Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Upcoming Elections in the UK

This is in no way intended to be mainly a "horse race" post about which party is polling how well or how the votes will translate into seats. Rather I intend to open the discussion about the big picture (ideological, policy, strategic) situation of the three main parties: Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats.

The Labour party of the Thatcher years was stolidly leftist in its outlook. They were beaten in one election after another and finally split when the moderate wing departed to form an alliance with the Liberals (Liberal SDP Alliance). This declind continued until Tony Blair and Gordon Brown orchestrated a decisive move centerward. Gone were the overtly socialist apeals and increasely irrelevant references to revolutionary rhetoric. Blair and Brown transformed the party into a modern, post-cold war, center-left party along the lines of major Social Democratic parties on the continent. Brown is continuing this moderate stance on domestic policies. But the Labour party faces two major sources of dissatisfaction with their continued government. First, the fallout from the 2008 global banking crisis makes it very difficult for Gordon Brown to campaign on his prefered image as a financial policy wiz kid. Second, the Blair/Brown closeness to unpopular US military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan has allienated a significant portion of the Labour party's base. This base was already annoyed at the move to the center. Now the wars and economic problems are threatening to split the party's electoral base. On top of it all it's just plain difficult to run a party that bases its legitimacy on the provision of public services when the revenue isn't there anymore to distribute.

The Conservatives of the Blair era were in a similar kind of dissaray as Labour was during Thatcher's era. They cycled through leaders rapidly and without a clear direction. It was like a parade of former Thatherites who had been waiting in the wings for their turn and the younger and more dynamic Blair made minced meat of them. They failed to take advantage of the unpopularity of Blair's deployment of troops to Iraq because they were even more hawkish than Labour. Now they have a younger, more telegenic leader in David Cameron. Cameron has been making a big show of moving to the center politically too. But just as the election looms, his right wing base is demanding attention and he's having to throw them bones just when he most wants to seal the deal as a moderate, non-threatening Tory rather than a raving Thatcherite.

Enter the Liberal Democrats. Once one of the two major parties in the UK, the Liberals have been lurking on the fringes of British politics for the better part of a century. Lately, they've staked out ideological territory somewhere between the two other parties. After years of polarization under Thatcher and much of the Blair years, the Liberals are now finding the center rather crowded ideological territory.

But they have some distinct advantages and disadvantages over their rivals. First, they have no stake in the current mess. They were neither responsible for the Thatcherite period of deregulation or in positions of immediate responsibility during the collapse. Second, their leader, performed very well in a recent three way debate presenting himself as a credible alternative, with clean hands, that doesn't have to pretend to be a centrist. But they also have disadvantages (other than the electoral system which is a big part of the earlier related thread). First, one of their positions is that the UK should adopt the Euro as their currency (not a popular position to put it mildly). Second, the Liberal Democrats have to convince voters that they are capable of doing the job. It's unfair given how long the Conservatives have been out of power, but the Tories don't have answer that question as decisively.

On top of all of this is a big boost for the Liberal Democrats. Last year a widespread scandal hit the House of Commons regarding abuse of expense accounts by MPs from nearly every party in Parliament. While several Liberal Democrats got mixed up in it, a general "throw the bums out" sentiment can only benefit the smallest party in the game.


The Law Talking Guy said...

My guess is that the LibDems have not done a good job at convincing the British public that they have staked out centrist territory. I suspect that they have long been perceived as wishy-washy, muddled, incoherent, even random, not coherently centrist. I think the platform given to Clegg has changed that dramatically.

It's interesting to speculate what Clegg's poll surging means for electoral analysis. An analysis based on electoral voting patterns or economic interests alone would not have predicted the LD surge - what was required was the media exposure, the good performance at the debate, and the hard-to-quantify legitimacy that came from being on the same stage. In other words, it is hard to dispute that, absent the debate, the LDs would not be surging in the polls today. While you may be able to use such tools to predict longer-term policy outcomes with some regularity, elections are very different. An election is sort of an "n of 1" - a unique event that is subject to all sorts of vagaries and changes.

Yet the surge is hardly unpredictable. As I suggested in my last post, any gibbon could tell you that putting Nick Clegg on the same stage as the other two would, all by itself, have boosted the LDs in the polls.

I am excited about the prospect of the LD party having some power. Their pro-Europe position is good for the UK, I think, and they will almost certainly shut the far right out of any government that forms, something that David Cameron just cannot do, even if he wanted to.

Raised By Republicans said...

On policy issues, aside from being so pro-EU, the Lib Dems have very similar policies to both Labour and the Tories. As I said, Blair brought Labour to the middle and Cameron brought Conservative to the middle and the Lib Dems have always been there.

So suppose that Labour gets 38% of the seats and Conservative gets 39% of the seats or something with Lib Dems getting the balance. That would enable the Lib Dems to say "who wants to govern? make us an offer?"

My guess would be that the winning bid would include electoral system reform. That's really the only thing that the Lib Dems want from the either of the other two parties. Pretty much everything else is a compromise between people that already agree - more or less. If I had to guess, I'd say the Lib Dems would be more comfortable with Labour than with the Conservatives.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Now that I have discussed this matter thoroughly over beer with a Brit at a domestic airport bar, I am way better informed than the rest of you.

Here's what I learned: this guy(bloke) was proud to tell me that HE was not a bandwaggoner (note Brit spelling) but that he had been intending to vote LibDem for 18 months already.

So I conclude from this n=1 that there's a lot of enthusiasm out there in the UK for the LibDems right now. It's Obamatastic, in other words.

On a more serious note, this Brit was hopeful that a hung parliament would allow some serious electoral reform, which I would concur in.

My guess is that the LibDems will cozy up to whichever party gets the most VOTES (not seats) because they do not want ot be seen as thwarting the people's will. If it's the Tories, they'll cozy up to them and only run back to Labour when the inevitable happens - when the Tories make impossible demands or the LibDems make demands they know the Tories can't accept in order to get an excuse to abandon them for Labour.

Just sayin'.

Raised By Republicans said...

I think you are right about the Libs wanting to go into coalition with the top VOTE getter. But I doubt that will be different than the top seat getter. It's looking more and more like the Torries are going win big.

Raised By Republicans said...

In other words, top vote getter and top seat getter will probably be the Tories on both scores.