Monday, April 19, 2010

UK Grits

I don't know nearly enough about British politics to offer up any commentary, but after the country's first televised debate last week, the Liberal Democrats have surged ahead, making it a bonafide 3-party race.

The conservative Cameron remains the favourite. And given the challenges facing third parties, I think it's highly unrealistic to expect Clegg's Liberal Dems to finish ahead of Paul Martin's Labour Party for second place come Election Day (May 6th).

But it certainly seems like Britain might be heading for a minority - and possibly a coalition - government.



  • The reading from here in the UK is that it's headed for a hung parliament (i.e. a minority). The question at this stage is whether the Lib Dem surge is going to produce a Tory plurality or a Labour plurality. David Cameron's begun to adjust his pitch so as to convince people that if they vote for the Lib Dems, a Labour government is the likely result.

    I didn't think Clegg was as overwhelmingly victorious in the televised debate as the polls around here would seem to indicate. He was clearly going to make the most gains going in, but he also benefited from Cameron and Brown treating him as a soft target (and potential ally) instead of clashing with his policy positions head-on. Where Cameron did take on Clegg head-on, it was on issues like the Trident nuclear missile system where in terms of public sentiment, Clegg had the higher ground.

    I may have underestimated the pull that Clegg now has around here simply because in Canada, there's a certain emptiness to the old Jack Layton pitch about how the old boys are bickering as usual and he's the only one who represents real change. We're used to that pitch as being hollow theatre; here it comes off as new. I'm betting the NDP is going to be studying the Clegg playbook like mad, but a lot of his success is peculiar to the present British context.

    For all of the similarities between the Brown/Cameron showdown and what we saw with Martin vs. Harper, one significant difference is that the expenses scandal has come off to the public as systemic, pan-partisan corruption, unlike how Harper successfully played Adscam as a sign of Liberal partisan rot. Cameron's "Big Society" has been part of the media conversation for long enough that for a lot of people, his sheen of reform has worn off.

    Once people see some of the Lib Dems' policy positions that haven't gotten much airplay (among them, proportional representation) we may see the numbers settle somewhat. I'm still waiting to see what kind of depth they have in foreign policy.

    By Anonymous Nick, at 6:44 PM  

  • Clever comment about "Paul Martin's Labour Party". It DOES look like Gordon Brown is in a similar position to PM, following a successful leader after being Chancellor of the Exchequer.

    By Blogger Party of One, at 6:49 PM  

  • The one caveat I'd add to this discussion is that it reveals clearly that Cameron has been unable to lock down the supposed appeal of his movement.

    The return of conservative government to Britain has been all but ordained by the media there - right and left - for nearly a year. I read an article on "What a Conservative Goverment will mean?" nearly six months ago, and it wasn't presented as a hypothetical view.

    I believe some of what is going on now is simply a response of an electorate who may be ready for a change, but haven't warmed to Cameron's version of it. He could be in a pickle if he tries to go hard right after trying to sell himself as some type of conservative light figure for the past year. But he'll either need to do that or get into an argument with the Liberal Democrats on who really represent change. And he'll definitely be tempted to roll out the fear barrel, as he started to do this past weekend. I'm not so sure that will play, as it might reinforce the lingering concerns the public seems to have about him.

    I do expect Clegg and the Liberal Democrats to be challenged, but Cameron is going to be increasingly challenged as well as the campaign continues, asked to explain from where all the cuts he proposes are going to come.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:14 PM  

  • I have to agree with Nick - once the Lib Dems get more airtime, and they get more exposure, and some of the more unsavoury parts of the platform and party come to the spotlight, things will settle down a little.

    However, there is ample room for the Lib Dems to grow without winning nearly 30%. I suspect the Lib Dems will score anywhere between their 2005 result (22%) and 25%, which is excellent for them, and somewhere between 60 and 100 seats - a great result as well.

    That would most surely result in a minority government. However, I think despite the electoral projections of such an electorate, Labour won't get its plurality, no matter if the Tories (true Tories, no less) don't perform as well as they could. The marginal seats in Britain are constantly outpacing the national swing projection (Tories need 7% swing to get a majority, 3-4% swing to get a plurality), so they're in a pretty good position.

    That puts the Lib Dems in a great position of king-maker - which is great, because Clegg is a great leader with good policies.

    Interesting times for Britain, to be sure.

    By Blogger Volkov, at 7:19 PM  

  • Someone here should point out that the nickname 'Grit' is a uniquely Canadian term for the Liberal party (from the Clear Grits of Upper Canada who pushed for responsible government in British North America) so our UK readers may not understand the thread title. So alternatively for them you could subtitle this "Return of the Whigs"?

    Yes I know I'm stretching things, and especially since the original Liberal Party (UK) are as dead as the PC's. But then the CPofC continues to be referenced as Tories, even though there is precious little left of traditional Tory values in that party.

    By Blogger Tof KW, at 8:14 PM  

  • Anon @7:14pm, you must look further into who really is doing the ordaining. From what I hear he's trying to expand his preachings into Canada. He's already got his foot in the door.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:09 AM  

  • Thanks for the comments from the British contingent here!

    Nick - Presumably, the other leaders will go after Clegg a bit harder in the next two debates...and, like you said, if people start to look at him closely, it will be hard to sustain this surge. Realistically, we're probably looking at a strong third, which will mean a hung parliament.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 9:33 AM  

  • More airtime may not be all that bad for the Liberal Democrats. In a three-way race, if you can put together a platform that 40% of people will support you can do quite well.

    What will probably kill the Lib Dems is an inefficient distribution of the vote across the country - amplified by the broad nature of their anti-politics as usual schpiel in the debate. They will remain the third party in terms of seats.

    However, a hung parliament might actually be able to last. Gordon Brown proposed a referendum on electoral reform in the debate. With that carrot he could probably string along the Lib Dems to support a coalition government of some kind with an electoral reform promise.

    Of course the reform Brown wants is different from the one Clegg would want. Brown wants an Australian-style voting system so that Labour can benefit from being the second choice of most of Britain's regional parties and the Lib Dems. Hence in the debate he didn't say "PR" he said he wanted "every MP to be elected with more than 50% of the vote." I'm sure at this very moment Michael Ignatieff is thinking the same thing.

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 2:07 PM  

  • In terms of politics its make me sick.

    By Anonymous men overcoat, at 2:21 AM  

  • By Blogger mmjiaxin, at 8:19 PM  

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