Sunday, May 9, 2010

UK Parliamentary Elections 2010

A Conservative minority government with the support of the Liberal Democrats is, narrowly, the favored solution to the electoral stalemate. The poll of 514 voters showed that 53 per cent supported that option, with 47 per cent opposed. A close runner-up is the option of Labor remaining in government in a formal agreement with the Lib Dems. This was backed by 51 per cent and opposed by 45 per cent. It was favored by nearly nine out of ten Labor voters.

A small majority (52 per cent) oppose the Conservatives forming a coalition government with the Lib Dems, though this is backed by 46 per cent, including about four fifths of Tories. The public are evenly split -- 43 to 45 per cent -- on Gordon Brown remaining as Prime Minister. More than a third of Lib Dems back him staying.

The least appealing scenario is for the Conservatives to form a minority government with the support of the Ulster Unionists, favored by 29 per cent, and opposed by 52 per cent. About 60 per cent of Tory voters support this.

The poll shows that one in seven (14 per cent) are pleased that we have a hung Parliament, but more than half did not vote. Almost two fifths (37 per cent) are worried about a hung Parliament, with women more concerned than men (44 versus 31 per cent), and professionals and managers more than other social groups. When asked if they had known on 6 May what they knew on 8 May, after the results, only 7 per cent said they would have voted differently.

Urgent Policy Attention
The British people did not get the clarity they needed badly in the parliamentary election. This does not bode well for Europe, grappling with questions on the role of the euro and the existential meaning of political federalism. Britain's fiscal position, not linked to the euro, is not yet in crisis. But the unemployment overhang of 8 per cent, or 2.5 million people out of work, required urgent policy attention.
There was a faint hope that the concurrent societal breakdown in Greece over mismanaged public finances, and the nervousness being felt in Portugal and Spain, would galvanize British voters to offer up a clear mandate to either the incumbent Laborites or the Conservatives. One or the other had to have the backing of numbers in the House of Commons to get requisite austerity measures passed. Sharply declining markets all week in Europe, Asia and Wall Street were signaling a failure of government and eroding investor confidence. This could continue.

The British had a wasted election. The outstanding feature was the failing of the Conservative prime minister-presumptive, David Cameron, in getting a leader's message across to the nation. He had the advantage of a challenger's hunger to see off an extended incumbency, and Britain's struggle to recover from the recession was an incumbent's Achilles' heel for the taking. But his best was just not good enough. He has fallen short.
He said on election night that Gordon Brown's Labor Party had lost the mandate to govern. This was accurate only as a numerical claim, in the roughly 100 seats the Conservatives have gained at the expense of Labor. But he has not got a majority and the electorate up and down the country is divided. And he looks deflated, nothing like a winner. Cameron could yet emerge as the prime minister when the horse trading is done in the next week. But would he have the firm mandate that is the victor's due?

Underrated Man of Action
The three main parties now go into an extended period of backroom dealing to patch together a government. Prime Minister Brown was properly respectful of tradition in saying he only wanted to play his part in Britain having a 'stable, strong and principled government'. Well spoken - this decent and underrated man of action did not look defeated even as the Conservative tally inched up. If Labor can make a deal with the Liberal Democrats over their leader Nick Clegg's professed distaste for the Laborites, it would be a personal triumph.
The United Kingdom would be in steady hands. If he yields sportingly to the Conservatives, he lives up to his words. And Clegg? What the Lib Dems' modest results prove is that television idols have a short shelf life. If he obtains a sizeable role in government, he will have to grind out to win his spurs.

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