An election is coming in the UK, last summer I started getting e-mail from Labour, the Lib Dems, the Torys and UK Independence Party. All were looking for my vote in the imminent British general election. Brown can leave polling day as late as early June, but the serious money is on May 6th as polling day.
The process is far different from the US. The date the country goes to the polls is only announced a little over four weeks beforehand. The incumbent PM goes to the Queen, asks for parliament to be dissolved and the race is on.
For the next four weeks the battle-busses and chartered airplanes take the party leaders, Members of Parliament, their staff, spin doctors and advisors up and down the country stumping for votes.
Even from a distance I find British politics far more coulourful and entertaining than domestic politics at home in the US. Ultimately because my vote is cast in one of the safest Labour seats in the country it’s actually fairly irrelevant, but I will take part in the process and vote in the election.
Some American friends are familiar with Prime Ministers Question Time, it’s shown on one of the more marginal cable channels on a Sunday evening, and are fascinated by the whole process. I thing Question Time actually shows off the best parts of the British process, it forces the PM to actually answer the questions, deal with the traditional heckling, attempt to show some form of leadership and respect the traditions of the House of Commons.
I sat and watched PMQT a few weeks ago and Gordon Brown answered questions ranging from hospital bed availability in a rural hospital to international treaties.
From a distance (with a serious nod to the newspapers and some parts of the new media world) six months ago it looked as though the Conservatives (AKA Tories) had Brown on the ropes and the election all but wrapped up. The economy was all that mattered, lets not forget that before taking over the top job Brown had spent years at number 11 Downing Street as chancellor and was (quite rightfully by the way) getting a lot of the blame for the state of the British economy.
The upcoming general election is really about one thing – The Economy – somehow David Cameron has been unable to make any serious capital out of the way Brown has handled of the downturn. If this continues and the Tories really can’t gain traction on this issue then the election becomes a far closer run thing.
The feeling is different from the situation in 1997, at that point the country wanted change more than they wanted Labour. Blair provided hope, promised change and assured us it was going to be different in the future. It was as close to a revolution as I’ve ever seen in British politics. Today the conservatives are desperate to give the same message, and either the message is not being heard, or it’s not being believed. Personally I think it’s the second, trust in government to do the right thing seems to be non-existent after the expenses scandal, lies about Iraq and bailing out the banks.
Interestingly it appears that many people view both the major parties as untrustworthy, not just the incumbent.
With worries about tax hikes and cuts in services the Conservatives are vulnerable. If this fear were to grow the Torys may be unable to really take Labour to the cleaners in May. If this were to happen the country is faced with the possibility of a minority or hung parliament.
If neither party have a majority in the House of Commons all of a sudden Nick Clegg and the Lib-Dems become both the major parties best friend. Heading into the election the Lib-Dems have 63 seats in parliament and won 22% of the vote in the 2005 election.
I did not know much about Clegg, he seems to be a true centralist. Previously the Lib-Dems appeared to have a slightly left of center position, that seemed to be the natural politics of previous leaders like Charles Kennedy and Paddy Ashdown.
From a distance it seems that under Nick Cleggs leadership the party has moved a little further right. However in an impressive balancing act it is more of a true a more central position, rather than towards the Conservatives.
During the month before the election there will be a series of televised debates, and somehow Clegg got an invite to join Brown and Cameron on stage and make them a three-way affair. This is what third party leaders dream of, equal billing with the big two and a chance to show why they should be involved.
Of course the Conservative attacks may start working and people could start believing in Cameron as a potential PM. If these occur then I think on May 8th we find Cameron moving into Number 10 and a nice working majority in the house, if neither of those things happen then potentially Clegg and his list of demands become very important.