UK Election: What Kind of Change?

It was unusually sunny this morning at the Central London polling station when I voted in the UK General Election. If the steady stream of voters I saw is anything to go by, turnout looks to be high - up to 70 per cent from the 60 per cent turnout in 2005. There are many reasons for this... and not of a few of them connected to Obama's campaign in 2008, which not only re-energised my interest in politics (and the left wing blogosphere) but captivated the country. But the kind of change the British General Election has ushered isn't that obvious, as can be seen from thee front page the Murdoch-owned best-selling conservative leaning Tabloid this morning.

 

 

Yes, you got it. The people who supported John McCain, the company that brings you the 24 hour asinine right wing ass-hattery of FOX TV, have the temerity to use the Obama Change image as their crucial headline. 'It was the Sun Wot Won it' was the famous refrain after the tabloid claimed it swayed the last close election - in 1992 - for the Tories. Recently, the Political Editor of The Sun told some journalists recently that his job was 'to win the fucking election for David Cameron' (one of his predecessors on the Sunday Murdoch Tabloid is none other than the Conservative Campaign Honcho). There are several transparent financial interests that the Murdoch Empire has in a Conservative election victory in the UK, as the spoofters have already spotted.. More of these to be found here. But the bigger question is - how can a Conservative candidate be an avatar of change? And what kind of change is the UK looking for? *** There are so many things that happened this UK cycle, many of them in the shadow of US elections, that the easiest thing is to define what didn't happen. No, this wasn't the election when tweeting, blogging and online journalism or organisation won the day. In fact, the biggest surprise of this UK election was the advent of televised leader's debates. I know... this must sound so 1960s to you guys... but the appearance of the three main party leaders on camera really did shift the election, as you can see by the sudden upwards move of the yellow line in the poll graph below. Basically, the debates finally created an equal three way focus on the candidates of the main parties. Since the UK has been a two party contest since WWII, the effect of this sudden tertiary equivalence was pronounced. Not only did the Lib Dem Candidate, Nick Clegg, do well on the first debate (of three) he also represented the 'change' candidate all over again.

For the past five years, the Tory Leader David Cameron, has been pursuing a superficially centrist agenda, appealing to the 'compassion' in Conservatism, it's ecological and social credentials, and basically playing the Tony Blair game of being photogenic, a man of the people, and not committed to anything much beyond the politics of everything for everybody. But then along came Nick Clegg - a change from change, and stole the anti incumbency vote - at least for a while.

Because that is the main factor in this election - a desire for change. The Labour Party have been in power for 13 years, and go to the polls while the country is suffering the biggest recession in living memory, and two unpopular wars. Brown is also an unpopular leader. Though he's an honourable man (I've worked for him as a speechwriter) he never connected with the British public in the fake, thespian way that Blair did. He's paying the price for that, and the resentment against incumbency.

For over a year, the Conservatives had a ten or twenty point lead over Labour, only to see that squeeze down to single figures at the start of the campaign, and then bleed a lot of anti Labour support to Clegg and the Liberal democrats. Until quite recently, this third party surge looked like it was going to deliver what any progressive would want - a coalition government of two centre left parties. The great thing about the Liberal Democrats is that they would pursue many centre left policies - especially on reform of the House of Lords, the Voting system, our nuclear deterrent and taxation inequalities. They would also do this without the authoritarian streak so evident under Tony Blair's New Labour - the support for Bush, detention without trial, rendition, torture, ID cards etc.

In fact, the reason why Brown is in power, and Blair isn't, and either one would be unpopular can be put down to one word: Iraq. That, and all the consequences in terms of civil liberties and personnel losses, is still haunting this UK election. Without it - and with a new Leader - I have little doubt Labour would be looking at a fourth term of Government. That may not be healthy. But we have yet to see what our New Compassionate Conservatives really stand for. If my experience on the UK Blogosphere, on both Labour and Conservative sites, is anything to go by - we're going to have a UK reprise of Bush in 2000.

One thing is therefore for certain. The Blair/Brown project of New Labour, which was consciously modelled on Clintonite Triangulation, will finally die tonight. This need not be a victory for Conservatism - indeed Obama killed off triangulation in 2008 and yet won the GE. There are still many scenarios under which the centre left could retain power, either with a coalition or a new election after a period of minority Government. I am not despairing. In fact, there are many seeds of new hope. But now, before the election results come in, may I now declare New Labour dead. Labour and progressive values will survive. But a phase is over in British political history and - for good and ill - will never be the same again.

Americans should be able to watch BBC coverage of the election on C-SPAN from 4:55pm EDT/1:55pm PDT or streamed directly from the BBC website

Tags: Liberal Democrat, conservative, Labour, general election, united kingdom, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Nick Clegg (all tags)

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