Britain’s Broken Left Hands Election Victory to the Conservatives
Britain’s David Cameron is back in the seat of prime ministerial power, London’s No.10 Downing Street, with an overall majority in the 650-seat House of Commons. It is a result no pollster predicted. He is the first ruling Tory in Britain to secure a second term in office since Margaret Thatcher in 1987. In no other major European country, in recent times, has a leader responsible for presiding over austerity measures, designed to narrow a gaping budget deficit, pulled off such a feat.
The economy has recovered from the chronic mismanagement of Labour’s years in power before 2010. But there is no feel-good factor evident. Productivity is low, many of the one-and-a-half-million new jobs created since 2013 have gone to migrants attracted by Britain’s open-door economy. The deficit remains alarmingly high.
Cameron is capable in the defense and presentation of policy. But his popularity ratings have been low since he formed a government with the center-left Liberal Democrats in 2010. When he admitted in April that he would not serve out a full term if reelected, it confirmed the suspicions of many that his appetite for power was waning and that he looked forward to securing a major international job in which he could hone his talents for diplomacy and networking.
In office, he was wedded to safe centrist policies. In the campaign, he was reluctant to offer a robust conservative vision and he was only prepared to debate with his main challengers once.
For months, all polls suggested that the Tories and their Labour Party rivals were almost level. Deadlock and a second election before Christmas were viewed as likely.
But Cameron was thrown an amazing lifeline by his adversaries.
Labour clung doggedly to Ed Miliband, an inept and deeply uncharismatic leader with minimal experience in life beyond the political bubble. A series of campaign gaffes confirmed for millions of voters (including many unimpressed by his decision to stand against his brother for the leadership in 2010 and win only with the help of a large, militant labor union) that he would be a national liability if he reached Downing Street.
No longer is the parliamentary left in Britain an alliance of workers, professional people and intellectuals. London lawyers, career politicians, academics and teachers have been imposed on declining cities across England where many faced rejection on May 7. The UK Independence party (UKIP) emerged from obscurity to become the third party nationally on 12 percent of the vote by articulating the concerns of former Labour voters about the impact of social change, as well as state policies shaped around poorly applied multicultural norms.
Miliband, despite his intellectual intensity, failed to offer a coherent economic program to voters well aware of the mess created by high-spending, left-wing governments across the English Channel. His powerful—and arrogant—economics spokesman Ed Balls was the most spectacular electoral casualty of the night. The fact that Balls’ wife is a front-runner to succeed Miliband as leader shows how a party with a supposedly meritocratic ethos is starting to resemble “the socialist in one family” outfits that reigned in Eastern Europe during communist times.
So it was not hard for Britain’s mass circulation press to exploit Labour’s inadequacies—and it did so ruthlessly.
But Cameron showed even less inhibitions than press moguls who were smarting at Labour’s recent bid to curb the investigative side of the print media. He warned that left-leaning Scottish separatists, upon whom Labour could rely for a majority, would insist on fiscal profligacy and nuclear disarmament if they got a taste of power. England would suffer due to the ascendancy of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and its desire to partition Britain. Critics in his own party accused Cameron of deliberately stoking English resentment about the newfound influence of the SNP for short-term advantage, but at the risk of destabilising the already uneasy relationship with Scotland.
Such divisive tactics appear to have paid off. Many people in southern Britain, poised to vote for UKIP, endorsed the Tories because of their fears of instability if an unprepared Labour Party, manipulated by Scottish populists, took office. The demonization of the SNP probably helped ensure that this party enjoyed a landslide victory of just over 50 percent of the vote in Scotland itself. Under a new and energetic leader, Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP won all but three of Scotland’s fifty-nine Westminster seats, decimating the previously dominant Labour Party and, in the process, virtually turning Scotland into a one-party state.
Labour was not the only spectacular casualty. The Liberal Democrats, Cameron’s coalition partners, lost all but eight of their sixty-seven seats, thanks to self-serving behavior in government and past scandals. Along with UKIP, they obtained nearly 20 percent of the UK vote, but they have ended up with less than a dozen seats between them.