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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Trumpet With Certain Sound

With Elections, Few Countries Bring It Like Britain!

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Britain does it again, delivering a fast, efficient and consequential election, without any controversy.

By Chudi Okoye

Surprising most everyone including vast members of his own party, even its inner cast, on May 22, 2024 – several months before he absolutely had to – he called a snap general election. To kick off the electioneering process, about a week later on May 30th, he dissolved parliament. With this, the country was thrown into an election mode, though in every hood the mood was sombre and slightly tentative, for his seemingly hasty – though some say gutsy – move.

The election was held five weeks later on July 4th, exactly as scheduled. Polling opened promptly at 7am that day and closed at 10pm. It was followed instantly by the exit poll, announced by the media. Not long after, actual results began to come in from the constituencies, with the first seat declared at 11:15pm, an hour and fifteen minutes after polling had closed. It wasn’t long before the rest of the results began rolling in, so rapidly in fact that by 5am the next morning, barely 24 hours after polling had opened and seven after it closed, it was known which political party had won the majority of votes, which thus would form the next government, and who therefore would be the next British prime minister.

Unsurprisingly, because the polls had previously predicted it, the election had not gone all that well for his Conservative Party. In fact, the party suffered a huge loss, a rout really, shedding 252 of its 373 parliamentary seats. No less than 12 cabinet-level ministers lost their seats. Even a former Conservative prime minister, Liz Truss, who’d held a safe seat in a Conservative bastion with a huge 24,180 majority, saw herself tossed out in the tsunami. It was a historic loss for the party, its worst result since becoming an organized political party in the early 19th century.

Nonetheless, though humiliated and heavy-laden, though wearied by the historic significance of the loss to which he had led his party, in a mere matter of hours Mr. Rishi Sunak – a sharp 44-year old who became the first ever British-Asian prime minister of the United Kingdom – had announced his resignation, after only 20 months on the job. By midday, just hours after it became clear that his party had been shellacked, he had made it over to Buckingham Palace, per tradition, to inform the British monarch that he was resigning as the First Minister of His Majesty’s Government. The meeting lasted mere minutes. And then, through the imaginary revolving door shortly after, came Keir Starmer (an alumnus of my old university at Leeds), who had just led his lorn party, Labour, to a landslide victory. He was there, again per tradition, to be formally asked by the monarch to form a new government.

Sir Keir and his party had pulled off a stunning victory: after 14 years in the wilderness, through a run of five Tory prime ministers, Labour was set to form a new government with a comfortable majority of 174 seats, the largest since the Blair revolution in 1997.

Long before the dizzying day came to a close, Sir Keir, the new prime minister, had appointed the full complement of his cabinet, with the world watching in real time as each of the new ministers came through the door of 10 Downing Street, the official residence and office of the British prime minister. By the next day, July 6th, being a Saturday – just two days after the election and a day after he assumed office, the new prime minister had convened his first cabinet meeting and had got down to the business of governing.

How’s that for British efficiency!

Oh, I’m sure you’ve heard about the ruthless, almost indecorous speed by which an outgoing British prime minister is ejected from 10 Downing Street. The BBC helpfully reports what transpired this time:

“Out with the old, in with the new. Nothing represents the rapid, ruthless business of politics like removal vans at Downing Street. Moving a new prime minister – staff, family, pets and paraphernalia – into 10 Downing Street is a complex feat. [This time} it happen[ed] in a day. Former Prime Minister Rishi Sunak vacated 10 Downing Street on Friday after Labour won a landslide victory in the general election. Shortly after, new PM Sir Keir Starmer and wife Victoria Starmer arrived at No 10.”

In the United States, presidential transition lasts well over two months, between election in early November and inauguration on January 20th. In Nigeria, it takes longer than that. As we saw in the last cycle, election was held on February 25, 2023, with the new president – amid a din of controversy – sworn in on May 29th. And it wasn’t until about the end of July before the new president submitted his ministerial list for Senate approval.

Back to the UK! Notice, if you will, that in all the ruthless efficiency of the process, though the election this year shattered or suspended the careers of many talented politicians and some so-called ‘big beasts’ of contemporary British politics, there were no evident recriminations. No controversies or disputes about the election results. No court cases that I am aware of. There was no reported violence. Nobody was molested or killed.

Yes, Britain has been doing this for a while now, and so it has muscle memory. But it’s by no means the world’s oldest democracy. The country just became quite good at election management. That’s partly why, though outperformed by the Nordics and some other countries, it is considered a ‘full democracy’ in The Economist’s 2023 Democracy Index (ranked 18th in the world), whereas an older democracy like the United States is estimated a ‘flawed democracy’ (ranked 29th). Don’t even get me started on Nigeria which – I think too generously – is considered a ‘hybrid regime’ (ranked 104th).

British elections are all the more impressive because they aren’t too heavily monetized. We will have to wait for reporting on the final cost, but if past election expenditures are anything to go by, the ballot that was just concluded in Britain, which involved the election of 650 members of parliament, would have cost the Treasury something in the neighborhood of £140 million.

Compare this to the ₦355 billion – or, going by the exchange rate at the time, $768.4 million (£664.6 million) – budgeted for Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct the 2O23 general election, which involved electing the president and his vice, and a fraction of the 469 members of the National Assembly. It’s not even close.

The UK is ranked 6th in the world by GDP while Nigeria, which has only 7.2% the UK’s GDP and is ranked 53rd, spends nearly five times as much as Britain to elect its national leadership. It costs far more to elect our politicians than it does in the UK, and our lot are far better compensated, though they end up doing far less than their UK counterparts in terms of actual work. The economists’ efficiency wage theory totally collapses on contact with the Nigerian political system.

Yes, Britain’s historical atrocities – enslaving other peoples, plundering foreign lands, conniving to keep awful regimes in power, originally creating the conundrum in the Middle East and now supporting Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza – are inexcusable and unforgivable.

But when it comes to gearing up to deliver an election, few countries bring it like Britain!

We will now wait to see how well Labour will govern, knowing how brittle the British electorate can be.

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