The British Elections and Electoral Reform

In Dutch there is an expression which loosely translates as: “when two dogs fight for a bone, the third will run off with it”. When the Conservative Party under their ‘modernist’ leader David Cameron challenged their major opponents to the first ever televised leader’s debate in Britain, they would have done well to remember this. They counted on the slick appeal of Cameron easily putting the jaw-munching tactlessness of Prime Minister Brown in the shade. But they forgot that the Liberal Democrats, doomed to be the perpetual third party in the UK since the Armistice, had a charismatic figure and an excellent debater in their leader Nick Clegg. The effect has been remarkable: for the first time anyone living can remember, the Liberal Democrats are now leading the other parties in the popular vote in some polls, and are equal contenders in others. The Labour share has dropped to levels lower than those of Michael Foot in the disastrous election of 1979, but the Tories too have not managed to beat their equally bad poll results of the days of New Labour ascendancy in the 1990s. All the remainder of the vote seems increasingly to be moving collectively into the Liberal Democrats’ camp. Now one can debate to what extent this is entirely the result of the impact of modern mass media like television on political campaigns; there are good, if anecdotal, reasons to assume that much of it is also driven by an electorate tired of Labour but equally repulsed by the Tories, looking for a way out. Be that as it may, British elections have not been as exciting and not had as uncertain an outcome in many decades, with everyone now expecting a hung parliament to result for the first time since 1974. Continue reading “The British Elections and Electoral Reform”