Commentary Magazine


Topic: Lib Dems

So, What’s the British Outcome Mean?

Jokes abound. One colleague tells me it’s a Mick Jagger election: no one got any satisfaction. I’m reminded of Zhou Enlai’s response when asked about the significance of the French Revolution: it’s too soon to tell. But at the risk of being proved wrong by political developments over the next few hours, and analysis of the results over the next few years, let me offer a take.

First, one really heartening fact: as Martin Bright points out, it was a bad night for Islamists and fascists. The Respect coalition — Ken Livingstone’s ill-sorted collection of Islamist sympathizers — was crushed all around. George Galloway (what a relief to no longer have to describe him as George Galloway, MP) got the boot. The BNP was routed. Various MPs targeted by the Muslim Public Affairs Committee survived. This is all very satisfactory.

The second fact was the unexpectedly bad performance of the Liberal Democrats. When the first exit poll appeared at 10 p.m. local time, showing that the Lib Dems were likely to lose seats, no one — myself included — thought it had any credibility. It did. The tricky question is why. The explanation now percolating in commentators’ columns is that Nick Clegg rode a boomlet up and then rode it down.

I don’t discount that possibility, but here’s another: there never was that much support for the Lib Dems in the first place. The so-called Golden Rule of British political opinion polling for the past 20 years has been that the poll showing the worst result for Labour is the most accurate. The Tories are, usually, the beneficiary on the day of this nonexistent Labour support.

It may be that, in the middle weeks of the campaign, this non-support abandoned Labour (perhaps because no one wanted to say they were voting for Gordon Brown when they weren’t) and jumped ship to the Lib Dems. And then came the day that the non-support did what it usually does — slosh back to the Tories. That’s just speculation, but for now I incline to the belief that the Lib Dems became, for a brief moment, the verbally acceptable alternative for voters who actually had entirely different plans in mind.

The third fact, obviously, was that Cameron was unable to climb the mountain. And it was a mountain. Only once in Britain’s post-1945 electoral history has a government with a clear majority in the Commons been defeated and replaced by a different government, also with a clear majority. And that was in 1970, which was a shock result. It’s fair, probably, to say that Cameron might have been expected — should have been expected, maybe — to do better. But the mountain was really, really big.

The fourth fact is that the Tory successes were surprisingly random. Seats relatively high on their target list were not won — but this was (almost) balanced by successes where their odds seemed slim. The conclusion I draw is that this was an election where good constituency MPs were rewarded, and bad ones were punished. The expenses scandal of last year may have had a lot to do with this — Jacqui Smith, for example, went down to defeat. But it may also say something about the decay of parties as the organizing force in British politics, a subject I’ve complained about before. If so, it helps explain why Cameron couldn’t quite pull it off.

So, what’s next? As Yogi Berra supposedly said, predictions are dangerous, especially when they’re about the future. There are three things that will be decided over the next few hours, or days: who’ll be PM, whether there will be a coalition government, and when the next election is. My bet on the third point is October 2010: I see no way a coherent, stable government can be formed from the existing alignment in the Commons. As for the first point: Cameron. No one appears to want to do a deal with Gordon Brown except Brown himself.

The interesting question is how and on what terms Cameron will be installed in No. 10. One possibility is a full coalition government, with the Liberal Democrats. But except for the fact that both the Tories and the Lib Dems want to be in government, they have very little in common. They are miles apart on foreign policy and have less in common domestically than the Tories and Labour. A coalition between them would lack any organizing principle. Its price would probably be some sort of electoral reform — a possibility that is chewing up the newswires right now. I have written at length on the genesis of proportional representation in Britain, and I won’t burden anyone with that now. Suffice it to say that my research makes me very skeptical about its desirability.

A second possibility, therefore, is a Tory government drawing support on an issue-by-issue basis from the Lib Dems, Labour, the Ulster Unionists, and the other minor parties. This, to my mind, is the most likely possibility, but it’s also one of the least capable of offering strong leadership in response to the fiscal crisis. Come the next election, this might evolve into a Tory and Lib Dem agreement that each would focus its fire on Labour. That would gain the Tories enough seats to form a government, and the Lib Dems enough seats to move out of their status as the eternal bridesmaid of British politics.

