My article "AV or not AV, that is the question" appears to have upset 'Abigail' by the tone of her comment posted at the foot of my article. Here's what she said:
"The idea that Australia is used to minority governments is ridiculous. Even though we use AV, we rarely return a minority government, obvious in the fact that the media goes crazy when we do.
I think AV is a fair system as it ensures the almost everyone in the electorate has an MP that they are more or less comfortable with. Yes, sometimes people who finished 3rd win the seat... but that's the way voters used their preferences, so you can only argue that it is a representative result.
Anyways, I will be interested to see how the whole thing turns out!"
And here is my reply:
The term I used in the final full paragraph was "coalition government": Since that time (1918) Australia has become used to coalition governments...finally asking: Does Britain want to become used to coalition governments? A coalition government is a form of minority government because the dominant party within the partnership cannot form an administration on a "confidence and supply" by itself.
"Minority government" is usually a bit less formal, either because it is in partnership with a smaller party not wishing to guarantee to do the bidding of the main party's whips, or where individuals, often independents, agree on "confidence and supply" issues to support one of the main parties in order to give it a working majority - as in Australia's Federal Parliament at the moment.
A more precarious minority government simply gets by on a bill by bill basis, tries to garner support, usually from smaller parties, and dares its opposition to force a confidence motion and so call a fresh general election - like the SNP in Scotland, until Friday 06 May 2011!
Australia's political history is really very interesting. One of the ironies is that labour politicians in the past have broken away from the parliamentary party to form a party of the right and this has happened on more than one occasion. The Nationalist Party of Australia was one such and between 1917 and 1929, when it was defeated by Labour, was often in coalition government.
In 1931, the Nationalist Party was reformed, again with Labour defectors and changed its name to the United Australia Party, winning the December 1931 General Election by a landslide and so able to form a government in its own right.
In 1939 however, the UAP needed Country Party support, though even with this, it was not sufficient to keep the UAP in power after the September 1940 General Election. At this point, the UAP-Country Party coalition formed a minority government with the support of two independent MPs. A little more than a year later in October 1941, these two independent MPs crossed the floor to Labour and brought down the coalition government.
Convinced that the UAP had become moribund, the present-day Liberal Party of Australia was formed and founded by Robert Menzies on 31 August 1945. Mr Menzies had already served as Prime Minister of Australia between April 1939 and August 1941. His second-term as Prime Minister lasted from December 1949 until January 1966.
In the 62 years since 1949, the Liberal Party has governed in coalition with the National Party for 41 years, most recently for almost 12 years under Prime Minister John Howard (1996-2007). The Nationals entered the Federal Parliament for the first time in 1919 under the name of the Country Party and made the name change in the 1970s. Warren Truss MP, representing the Wide Bay constituency in south-east Queensland, is the current party leader and had been Transport Minister in the previous coalition government.
After the Federal Election on 21 August 2010, both the Australian Labor Party (now the accepted spelling) and the Liberal National coalition had 72 seats in the House of Representatives, when 76 seats are required to form a working majority. One Green and three independents declared for Labor and two independents for the Liberal-National coalition. Prime Minister Julia Gillard was thus able to form a 76/74 minority government.
For the political scientist, I think Australia is one of the most fascinating countries to study on the planet because there is and has been a diversity of political parties at both Federal and State level that is hard to surpass. The Australian Democrats, for instance, held the balance of power in the Australian Senate between 1981 and 2001 but the party was annihilated in the 2007 Election.
Under the AV voting Australia has avoided the extremes in politics. Is it the system for saints? No, parties have learned to manoeuvre and try to find ways to get their platform through. Malcolm Farnsworth's Australia Politics reported on 15 November 2010: "The Liberal Party in Victoria has decided to preference the ALP (Labor) ahead of the Greens in all Lower House seats in the November 27th election." There are more articles on how Labor and the Greens are going to preference and on voting in marginals....Sounds like tactical voting to me!
Fundamentally though, I still stand by the fact that the "Yes" campaign did not present their case well and the greater onus was upon Nick Clegg and co - it was their choice and timing. The "No" campaign used red herrings and played on fears. It was at best poor and some of the claims in much of the media verged on the outrageous.
Coalition government is still very new for the UK and most people hope that it will be a blip on the political landscape. It will take a few years yet before the nation can coolly appraise whether or not the system is suited to our political temperament.