Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Is This Thing On?

Unfortunately for the Prime Minister the mic was on.

It is tough to analyze Gordon Brown's gaffe except to say it was a huge one and that it makes it very hard for Labour to gain any traction in the polls.

Andrew Rawnsley, who has written two accounts of Labour's 13 years in government, puts the episode in context of Gordon Brown's general manner of conducting himself while Prime Minister.

All I know is that Liturgygeek will be terribly upset.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Price of Victory

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has named his price for forming a coalition with Labour and the price is apparently Gordon Brown's departure. Gordon Brown's most likely replacement would be David Milibrand, the current Foreign Secretary. A big question then would be where does Nick Clegg end up in a coalition government. The most logical place would be to replace Milibrand at the Foreign Office but does the Liberal Democrats reputation on economic matters put Clegg or Vince Cable at the Treasury?

The Liberal Democrat strategy is now clear. They are telling voters if you want a center left government, and if you want to keep the Conservatives out, but you don't want Gordon Brown then vote for the Liberal Democrats.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Lib Dems Ascendent

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg won the party leaders debate and the results have shaken this election its core. Recent polling shows a strong surge in favor of the Liberal Democrats and one poll even had the Lib Dems moving ahead of Labour.

So, who are the Liberal Democrats?

They are first and foremost a fusion of two political parties. The Liberal Democrats are the heirs of the old Liberal Party that was a major party in the UK until overtaken by Labour in the first couple of decades of the 20th century. The second group was formed when a group of moderate Labour MPs, called the Social Democratic Party(SDP), split from the party in the 1980s and joined forces with the Liberals and by the early 1990s they resulting party was known as the Liberal Democrats.

The party tends to be the most left leaning party but economic issues do cause divisions and tensions within the party. Originally they were more moderate then the democratic socialism of Labour but Labour under Tony Blair moved right on economics, and now the Lib Dems might be more left than Labour. Liberal Democrats are most assoociated with pushing for reform of the political system, strong support for civil liberties, and for their opposition to the Iraq War.

Nick Clegg is the party leader but the real star is the treasury spokesman Vince Cable. Cable is popular, in large part, because of his predictions of the financial crisis and for his criticism of London's banking culture. Cable is also credited for the best insult of Gordon Brown when he said that the Prime Minister transformed himself from "Stalin to Mr. Bean."

Since the 1997 election, under the leadership of previous leaders Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrats have made gains in the number of seats in the Commons. Yet as the Lib Dem success has increased, the level of expectation also increases and many success are interpreted as disappointments when compared with the party's goals.

This year may be different. The Lib Dems may achieve their goal of becoming the official opposition party. More important they are slated to be kingmakers and Clegg is coy about how he will decide which party to support. The possible eclipsing of Labour by the Liberal Democrats and the possibility of the traditional UK two major party system become a 3 party system are two of the most important stories that will develop over the final stretches of the campaign.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Manifesto Destiny

The parties launched their campaign manifestos this week. A manifesto is a like a campaign platform but unlike in the U.S. the parties adhere much closer to their manifesto then American parties adhere to their platforms.

Two major issues are appearing to dominate the election. Since the UK is mired in the global recession then the parties are making a big deal out of economic and budgetary matters. The other issues deals with reform of the political system and gaining the people's trust after the scandal involving MP's expenses.

Labour addresses the budgetary issues by promising to halve the deficit in 4 years. They do so by promising to cut wasteful spending. However, Labour went to great pains to promise to not raise taxes on most incomes and to keep the Value Added Tax(a type of national sales tax) from being extended to food and children's clothes. However there is no promise to not raise the existing VAT. To reform the political system, Labour promises to end the last hereditary peers and to pursue reforming how MP's are elected.

The Conservative plan to end the deficit by the end of the next parliament and they plan on doing so by cutting 12 billion pounds in wasteful spending over the next two years. The Tories big splash came in there ideas for reforming the political system. David Cameron announced that the Tories would cut the number of MP's by 10% and also cutting the pay of government ministers. Votes would also be able to recall a sitting MP under the Tory plan. The Conservatives also plan to allow for local referendums if 5% of the population wanted one and these referendums could be used to veto tax increases.

The parties also put forth some ideas that are distinctly their own. Labour focused on household budget issues. They propose creating a 4 week period of paternity leave for new fathers and giving tax credits to families with young children. The Tories idea focusing on scrapping the plan for a nation ID card and they want to hold a referendum on lifiting the ban on fox hunting.

