May 06, 2005

Kos on UK Election

Typical of partisan political analysis, Kos is saying that Blair lost because he moved Labor too far rightward to grab the center and because of the war. Of course, taking Labor into a stunning era of electability with New Labor, grabbing a dominant position of political influence against historical problems and getting the historic third victory in a row for Labor are gone because Labor only won a 60-plus seat majority. Oh the horror. Something tells me that when Labor when in 2001 with only 41% of the popular vote a lot of partisan lefties would have come to a different conclusion than now when it wins with only 36% or so. They still won, however close it is.

Clinton won a similar victory in 1992, pulling down less than the majority of popular votes (the same for 1996) and won several states likely due to Perot's influence (Montana and Maine, for example). Somehow I don't think many of the left partisans would be saying Clinton's victory was weak (at least at the time) because of these facts.

Simply stated, Blair won because the Liberal Democrats don't really stand for anything in particular and the Tories are too mired in internal division to set an impressive agenda. Blair had to win by default because of the economics of the situation, because he's got incumbent advantage and because Howard and Kennedy were unwilling or unable to craft effectively inspirational messages.

I saw some of the political ads from the campaign. Howard ran on some pretty silly stuff that was simply not inspirational. Cleaner Hospitals? What? School Discipline? These are issues? Maybe if you're running for hospital administrator or school board member. The Liberal Democrats are center-right in Tory-leaning districts and center-left in Labor-leaning districts. They have no concise agenda. Given that the Conservatives were forced to unstatesmanlike issues of minor administration and character and that the Liberal Democrats were really focusing on few issues at all (aside from to-up fees for education) there wasn't a major choice. Labor didn't run a campaign of a whole lot more substance, but the incumbent has a decreased burden in that area as long as the economy's going okay.

I hardly think one can read a repudiation of the centrist and center-right policies of New Labor from the election. First of all, although the LDs took from labor, the Tories took seats from labor and from the LDs. If this were about repudiating New Labor as too conservative then the LibDems would have made more solid gains and not lost ground to the Tories.

Second, while it is definitely true that the LibDems made the biggest percentage swing of the parties, they made fewer seat gains (because of FPTP) and more importantly they don't present any clear economic picture. About the only thing that's clear is they're somewhat socially either left or libertarian - even that is muddled. Some of them are legitimately market-oriented liberals; others are big-spending Social Democrats. The party as a whole is schizophrenic, declaring an end to the era of government regulation and then proposing a long list of regulations to impose. It would have to go on a seat by seat basis, an analysis I'm not currently equipped to make. My sense, though, is that they didn't make this campaign very much about the war or social issues or economic issues. All I really remember them emphasizing is top-up fees, most of which was aimed at calling Blair a liar. Hardly a stunning repudiation of the market left.

Third, aside from the Tories, the UKIPs jumped into fourth place in terms of raw national votes with 2.3% of the total. While they failed to win a single seat, their 0.8% swing suggests an increased urgency about issues of the EU and intra-Euro migration. More to the point, the UKIPs are more on the market side rather than command-and-control economics, so I don't see how they could be seen as a repudiation of New Labor.

Fourth, though the Greens made a 0.4 swing to hit 1.0 nationally, the BNP had a 0.5 swing to 0.7 across the country. So the British National Party nearly quadrupled its vote share. Either one of these might be interpreted as opposition to the war, since the ultra-left and ultra-right both opposed the war. The BNP might also be a vehicle to complain about immigration.

Of course, analyzing these minor parties is somewhat unreliable because small parties can see their vote totals rock around unpredictably at times, and because none of them had a chance at winning most seats. But the point is the same: if we were seeing a repudiation of New Labor's economic shift, it would either show up in the LD totals or the third party totals (since the Tories back the war).

Labor was definitely punished in this election, but it's hard to take that punishment too seriously when more than 350 Laborites were returned to Westminster. Serious observers knew all along that Tony was going to win, and that in itself is the message: no matter how upset the british are about the war, immigration or anything else, they basically agree with what new Labor has done, they like the economy and they like the New Deal (the UK version). It's just ignorant to attribute the lost seats to New Labor itself. Voters in the UK have shown in two successive elections that they trust New Labor a) more than Old Labor, b) more than the Tories as currently manifested, and c) more than Liberal Democrats as currently non-existent.

The war was a problem for Labor, but they rode through it and they won a respectable majority. So what does the election tell us? That voters are basically uneasy with all three major options but that they think Labor should be less powerful while still in government. The voters in the UK have not repudiated New Labor; woe to the Laborites who reject this endorsement in the coming years.


Blogger Federalist X said...

yeah, its typical partisan bs... but why? especially interesting is when you consider that kos wrote the exact same criticism a few days before in an article published in the guardian. except this time, his target was the tory party, and his criticism was that they were drifting leftward. check the below link out and then ask yourself, why is kos so dedicated to the criticism that "moving to the center" is bad? i bet howard dean can help answer that question!

May 08, 2005 2:25 AM  

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