The British election (2)
Despite its name, the Conservative party has little in common with the US Republicans (some info on British political parties here) or even with its own Thatcherite incarnation of decades past. In fact, Cameron now finds himself in a position much like Obama did in January 2009. His predecessor left an utter mess — a recession, out-of-control spending, a huge budget deficit, involvement in an unpopular overseas war, and a profoundly-unpopular policy of tolerance for high immigration. Cameron, however, also has the problem of Britain’s enmeshment in the EU — he’s not his own boss to the extent that Obama is. And unlike Obama, who took office with his party holding large majorities in Congress, Cameron's party does not quite have a majority in Parliament (hence the need for the coalition).
So wish him luck. He's going to need it.
The LibDems' demands reportedly include abolishing one of the more bizarre (to American eyes) features of the British system -- the fact that elections are held not at fixed regular intervals but whenever the Prime Minister chooses to hold them. Cameron may have hoped he could call another election in a few months and perhaps win an absolute majority. If he agrees to this change, he will no longer have that option. The LibDems also want changes in the electoral system which would, in practice, make it difficult for any one party to ever again get an absolute majority in Parliament -- meaning that the LibDems would regularly become king-makers, as small parties in countries like Israel or Italy commonly are.
What about the two smaller parties I mentioned before? Here's a table of the popular vote (scroll down a bit) compared with the previous national election in 2005. The UKIP (nationalist, anti-EU) increased its vote share only from 2.3% to 3.1% of the total, a disappointing outcome. This probably reflects the fact that, in a close election, most people did not want to waste their votes on a protest. If Cameron fails to deliver clear change from the previous Labour government, his party may lose more votes to the UKIP next time -- people are more likely to protest-vote if they see no meaningful difference between major parties.
The BNP (racist, with fascist leanings) increased its vote share from 0.7% to 1.9%, almost three times as large. In absolute terms its 1.2% gain was larger than that of any other party except the Conservatives themselves. However, 1.9% is still not large, and the BNP seems to judge the result a disappointment.
Neither the UKIP nor the BNP won any Parliament seats (here's a list of parties with seats). The Greens and the Scottish and Welsh nationalists showed no significant gains in the popular vote.
All in all, it's a guardedly-positive result. The worst possibility (a BNP breakthrough) and second-worst (Labour retaining power) were averted. Like the US 16 months ago, Britain now has better leadership -- and a daunting amount of work to do to recover from its previous government's foolishness.