Friday, April 30, 2010

UK ELECTIONS 2010 - Changing Aspects

United Kingdom General Election on May 6, 2010

For the first time at a British election, the three main party leaders are engaged in a series of televised debates, modelled on the debates held in US presidential elections. That makes it far easier for the Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg to get his audience. During those debates, Clegg's poll ratings have risen to the point where many are considering the possibility of a Liberal Democrat role in Government.

This must be seen in front of an old-fashioned parliamentary system where a so-called "first-past-the-post" electoral system is employed in elections. The name being derived from horse racing means nothing else but: That candidate receiving the highest number of votes among his competitors will be declared the winner. As a consequence, the governing party tends to enjoy a large majority in the House of Commons, and there is often limited need to compromise with other parties. That's why the word "coalition government" seems to be unknown in Britain. Unlike Germany and other European countries, where single-party-governments are rare to be found, Britain's most recent history can be characterized by a constant change between pure Labour and pure Conservative governments. Getting back in time to the years before 1830, when conservative "Tory" governments changed with rather liberal "Whig" governments, it seems that almost nothing has changed since. Furthermore, modern British political parties are so tightly organised that they leave relatively little room for free action by their Members of Parliament. In many cases, MPs may be even expelled from their parties for voting against the instructions of their party leaders. During the 20th century, the British government has therefore lost confidence issues only three times — twice in 1924, and once in 1979.

After World War II, the Liberal Democrats declined to a party of political outsiders, unable to mobilize masses of voters, and I remember one Liberal MP out of a handful of Liberal members of parliament who once led our group of German schoolmates through the Houses of Parliament, telling us about the "Whigs", his party's predecessors, who once enjoyed much political influence in Britain. Now again, the Liberals are "on the go", not only due to modern politics but, as well, because of mass media deliberately serving as a platform for the exchange of ideas and opinions. Its just like U.S. President Obama wrote about his years as a Senator: You can persistently travel around your state and attend as many townhall-meetings as possible, but you will never reach that degree of publicity or popularity that you can reach by the means of one single TV spot on a national level.

Poll ratings of British political leaders and their parties after the last of three public debates [Al-Jazeera News Update, April 29, 2010]:

Conservative Party 36% and their leader Cameron 35%
Liberal Democrats 36% and their leader Clegg 33%
Labour Party 24% and their leader Prime Minister Gordon Brown 26%

A similar result after the first and second debate had been discussed some days before between a leading member of the Liberal Democrats and Al-Jazeera's David Frost in another edition of "Frost over the World" where the tough questions are put. Sir David Frost is a British journalist of repute who knows most British leaders personally and who joined the international program of Al-Jazeera almost from its beginning.

Last minute information: Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a mistake that could cost him more than one vote. On his campaign he was adressed by an elderly lady on the immigration subject. Back in his car, he murmured some insult into his beard, oblivious to the fact that his microphone was still switched on. Thus, all listening journalists could proliferate this story [Picture taken from CNN video].

The British Press shortly before Election Day:

Daily Mail's warning: Vote decisively to avoid a "hung" paliament where no single party has the majority [May 5, 2009].

The Sun: Something like "Britain's got talent to change" but avoid "hung" parliament [May 5, 2010].

Pro-Labour Daily Mirror: The rifles of those Tory guys from Eton college will target social benefits [May 5, 2010].

The Times: Citing Prime Minister Gordon Brown's "Better rely on Labour" [May 5, 2010].

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