Britain is currently in the grips of one of the most closely fought elections in decades. Of course, the same could have been said five years ago at the last election. In a rare occurrence for Britain the 2010 election saw no outright winner, a hung parliament. That time the Conservatives managed to pull together a coalition with the country’s third party, the Liberal Democrats. But as Britain’s formerly solid two party system has further disintegrated it is not only once again looking unlikely that any party will have an outright majority but worse, current polls foretell of a parliament in which it is difficult to see either the Conservatives or the Labor opposition being able to form a workable coalition.
The fact that sitting Prime Minister David Cameron looks unable to secure a majority is itself cause for comment. Yes, it is usual for incumbents to see their mandate reduced if re-elected. But it is also far from impossible for the opposite to happen. In 1983 Margaret Thatcher significantly increased the Conservative vote from what she polled in 1979. To be sure, Cameron is no Thatcher. But what his government has done in turning around the British economy from the mess bequeathed by the last Labor government ought to have been enough to have won the votes for a majority.
Britain had after all been hit particularly hard by the global recession. Unemployment spiraled and the Labor government engaged in a bout of Greek style borrowing. It was unsurprising then that the Conservatives came out of the 2010 election as the largest party, but what should concern Britain’s center-right is the fact that even then Cameron failed to actually win the election outright. In fact, even with Labor having presided over one of the longest and deepest declines in GDP since the Second World War, it was still the left that essentially won that election. Combined, Labour and the Liberal Democrats took the most votes and the most parliamentary seats.
The leader of the Liberals subsequently infuriated much of his party, as well his voter base, when he went on to form a coalition with Cameron rather than Labor. And while some have predicted that the price will be electoral catastrophe for the Liberals, the British economy has been the beneficiary of that move.
In the past five years Cameron’s government has made cuts to government spending, reduced the size of government, taken the poorest out of tax, reformed welfare to incentivize work, and made a start at reducing the deficit. The results have been promising. Last year the British economy grew faster than any other major economy in the world, making it now the second largest in Europe. Wages have risen against prices, as inflation has remained low. Along with a boom in business start-ups, some 2.3 million jobs were created in the private sector over the past five years. Indeed, between 2010 and 2013 more jobs were created in Yorkshire than in the whole of France (there are 5 million people living in Yorkshire, as opposed to 66 million in statist France).
Contrary to the predictions of the left, Cameron’s government has even overseen modest improvements in public services and has reduced crime measurably. And yet despite all this it is the Labor party—led by the unpopular Ed Miliband—that has received a five or six point swing in the opinion polls. And Labor’s prospects may be further boosted by the rise of the Scottish Nationalist Party, which has offered to back legislation from a Labor government in the next parliament. But the SNP is also a party that combines anti-English micro-nationalism with a strain of socialist economics too radical for even Labor’s tastes.
So how to explain the mood of the British electorate, which is now quite possibly poised to depose a prime minister that has turned their country’s economy around? One explanation could be the role of the ethnic minority vote. That is to say, Labor could be brought back into office with the help of many of the people who came to Britain as part of the policies of mass immigration and multiculturalism promoted by Tony Blair’s government from the late 1990s onwards. By some estimates Labor now gets about half of all its votes in England from ethnic minorities, with some communities such as the Muslim one voting almost exclusively for the left. As Ben Judah recently argued in Politico, Labor risks becoming an ethnic minority party.
But there is another factor, and that is the role of the British media and popular culture. While the UK print media may be split between the left and right, the broadcasters, dominated as they are by the BBC, have a noticeable left-liberal lean. And while the BBC may not be party political, the values it pushes are noticeably those of the liberal-left. The same could be said of the values taught in elementary schools. British children are now reared on a junk diet of “progressive” thinking.
In the popular imagination the Conservatives have been framed as the party of heartless elitism. This election you can find plenty of homes proudly displaying Labor placards. You will be hard pressed to find many Tory ones. Well, who wants to out themselves to their neighbors as “selfish”? And so Britain may now be becoming a country in which no matter what economic miracles Cameron works, no Conservative government can win a solid majority.