And then there’s a third possibility. The Tories and Labour, in fact, have at least as much in common with each other as they do with the Liberal Democrats. In 1931, during the greatest of Britain’s previous fiscal crises, the collapse of the Labour government led to the election of a Tory-dominated government of national unity, with only the more extreme elements in British politics (elements of the Labour Party, the Lloyd George Liberals, and Oswald Mosely) left on the side.

I don’t expect this to happen again. But if it did, and if the Tories and Labour both concentrated their electoral fire in the subsequent election on the Lib Dems, the result would probably be a Lib Dem wipeout. I wonder if this thought has occurred to Nick Clegg as he entertains offers from Cameron and Brown.

Jokes abound. One colleague tells me it’s a Mick Jagger election: no one got any satisfaction. I’m reminded of Zhou Enlai’s response when asked about the significance of the French Revolution: it’s too soon to tell. But at the risk of being proved wrong by political developments over the next few hours, and analysis of the results over the next few years, let me offer a take.

First, one really heartening fact: as Martin Bright points out, it was a bad night for Islamists and fascists. The Respect coalition — Ken Livingstone’s ill-sorted collection of Islamist sympathizers — was crushed all around. George Galloway (what a relief to no longer have to describe him as George Galloway, MP) got the boot. The BNP was routed. Various MPs targeted by the Muslim Public Affairs Committee survived. This is all very satisfactory.

The second fact was the unexpectedly bad performance of the Liberal Democrats. When the first exit poll appeared at 10 p.m. local time, showing that the Lib Dems were likely to lose seats, no one — myself included — thought it had any credibility. It did. The tricky question is why. The explanation now percolating in commentators’ columns is that Nick Clegg rode a boomlet up and then rode it down.

I don’t discount that possibility, but here’s another: there never was that much support for the Lib Dems in the first place. The so-called Golden Rule of British political opinion polling for the past 20 years has been that the poll showing the worst result for Labour is the most accurate. The Tories are, usually, the beneficiary on the day of this nonexistent Labour support.

It may be that, in the middle weeks of the campaign, this non-support abandoned Labour (perhaps because no one wanted to say they were voting for Gordon Brown when they weren’t) and jumped ship to the Lib Dems. And then came the day that the non-support did what it usually does — slosh back to the Tories. That’s just speculation, but for now I incline to the belief that the Lib Dems became, for a brief moment, the verbally acceptable alternative for voters who actually had entirely different plans in mind.

The third fact, obviously, was that Cameron was unable to climb the mountain. And it was a mountain. Only once in Britain’s post-1945 electoral history has a government with a clear majority in the Commons been defeated and replaced by a different government, also with a clear majority. And that was in 1970, which was a shock result. It’s fair, probably, to say that Cameron might have been expected — should have been expected, maybe — to do better. But the mountain was really, really big.

The fourth fact is that the Tory successes were surprisingly random. Seats relatively high on their target list were not won — but this was (almost) balanced by successes where their odds seemed slim. The conclusion I draw is that this was an election where good constituency MPs were rewarded, and bad ones were punished. The expenses scandal of last year may have had a lot to do with this — Jacqui Smith, for example, went down to defeat. But it may also say something about the decay of parties as the organizing force in British politics, a subject I’ve complained about before. If so, it helps explain why Cameron couldn’t quite pull it off.

So, what’s next? As Yogi Berra supposedly said, predictions are dangerous, especially when they’re about the future. There are three things that will be decided over the next few hours, or days: who’ll be PM, whether there will be a coalition government, and when the next election is. My bet on the third point is October 2010: I see no way a coherent, stable government can be formed from the existing alignment in the Commons. As for the first point: Cameron. No one appears to want to do a deal with Gordon Brown except Brown himself.

The interesting question is how and on what terms Cameron will be installed in No. 10. One possibility is a full coalition government, with the Liberal Democrats. But except for the fact that both the Tories and the Lib Dems want to be in government, they have very little in common. They are miles apart on foreign policy and have less in common domestically than the Tories and Labour. A coalition between them would lack any organizing principle. Its price would probably be some sort of electoral reform — a possibility that is chewing up the newswires right now. I have written at length on the genesis of proportional representation in Britain, and I won’t burden anyone with that now. Suffice it to say that my research makes me very skeptical about its desirability.

