Thursday, October 23, 2008

What's That Behind You? Oh, That's The Shadow Government

Tis the season to think about politics, and I wanted to share my thoughts on one of the stranger elements of the UK political landscape that I've encountered. This is probably just my American ignorance, but when I hear the term 'shadow government' I think of the well-manicured man from the X-Files sitting in a room with his cronies, making decisions that affect not only America but the entire human race with the help of secret alien overlords.

In the UK, a 'shadow government' is the government that follows - shadows - the current government around. It is often the largest opposition party (yeah, they have more than one political party here, what a concept!) and they have positions that correspond with the government-in-power: Shadow Secretary of Defence, Shadow Prime Minister, Shadow Intern, etc. So they follow the current government and from what I can gather they act as oversight, kind of keeping an eye on government affairs, and they are available to take over at a moment's notice.

This last bit is important because as I found out with the London mayoral elections earlier this year, governments pretty much change right after an election. And by 'right after,' I mean 'within a few hours after the votes are counted.' None of this two months Lame Duck business they do in America; if a General Election were called and the vote was tomorrow and David Cameron took over, he'd step into office on Saturday. Pretty efficient!

It's interesting because there just isn't anything like it in America, and it's one of those things that, in the UK, people don't think is at all strange.

Now try explaining the Electoral College to them over here!!


Grace said...

Better yet, there explaining the Electoral College to our fellow Americans...

We all KNOW about it, but no one really gets its purpose.

Doesn't actually have one any more?

Autolycus said...

Oh, we understand the electoral college principle. It is, after all, similar to the parliamentary principle: there's an intermediate element of translation between the voters' votes and the outcome of the election. What I'm a bit hazy about is whether the electoral college exists as flesh-and-blood people, whether they actually have a formal meeting, and whether they're ever tempted to say "You know what? I think the voters got it wrong".

Jason said...

Grace: I'm not sure it has much of a purpose anymore, kind like how Senators used to be elected by state legislatures.

autolycus: Actually yes, it does exist, kind of. There are different representatives from each state that make up the voting members of the college, and every now and then someone does in fact vote against the voters' wishes, although it's extremely rare. They are called faithless electors:

surreyman said...
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