Kenneth Minogue komentuje dla OMP sytuację polityczną w Anglii


27 maja 2010

Prezentujemy przygotowany dla OMP komentarz Kennetha Minogue’a, wybitnego politologa, emerytowanego profesora London School of Economics and Political Science, o przyczynach i konsekwencjach wyników wyborów w Wielkiej Brytanii.


The British election system – first past the post, by which the candidate with the most votes gets the constituency – normally produces a decisive result. In 2010 it failed to do so, and this suggests a change in British political culture.

Between 1964 and 1979, Britain was governed, with a four year interval, by Labour, culminating in a financial crisis and the trade union militancy that came to be called “the winter of discontent.” In 1979, Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives were elected, and she won the next three elections, in spite of austerities (including periods of high unemployment) necessary to close down inefficient industry and restore the economy. Labour was out of power from 1979 until the election of 1997, and the question is: how did it succeed in 1997?

The answer is that Tony Blair had become leader of the party, and he had an attractive message – part socialist, part capitalist. The economic reforms of the Thatcher era were accepted as reality, but a more socially welfarist policy was promised, though the Labour policy of “tax and spend” was officially rejected. “New Labour”, as this electoral compromise was called, won the next three elections; it seemed to be the formula for power. When David Cameron became leader of the Conservatives in 2004, he imitated it. Government ought, he argued, “share the proceeds of economic growth with society itself”, and this was called “modernising the Conservative Party.” Conservatives had lost three elections and were on their third new leader. Cameron’s position looked promising. As the election of 2010 approached, Blair’s successor Gordon Brown was an unpopular prime minister leading a government trying to deal both with a financial crisis, and murmurs of trade union militancy. It seemed like 1979 all over again. In the event, however, the Conservatives increased their votes to 306, and were well short of the 326 or more needed for a governing majority. What had happened?

Firstly, Cameron had failed to gain the trust of many of the voters, partly perhaps, but only partly, because of Labour attacks on his “posh” background. He came over as opportunistic. Again, the electorate was still absorbing shock at the lack of integrity exhibited by Members of Parliament in claiming expenses. And most fatally of all, the election turned into a television spectacular. The leaders of the parties met in three television debates, and Nick Clegg, the leader of Britain’s third party, which had seldom before been close to power, was given equal billing with Cameron and Brown. As a plausible and attractive face (in this semi-presidential election in which the faces mattered Clegg appealed to many viewers. Polling data reported that 40% of voters had still not made up their minds how to vote two days before the election. In other words, British democracy was failing a rationality test.

Cameron’s Conservatives lacked a majority. What to do? Several days of negotiation followed, in which many Liberal Democrats would like to have formed a coalition with Labour on what they could claim to be a “progressive” programme. That would have denied the one basic aspect of the election result, which did at least indicate an important shift in support away from Labour toward the Conservatives. British election results usually respond to the side that is increasing its support. A Conservative/Liberal Democratic coalition was the obvious solution. Cameron offered Clegg’s Liberal Democrats a highly attractive coalition compromise, and Cameron has since been proclaiming a new politics. He has been running ahead of the game ever since.

There is a certainly a fresh and optimistic feel to the new order; the question is: will it survive the extremely difficult austerities inevitable with a government whose most pressing problem is getting Britain out of its current debt problem. One price has been that many of Cameron’s backbenchers are unhappy about the new policies, and even more unhappy about the constitutional devices by which Cameron and Clegg are trying to entrench the coalition in power for the next five years. One major benefit may well be the repeal of many Labour regulations. Labour specified about 3000 new criminal offences in its years of office – many of course pretty trivial, but terrible for civil liberties. The major problem is of course the huge public debt resulting from Labour’s “stimulus package”, and this will get seriously worse unless painful steps are taken very soon.

Cameron is a Eurosceptic while his Liberal Democrats are enthusiastic Europeans. Given the current state of the Union, the British Government will certainly resist any moves to increase EU power, especially if it would cost money. British financial circles are already alienated from the latest hedge fund regulations that will be damaging to Britain’s interests. Until recently, our membership of the Union was more or less “off limits” as a matter for serious political discussion because elite political agreement had no stomach for raising the many serious issues (eg. the European arrest warrant) that are alien to our liberal Common Law practices. That position is likely to change, even though the Liberal Democrats want closer ties with Europe – but not perhaps with the current Europe in its financial crisis.

Cameron changed the alignment of British MEPs away from the European People’s Parties, and is thus closer to Polish views than before. I do not think that is likely to change. Britain’s relationship with the United States will remain as solid as before, and we shall continue to have trouble with Russia.

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