a credible and important partner with the US if it has a weak, outdated and crumbling economy.
Any coalition that forms after the election on Thursday will find its first task in ensuring that there will be strong economic growth, matched with lowering employment while securing the financial status of the City of London on global markets.