A second possibility, therefore, is a Tory government drawing support on an issue-by-issue basis from the Lib Dems, Labour, the Ulster Unionists, and the other minor parties. This, to my mind, is the most likely possibility, but it’s also one of the least capable of offering strong leadership in response to the fiscal crisis. Come the next election, this might evolve into a Tory and Lib Dem agreement that each would focus its fire on Labour. That would gain the Tories enough seats to form a government, and the Lib Dems enough seats to move out of their status as the eternal bridesmaid of British politics.

And then there’s a third possibility. The Tories and Labour, in fact, have at least as much in common with each other as they do with the Liberal Democrats. In 1931, during the greatest of Britain’s previous fiscal crises, the collapse of the Labour government led to the election of a Tory-dominated government of national unity, with only the more extreme elements in British politics (elements of the Labour Party, the Lloyd George Liberals, and Oswald Mosely) left on the side.

I don’t expect this to happen again. But if it did, and if the Tories and Labour both concentrated their electoral fire in the subsequent election on the Lib Dems, the result would probably be a Lib Dem wipeout. I wonder if this thought has occurred to Nick Clegg as he entertains offers from Cameron and Brown.

Read Less

Conspiracy Theorists Flocking Together

You may remember Baroness Jenny Tonge. Back in February, she was sacked as the Liberal Democratic spokeswoman on health in the House of Lords after she publicly called for an inquiry into allegations that the Israeli relief mission in Haiti was a front for organ-trafficking. It wasn’t the first time she’d been shown the door: in 2004 she was sacked as spokeswoman on children’s issues after she said she would consider becoming a suicide bomber if she lived in the Palestinian territories. The Lib Dems would appear to have a high tolerance for repeat offenders, at least as long as they’re anti-Israel.

The Haiti story derived from the Palestinian Telegraph, an online newspaper of which Baroness Tonge was then an official patron. The PT is a cesspool of anti-Semitism, relentlessly dedicated to the belief that all Western political parties are part of a vast Jewish conspiracy, directly funded by Jews, to which Baroness Tonge fell victim. Its response to Tonge’s February dismissal was — amid tears for “a highly moral and ethical lady and a true friend of Palestine” — the irrefutable and nonsensical “if you’re innocent, you’d welcome an inquiry” argument.

Well, the other shoe has now dropped. A couple of days ago, the PT pulled off its latest journalistic coup: a lengthy video by David Duke, in which the former KKK Grand Wizard rants about “Israeli terrorism against America.” If you’ve got a strong stomach, you can watch it on YouTube. In response, Tonge resigned from PT’s board of patrons. But not to worry: she was immediately replaced by George Galloway, MP, Saddam Hussein’s best friend in Britain. Standing alongside him are British journalist Lauren Booth and Italian Communist MEP Luisa Morgantini.

Belief in conspiracy theories is a sign of mental or ideological derangement, and the PT is the best proof of that. But it’s impossible not to be struck by the way birds that wouldn’t seem to be of a feather flock together around the questions of Israel and the Jews: David Duke on the extremist right, and Galloway, Morgantini, and Booth on the left. And then there’s Tonge, the twice-former Lib Dem spokeswoman. The best one can possibly say of her is that, in spite of her close association with the PT, it took Duke’s appearance to make it clear to her what kind of people she was working with. And that is a very charitable view indeed.

You may remember Baroness Jenny Tonge. Back in February, she was sacked as the Liberal Democratic spokeswoman on health in the House of Lords after she publicly called for an inquiry into allegations that the Israeli relief mission in Haiti was a front for organ-trafficking. It wasn’t the first time she’d been shown the door: in 2004 she was sacked as spokeswoman on children’s issues after she said she would consider becoming a suicide bomber if she lived in the Palestinian territories. The Lib Dems would appear to have a high tolerance for repeat offenders, at least as long as they’re anti-Israel.