Gordon Brown, David Cameron, and Nick Clegg(the Liberal Democrat leader) will meet on Thursday in the first of 3 debates. Now that the parties have set the terms for the election, the real campaigning begins.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Hang 'em High

The big question in this year's general election is will the results lead to a hung parliament. A hung parliament occurs when no one party garners a clear majority of seats. When voters go to the polls, 650 seats in the House of Commons will be up for grabs and the winning party will have gain at least 326 seats to form a majority. Labour will lose it's majority if losses 24 seats and the Conservatives gain a majority if they win 116 more seats then they have now.

While it is all but certain that Labour will lose the 24 seats, there are serious questions about whether the Tories can win 116 seats. For the Conservatives to win enough seats there will have to be a swing of 6.9% of the vote away from Labour and towards the Conservatives. The current polling appears to indicate a swing of less then what is needed and the Conservatives being 21 seats of the absolute majority needed.

If there is a hung parliament then the party with the largest number of seats can try to form a majority or the various parties can try to form a coalition government. Gordon Brown might have the advantage in this because as the sitting prime minister he, almost by default, will get the first crack at forming a government. The most likely possibility is that Labour will try to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats and whatever 3rd parties can be brought into the coalition. If Brown can't form a coalition then the Conservative will probably form some type of government.

The most recent election to produce a hung parliament is 1974. Ted Heath's Conservative's lost on election day but Heath held on through the weekend trying to form a coalition before finally resigning in favor of Harold Wilson's Labour party. Peter Hennesssy tells a great story in his book The Prime Minister. During the weekend while the 1974 elections were in doubt, the cabinet secretary and the Queen's private secretary walked around St. James Park discussing all the options.

As an observer, and a person with no stake in the results, I want a hung parliament because I want to see what happens and how a hung parliament will resolve itself. Strictly as an interested observer, I am pulling for a close election and a hung parliament.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Cover It Up

Two news stories about our country's wars in the Middle East have garnered a lot of attention. The first story involves wikileaks, a website that publishes confidential government information, releasing a video that shows U.S. military helicopter crew members killing civilians; including a reporter from Rueters. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the exact nature of the video and the context around which the helicopter attack occurred. The U.S. military initially claimed that all the civilians were insurgents but now there a lot people are alleging cover-up.

Which brings us to the second story. General Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. Commander in Afghanistan, admitted that U.S. soldiers have killed :an amazing number of people who were not threats." A soldier under his command asked Gen. McChrystal a question about problems with escalations of force and the general responded,

"I do want to say something that everyone understands. We really ask a lot of our young service people out on the checkpoints because there's danger, they're asked to make very rapid decisions in often very unclear situations. However, to my knowledge, in the nine-plus months I've been here, not a single case where we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and, in many cases, had families in it. That doesn't mean I'm criticizing the people who are executing. I'm just giving you perspective. We've shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force."

There is, I believe, a conspiracy and General McChrystal gets at the reason for it in his reply. The U.S., and other western nations, put in a lot of effort to give the impression that there are rules and order to what happens in war. The reality is quite different and the conspiracy is the effort to hide that reality. You cannot make orderly what is by definition disorderly, chaotic, brutal and inhumane. The conspiracy is in place so that people who don't know better, and quite a few that do, will continue to support the war effort thinking that the means and the ends are more nobler than they really are.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

To the Hustings

Gordon Brown went to Buckingham Palace today and asked the Queen to dissolve Parliament, which will lead to a general election to be held on May 6. This parliament's last day is April 12 and then the campaign events really begin in earnest. The first big event after the dissolution of Parliament is the first of 3 television debates on April 15 between the leaders of the 3 main parties. Currently David Cameron's conservatives hold a lead in the pools of roughly 8 points.

The Backbencher is a complete anglophile and will spend much of the next month following the campaign. I hope to blog on the issues, personalities, and events surrounding the campaign as much as possible.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Here We Go Again

I watched with dismay as President Obama announced his intention to allow for more offshore oil drilling. For me, what is especially galling is his explanation that he is seeking "to move beyond the tired debates between right and left."

Every time I hear Obama talk about getting beyond the debate between left and right, I just assume he is about to sell out liberals and get nothing in return from conservative Republicans.

Fool Me Once

The Guardian ran a great April Fool's story about Labour's efforts to use Gordon Brown's temper as an electoral strategy.

Update: The Guardian has a series of posters that they and readers created.