"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Friday, May 05, 2006

Britain's Changing Political Landscape

Britain's ruling Labour Party took a huge hit in the recent polls for local offices. The New York Times reports:

With 4,360 local council seats and 176 authorities in play, Labor lost 250 councillors and 18 councils, according to preliminary results. The big winner was David Cameron, who took control of the opposition Conservative Party last December and for whom Thursday's vote was the first electoral challenge. The Conservatives gained 12 councils, according to preliminary results, including some in bellwether London boroughs, but failed to make ground in the north of England.

The vote did not directly affect the composition of parliament in London, where Mr Blair won a third successive -- if reduced -- majority in national elections one year ago. But, according to a projection by the BBC, the local election in which 23 million Britons were eligible to cast a ballot, showed the Conservatives in the lead with 40 per cent of the vote, the smaller opposition Liberal Democrats with 27 per cent and Labor lagging with 26 per cent.

The Conservative Party benefited from the Labour meltdown—caused largely by scandals in the government—but the real beneficiaries were two right-wing parties, one reasonable and the other much less so. The NY Times reports:

The results also showed creeping gains by the small, anti-immigrant British National Party, particularly in the east London area of Barking and Dagenham where 11 of its 13 candidates won seats from Labor incumbents. Though tiny in relation to the big parties, its gains provoked unease about the possibility of a extreme right backlash against immigrants.

This all bodes ill for Labour's prospects in the next election, which must be held by 2010, the NY Times reports:

The results in local elections do not always mirror national polls: Labor also polled 26 per cent in the last major local vote in 2004, but won power again in the national election last year. But, this time, national politics weighed heavily after a series of scandals, including Mr. Prescott's affair, the questions over the government's failure to deport foreign criminals, worries about the future of the state-funded National Health Service and accusations that Labor offered campaign donors places in the House of Lords in return for loans.

The poll was the biggest electoral event before the next national vote, which must take place by 2010, when Mr Blair has said he will not seek re-election as prime minister.

The accumulation of problems has fed opposition claims that the third-term government is arrogant and incompetent.

The Tories have made a rather poor effort at taking advantage of Labour's decline in popularity, as John O'Sullivan points out, because under their new leader, David Cameron, the Tories have been "undergoing either a cultural makeover or a nervous breakdown as they re-brand themselves as a Green party that rejects lower taxes and believes in wealth redistribution. This transformation has not proved a vote-winner. Until Black Wednesday they were level-pegging with Labor. They have risen to a modest 35 percent since then." O'Sullivan correctly predicted that the Tories would "do well on Thursday. But their success will be based on Labor’s retreat rather than on Tory conversions."

This is a very bad thing because in pre-election polls, which were borne out by the election results, 15 percent of voters said they would vote for “other” parties. O'Sullivan writes, "Usually, that figure is one or two per cent. What makes this doubly shocking is the other parties: the United Kingdom Independence Party and the British National Party.

"UKIP," O'Sulliven continues, "is a decent Euroskeptic party, mainly disillusioned Tories, with an Ealing Comedy flavor. But the BNP is a semi-fascist party on the model of the French National Front. And boosted by the Clarke fiasco, the BNP is likely to get the lion’s share of that fifteen percent."

The polls confirm that both Labour and the Tories, in remaking themselves as something they cannot be, have slid in the public's esteem. The Tories have blown a great opportunity—and not for the first time in recent years. As long as they become Labour Me-Toos, the Tories will probably continue to weaken, and the farther-Right parties will continue to rise. Not an appealing prospect.

7 comments:

Devang said...

Excuse my language, but when there is a BBC special for a political party called Young, Nazi, and Proud (which shows the party's convention being full of closet Nazi sympathizers), and they still win elections, that is a scary landscape.

Britian immigrated a lot of people because it was an imperial power, to crib about it now is a bit pointless.

S. T. Karnick said...

It should be noted, however, that opposing open immigration does not make one a Nazi. There are plenty of Brits who oppose open immigration and find the BNP repugnant. The two positions are far from congrueant.

Devang said...

Offcourse, the two positions are different, like night and day. The two paragraphs in my earlier comment are unrelated thoughts, as are the following two.

The special mentioned that there is a part of the BNP which would evict even legal immigrants. When they mean patriotic, they're very specific.

Open immigration w/o the state becoming a welfare state is an appealing idea though.

Tom Van Dyke said...

What the Brits call "Question Time", where Blair answers all comers from the House of Commons, is on C-SPAN on Sunday nights. Check it out, if you haven't.

The demagoguery of the Tories, which reminds me of the Democrats here, indicates that opposition is seldom loyal or principled.

There's no reason for conservatives in the US to feel any affinity for their putative allies in the UK. I'd still be backing Blair, meself. He's no less a Thatcherite than the mushy David Cameron.

Devang said...

What the Brits call "Question Time", where Blair answers all comers from the House of Commons, is on C-SPAN on Sunday nights. Check it out, if you haven't.

That is what we need in America. Yay the british parliamentary system. Jon Stewart would have no show if there was an American "Question Time"

There are times when even the senate pales in comparison to some of the debates, but then again, even the parliament starts talking about the Thames and it starts becoming all too clear: Politics is a way too funny to be true.

Devang said...

This is offtopic, but speaking of Britain, I've been watching Top Gear since I was a kid, but recently the show has gained a lot of new ground. It's on The Discovery Channel here too. They listen to Thatcher speeches on drives, and blame the excessive regulation by liberal democrats for the bad cars and speed cameras in Britain. It's hilarious.

S. T. Karnick said...

Right, bad cars and speed cameras happened because people wanted them, not because the government wanted them. Right.