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The hung-parliament expected to emerge following the British elections on 6 May is likely to have both direct and indirect effects on the Middle East region. To form a working majority government, 43-year-old Conservative party leader David Cameron (who, according to the pollsters led at the outset by 7-9% over Labour but still needed another 6% of the votes), or 59-year-old incumbent Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, will have to woo smaller parties largely unknown to many Middle Easterners--and accommodate at least some of their policies in order to woo them into a coalition exceeding the 326 seats required to secure an overall majority in the House of Commons.

There are an estimated two thirds of a million Middle Eastern Britons of whom 300,000 are eligible to vote; but there is no 'block' Arab vote in UK, perhaps with the exception of Britons with Yemeni origins based, for the most part, in industrial, working-class areas who traditionally vote Labour. Younger British Arabs overwhelmingly vote as individuals in line with their economic interests.

The old British democracy is based on one elected member of parliament (MP) to represent each of 650 constituencies. An MP is accountable to his or her local constituents and is expected to be available to meet with them regularly in his local office. Performance of individual MP at Westminster is scrutinised by journalists in the constituency who keep a keen eye on progress.

With the exception of mega-rich investors, British Arabs' voting patterns have not changed in generations, although British Muslim voters are increasingly making their presence felt in the British political arena.

Most Arab Britons are economic migrants or middle-class educated individuals who travelled to the UK with the aim of continuing their education or broadening their horizons outside their homelands.

Predictably, they compare Britain's welfare system and civic service to what is available at home, and are frequently encouraged to live and work in the country by the liberal democratic lifestyle and rule of law.

The May election results will however, have effects beyond the Arab British community: some are expected to reach as far as the shores of the Gulf and southern Mediterranean, especially if, as expected, neither Cameron nor Brown (with only a predicted 32% share of votes) managed to attain the crucial 326 seats.

All parties, great and small, have some things in common: all, for example, support the Palestinians' right to an independent viable state. It is rather more how they differ in their approach to tackling the economic crisis that will affect Arab states.

Immigration and defence

Liberal Democrats (originally placed third by pollsters with 20% of votes), or some smaller parties (who lumped together account for 25% of all votes but--so disparate are their beliefs--will never be in one coalition), could demand a change of policies in a coalition led by either Cameron or Brown: these changes might be related to taxation cuts, defence spending;, alternative energy supplies or even changes in immigration policy.

Any coalition with the Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems), would probably result in 43-year-old Nick Clegg becoming either Home, Foreign or Defence Secretary; such an appointment would result in tougher regulation on City financial institutions, including international banks where Arabs traditionally invest billions. A similar situation would result if the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), with a predicted 10-12 seats, were to become kingmakers. Although 'soft on immigration'--good news for North African immigrants--both parties would be inclined to cut defence spending in a bid to tackle the UK's huge budget deficit.

This would affect not only traditional interdependencies on new hi-tech arms for British Armed forces based in the Gulf, but also redefine what Anglo-Arab arms contracts mean when translated into Britain's ability to aid Arab allies on the ground, as was the case in, for example, Saddam's aggression against Kuwait in 1990.

The UK Independence Party (lucky to gain four seats), and Northern Ireland's rightist parties (eight seats) are the only ones openly committed to traditional defence but their immigration policy is bad news for North Africans.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems' and Labour's preoccupation with green issues (exploited by ministers as blame-free taxation), combined with the economically prompted reduction in manufacturing, will dramatically reduce demand for Gulf oil. And while burgeoning Chinese markets might present a comforting option for the British, such links with China would almost certainly come at the expense of the Arab world's historic links with the UK.
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Title Annotation:British elections
Author:Darwish, Adel
Publication:The Middle East
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 1, 2010
Words:738
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