Stephen Harper: Role Model
But even if this move works, the most likely outcome remains a Conservative minority government. Yes, a Labour-LibDem coalition is possible, but I think the Canadian experience with this suggests that voters might accept a coalition under some circumstances, but not if the electorate shows a decisive preference for Cameron over Brown (which they most certainly will).
And with all these parallels between Canada and the UK floating around, the last four years of Canadian politics may suddenly become the case study everyone in England looks to, in an effort to understand how a Conservative minority government can work. Believe me, I'm as horrified by this prospect as you are. We can only hope they don't look at our record too closely...
In all seriousness, there probably is a lot that they can learn from us. After all, the Stephen Harper Conservatives have survived for over four years with no real working partner in Parliament - that's nothing to sneeze at when you consider the fate of Joe Clark. While I don't know a lot about the UK political scene, I'll still offer up a few pieces of advice to the mother country that may prove useful:
1. Don't believe the hype - see the movie yourself, eh. After reading this article at 538, I tend to think perceptions of Canadian politics don't always match reality. Cameron's people should definitely open up the lines of communication with Harper's team to really understand what's gone on here. Hell, it's been a revolving door at the PMO of late, so I'm sure they can find someone willing to jet over to England for a cup of tea.
2. Govern from the centre. Yes, yes, I know that hard core Liberals don't even recognize this country any more. And hell, a lot of the things Harper has done piss me off. But the man has governed as a moderate - he's generally steered away from social conservative issues, and his budgets have looked quite Liberal. By doing this, he has buried much of the "hidden agenda" talk and made it exceedingly difficult for the Liberals to find a real wedge issue they can run on.
3. Know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em. I suspect Labour will be into a leadership race shortly, so they probably won't be in tip top fighting shape. This will give Cameron the opportunity to implement most of his campaign promises without any real opposition, but be careful. As Joe Clark learned in December 1979, and Stephen Harper learned 29 years later, even a battered opposition will fight back if you push too hard. Settle for some good old Stephen Harper incrementalism until you get your majority.
4. To Labour - you need more than a quick fix. Again, I'm not coming at this with a deep understanding of British politics, but after (all together now, using your best John Baird impression!) "13 long years in government", and a decade of internal fighting, I suspect there's some soul searching to do. The temptation will be to blame Brown and to look for a quick fix. Trust me, that's not going to work.
5. To the LibDems - be careful. The NDP made huge gains in '88 to see it wiped out. The ADQ rose and fell. Life as a third party sucks. Above all else, show that you belong in the big leagues and show that you're more than a one man party.
6. Be prepared for an unbearable barrage of election speculation. From what we've seen, the best way for the opposition to deal with this is to sing from the Jack Layton song book - "we're here to make parliament work", "the British people don't want an election" - rather, than constantly banging and silencing the election drums at every opportunity. Don't infect people with election fever if you have no intention of actually forcing an election.
Beyond the above, to all the UK leaders I'd say avoid tight leather vests and carbon taxes, and behave yourself while going through airport security. It probably wouldn't hurt to brush up on your piano skills either.
Labels: UK Election