Journalism

UK election update: Six days to go, but who's counting?


One of these men will be the next Prime Minister of the UK

We had the last debate yesterday, and according to the pollsters, Cameron won. Whatever that means. Well, we know what it means—more people who were polled thought he won than either Brown or Clegg, although one poll had Cameron and Clegg tied. The important thing is that Brown did nothing to re-establish his status as a serious candidate after his soon-to-become-if-isn’t-already-famous encounter with Gillian Duffy, a lifelong Labour supporter, grandmother, widow, and caregiver to disabled children, whom Brown referred to as a “bigoted woman” because of her concerns about immigration. And who will not now be voting Labour. This has rapidly morphed in bigotgate, and seemed to provide the final nail in Brown’s coffin. How this will all impact the final voting, a week from now, remains to be seen. But it still probably means we get no one with a clear majority to form a government, and a coalition government as a result. And the question remains, who will Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems align themselves with?

This remains unclear. What will be watched closely now is whether Cameron, who was so far ahead in the polls before the first debate that his ascendancy to Prime Minister was generally conceded to be inevitable, will recover enough traction to eke out a majority. At the moment this looks unlikely, but it’s still possible that there may be some further spectacular Labour car crashes (like the actual car crash today) that could swing some more votes the Tories’ way. It looks unlikely that Labour will be able to catch a break over the next week, but you never know.

And now some strategic genius in Labour part headquarters has decided that the thing to revitalize the campaign is to bring back…Tony Blair. What could possibly go wrong here? I suppose the thinking is that Labour is in such dire straights that something like this will prove galvanizing. The plan is to have Blair campaign in certain “strategic” constituencies, so his exposure isn’t too broad. Good luck with that. Brown may be a hapless Prime Minister and campaigner, but the deep abyss Labour finds itself in is only partially his fault—it’s the direct result of what Blair did to the Labour party. Brown’s problems, aside from the fact that he’s as charismatic as a used refrigerator, derive mainly from the fact that he didn’t take the opportunity to try to change the party from Blair’s image when he had the chance. Which leaves open the likelihood that Brown shares Blair’s views on much of everything. Which is why Labour is third in most polls. And, of course, we already have a questionable strategy—Blair is campaigning on the basis Gordon Brown has not been a failure as Prime Minister. How’s that for positive spin?

It’s fair to say that this has been the most interesting political campaign in the UK in decades, and we can blame it all on television. Everyone concedes that if these debates had not been televised, Clegg and the Lib Dems would still be a distant third. What everyone does not agree on is whether this transformation by the media is necessarily a good thing, although on balance I would say it has been. For one thing, it has sharpened all the candidates up. If you listen to the stump speeches from all three, they do tend to agglomerate into a sticky mess. But when faced with serious questions in a televised debate format, where they’re required not only to answer questions from the public but to respond to each other, all three, even Brown, have risen to the occasion and done a pretty good job of articulating positions and intentions. (Of course, Brown is in some way reminiscent of Nixon, as Mrs W pointed out to me–he looks horrible on television, and even worse when he smiles.) And, in a strange way, it has actually reduced the influence of the highly partisan British media, because it has allowed voters a bit of a reality check against some of the more outlandish media campaigns, particularly those launched by the Tory press (the Murdoch empire, The Telegraph) against Nick Clegg.

Not that it’s been perfect. There have been serious criticisms from some quarters, particularly the Institute for Fiscal Studies, a highly influential economic think-tank, that none of the major parties have publicly addressed the significant budget cuts that will need to be made. This is true, they haven’t. And a number of environmental groups, as well as the Green Party, have bemoaned the very small amount of attention given to green jobs programs and their current incoherent status in policy proposals, which is also a solid criticism—especially since the closure of windfarm manufacturer Vestas’ only UK plant last year, and the current high unemployment rates. Still, the level of debate would astonish most Americans.

And as far as my local constituency, I am pleased to note that my local MP, Glenda Jackson, looks likely to lose to Lib Dem candidate Ed Fordham or Tory candidate Chris Philp. Jackson, whom I have always admired as an actress, has been a huge disappointment—she has accomplished virtually nothing as an MP that anyone can actually document, and the one campaign appearance I saw her in resulted in a round of insults by Jackson at people who questioned her positions (virtually all platitudes without an ounce of thought). Not that I actually want Philp to win—I would much prefer Fordham. But both are considerably more committed to the region, and a whole lot smarter, than Jackson has ever been. She is a cardinal example of everything that has been wrong with New Labour. Good riddance.

5 replies »

  1. I wonder what a nationally televised debate between candidates who know a bit and address actual issues in a substantive way would look like. I’ve never seen such a thing.

  2. Agreed Dr. Slammy, televised debates like these are seldom judged by voters based on issues and ideas, but by performance. It’s a shame.

  3. Was there a step dancing component to the debate? And did they use the Britain’s Got Talent set?

  4. Hey, this is the best set of the bunch. You should have seen the other two. Personally, I like Cameron’s staring at the sky while whistling stance–it makes a nice counterpoint.

  5. “Put your right foot in, take your left foot out….”

    That should be done first thing at every government meeting
    everywhere. At least people would be able to take their leaders serious for just a little bit.