April 26, 2005

UK Elections

The British election season is in full swing in preparation for May elections. You wouldn't know it if you're an American, though, unless you watch C-SPAN or frequent British news sources. Probably in part because Tony's expected to win in a walk as far as the US consensus is concerned. That's not entirely true, as both the Liberal Democrats and Tories are making a run for better things (Tories to be in government; LibDems to be the main opposition), but ultimately Tony's pretty safe and will carry enough seats to win.

Just a reminder: this is a parliamentary election (they say "general election") and then the winning party wil pick the PM. So in many ways it's like the Electoral College, except with constituencies instead of states. This is how Labor took less than 41% of the vote in the last election but still has (according to ElectionWorld) 413 out of 659 seats in Parliament.

What I found interesting about watching the leaders of the big three parties be interviewed with Jeremy Paxman of BBC NewsNight (who by the way is a huge jerk and always makes you sympathize with whoever has to put up with such unfocused badgering) was their styles. Blair and to a lesser extent Howard were clearly behaving in a manner reminiscent of Parliament, especially Prime Minister's questioning time. They were rather animated, excited and emphatic. This was strange to watch on television, especially since the BBC cameramen and directors apparently found it more dramatic to occasionally get in fairly close shots (basically the knot in the necktie and up).

Beyond that, though, they were much better at responding and sparring in debate and ing etting out their message. Kennedy was more reactive, but still better than I'd wager many politicians would do. It's unusual in the US for our politicians to go through the wringer on a regular basis like in PMQT, but it prepared Blair and Howard to send both character and message across in brief statements amidst intense sparring.

Howard was even better at reducing it to the key phrases and then expounding on them, but he seemed quite concerned with the dishonesty of Labor. Fortunately, he didn't only mention Labor's dishonesty. though, because running an ethics-only campaign is not very wise. I would also say he was kept talking about immigration a little too long, but he managed to be vague, while still getting his point across.

Blair did a pretty good job at being interesting and seeming thoughtful, but he didn't have a lot of talking points to sell - nor is that surprising. He mentioned plans and ideas and specifically said he had a lot of things to do for the next term. But he didn't have a list of reforms or talking points. In the campaign most of what he's had is moving Britain "forward." This is why, even though he'll probably win, the energy for now is with the Conservatives, and to a lesser extent with the Liberal Democrats.

New Labor has been progressing nicely and the respectable growth of the British economy will keep them looking good for a while, deserved or not, but eventually the energy has to die. Without a revival within the party, they're going to have to be replaced. You can't be perpetually riding down rollercoasters without the tedious clacking preparation beforehand. The issues strength has gone to other parties.

The Liberal Democrats are far too much the leftovers to politically coalesce nationally. They can have a series of local successes based on the failures of local Tories and Laborites, based on the popularity of local LibDem leaders, or based on capturing the middle class opposition to a local competitior party. Ultimately, though, they are too watered-down to present a serious alternative. There isn't enough of a reason to vote for them or enough of a pre-existing social base (they tend to be middle class, I believe) to go on. They can't do much until they decide what they believe and how they fit into national politics; right now it's hard to tell whether they want to be left, right ot Third Way. All three of those options are taken by existing political forces.

The Tories won't win in part because Tony is still so popular and because he's holding back the rampaging socialist history and impulses of Labor. By pulling in a mix of left-leaning reforms and right-leaning market economics, he can draw enough people to win handily. But when Tony leaves, the Laborites will have to decide how closely to follow the New Labor legacy of low interest rates and a more market-driven economic policy. If they abandon all pretenses of accepting the basic market precepts, then they will watch their electability dissolve.

Tony's very likely going to win, but in all likelihood he will see his margin shrink some, mostly to the Tories. After this third term, it will probably be time up for Blair. We'll see whether he realizes it - and moves cleverly enough to ensure a New Labor legacy follows him.

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