The Haiti story derived from the Palestinian Telegraph, an online newspaper of which Baroness Tonge was then an official patron. The PT is a cesspool of anti-Semitism, relentlessly dedicated to the belief that all Western political parties are part of a vast Jewish conspiracy, directly funded by Jews, to which Baroness Tonge fell victim. Its response to Tonge’s February dismissal was — amid tears for “a highly moral and ethical lady and a true friend of Palestine” — the irrefutable and nonsensical “if you’re innocent, you’d welcome an inquiry” argument.

Well, the other shoe has now dropped. A couple of days ago, the PT pulled off its latest journalistic coup: a lengthy video by David Duke, in which the former KKK Grand Wizard rants about “Israeli terrorism against America.” If you’ve got a strong stomach, you can watch it on YouTube. In response, Tonge resigned from PT’s board of patrons. But not to worry: she was immediately replaced by George Galloway, MP, Saddam Hussein’s best friend in Britain. Standing alongside him are British journalist Lauren Booth and Italian Communist MEP Luisa Morgantini.

Belief in conspiracy theories is a sign of mental or ideological derangement, and the PT is the best proof of that. But it’s impossible not to be struck by the way birds that wouldn’t seem to be of a feather flock together around the questions of Israel and the Jews: David Duke on the extremist right, and Galloway, Morgantini, and Booth on the left. And then there’s Tonge, the twice-former Lib Dem spokeswoman. The best one can possibly say of her is that, in spite of her close association with the PT, it took Duke’s appearance to make it clear to her what kind of people she was working with. And that is a very charitable view indeed.

Read Less

What Lesson Will David Cameron Teach Americans?

The prospect of Florida Governor Charlie Crist pulling out of the Florida Republican Senate primary will, no doubt, send into a tizzy those who want the GOP to move to the center and away from the dreaded Tea Partiers and Sarah Palin. While this is more a matter of a flabby, pointless Crist campaign being knocked out of the box by a hugely popular and principled opponent in Marco Rubio than of a “moderate” being driven from the party by so-called extremists, there’s no question that this race is an indication of where the Republicans are headed.

While an independent candidacy by Crist might pose a challenge to Rubio in November, those who have advocated for Republican to move closer to the Democrats on health care and a host of other issues must come to grips with the fact that all the energy and emotion in Florida has come from those who want the GOP to challenge the Obama administration, not to copy it. The point is, when Republicans lose touch with their base and find themselves bogged down in the mushy middle, they tend to lose and lose badly.

Florida’s politics couldn’t be much more different from those of Britain, but the way the general election in that country is going has to give pause to those who believe that a nonideological candidate and party of the Right is the only way to fight the Left. Conservative Party leader David Cameron thought he was coasting to inevitable victory after 13 years of Labor government. But Cameron, a telegenic upper-class swell, believed that Tories who were actually conservatives couldn’t possibly win. So he recast his party to be advocates of global-warming alarmism, criticized the closeness of the Labor government to that of George W. Bush (Obama’s disdain for Brits of any political persuasion has taken the juice out of this issue), and proposed an approach to domestic issues based on a communitarian idea of a “Big Society,” which sounds suspiciously similar to Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” liberal boondoggles of the 1960s.

Yet far from greasing the skids to victory, trying to be liberal has actually derailed his campaign. A third party, the Liberal Democrats, is further to the Left than Labor on many issues and has in Nick Clegg, a far more focused leader than either Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Labor or the good-looking but feckless Cameron. Cameron thought that fudging the differences with Labor would make it easier for him to win. But, instead, it has given Clegg and the Lib Dems an opening to be the party of change in Britain. Thus, rather than a Tory cakewalk, the May 6 election looks increasingly like a dead heat that could leave Labor in power by itself or even in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

It could be that by discarding genuine Conservative ideology (this is the party of Margaret Thatcher, after all), Cameron may be pulling defeat from the jaws of victory. It may be too late for Cameron to tack to the Right and give voters a reason to vote for his party. As it is, a watered-down Conservative Party is rightly seen as no different from the incumbent Laborites to an electorate desperate for a real alternative.

Last November, David Frum wrote in COMMENTARY that Cameron’s tactics provided a good lesson for American conservatives as they sought to rebuild from their 2008 defeat. He believed that by tacking to the Left, Cameron had aligned his priorities with those of the country and had essentially volunteered to do what political necessity would have forced him to do anyway. As Frum put it, “the leader you want is someone who appeals to the voters you need to gain, not the voters you already have.” Since “educated and professional voters, once the backbone of the Republican party,” had swung away from conservatism, Frum believed that Republicans must follow them as Cameron had done.

David Cameron’s fate is not yet decided. And we are months away from the proof of whether a candidate like Marco Rubio will lead Republicans to victory in a key state like Florida. But if in abandoning conservative principles Cameron has set the Tories up for a colossal reversal of fortune, it may be that the lesson the handsome Brit will teach his American brethren is how to lose an election that was considered in his pocket — not how to win one.

The prospect of Florida Governor Charlie Crist pulling out of the Florida Republican Senate primary will, no doubt, send into a tizzy those who want the GOP to move to the center and away from the dreaded Tea Partiers and Sarah Palin. While this is more a matter of a flabby, pointless Crist campaign being knocked out of the box by a hugely popular and principled opponent in Marco Rubio than of a “moderate” being driven from the party by so-called extremists, there’s no question that this race is an indication of where the Republicans are headed.

While an independent candidacy by Crist might pose a challenge to Rubio in November, those who have advocated for Republican to move closer to the Democrats on health care and a host of other issues must come to grips with the fact that all the energy and emotion in Florida has come from those who want the GOP to challenge the Obama administration, not to copy it. The point is, when Republicans lose touch with their base and find themselves bogged down in the mushy middle, they tend to lose and lose badly.

Florida’s politics couldn’t be much more different from those of Britain, but the way the general election in that country is going has to give pause to those who believe that a nonideological candidate and party of the Right is the only way to fight the Left. Conservative Party leader David Cameron thought he was coasting to inevitable victory after 13 years of Labor government. But Cameron, a telegenic upper-class swell, believed that Tories who were actually conservatives couldn’t possibly win. So he recast his party to be advocates of global-warming alarmism, criticized the closeness of the Labor government to that of George W. Bush (Obama’s disdain for Brits of any political persuasion has taken the juice out of this issue), and proposed an approach to domestic issues based on a communitarian idea of a “Big Society,” which sounds suspiciously similar to Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” liberal boondoggles of the 1960s.

Yet far from greasing the skids to victory, trying to be liberal has actually derailed his campaign. A third party, the Liberal Democrats, is further to the Left than Labor on many issues and has in Nick Clegg, a far more focused leader than either Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Labor or the good-looking but feckless Cameron. Cameron thought that fudging the differences with Labor would make it easier for him to win. But, instead, it has given Clegg and the Lib Dems an opening to be the party of change in Britain. Thus, rather than a Tory cakewalk, the May 6 election looks increasingly like a dead heat that could leave Labor in power by itself or even in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

It could be that by discarding genuine Conservative ideology (this is the party of Margaret Thatcher, after all), Cameron may be pulling defeat from the jaws of victory. It may be too late for Cameron to tack to the Right and give voters a reason to vote for his party. As it is, a watered-down Conservative Party is rightly seen as no different from the incumbent Laborites to an electorate desperate for a real alternative.

Last November, David Frum wrote in COMMENTARY that Cameron’s tactics provided a good lesson for American conservatives as they sought to rebuild from their 2008 defeat. He believed that by tacking to the Left, Cameron had aligned his priorities with those of the country and had essentially volunteered to do what political necessity would have forced him to do anyway. As Frum put it, “the leader you want is someone who appeals to the voters you need to gain, not the voters you already have.” Since “educated and professional voters, once the backbone of the Republican party,” had swung away from conservatism, Frum believed that Republicans must follow them as Cameron had done.

David Cameron’s fate is not yet decided. And we are months away from the proof of whether a candidate like Marco Rubio will lead Republicans to victory in a key state like Florida. But if in abandoning conservative principles Cameron has set the Tories up for a colossal reversal of fortune, it may be that the lesson the handsome Brit will teach his American brethren is how to lose an election that was considered in his pocket — not how to win one.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.