Posted by: jackterrett | April 15, 2010

Historic Day for British Politics

I came to the UK at the perfect time: last week Gordon Brown officially declared the UK  general election would take place on May 6th.  Having not had the chance to vote in the US in 2008, I’ve been looking forward to the chance to exercise my democratic right to vote and even more exciting is being in the country while it takes place!  Today marks an historic day in British politics.  Tonight will be the first ever Prime Ministerial TV debate, modeled identically on the US Presidential debate.  Britain has never particularly emphasized the charisma, showmanship, and attractiveness of Prime Ministers running for election – this has been a very American phenomenon – but tonight is the night that all that changes (perhaps inadvertently so, but nonetheless it does).  Consistently for the past 50 years, incumbent Prime Ministers have rejected the proposals for TV debates between the leaders of the major political parties whereas their opponents were in favour of them.  Their reasoning?

Margaret Thatcher (Prime Minister 1979-1990): “We’re not electing a President, we’re choosing a government.”

John Major (Prime Minister 1990-1997): “Every party politician that expects to lose tries that trick of debates and every politician who expects to win says no.”

Simply put, if you’re ahead in the polls, you have far more to lose than gain from a TV debate and as the incumbent has the power to decide whether or not one takes place, it has never happened.  You’re only going to hurt your lead if you bring the other party leaders up to your level.  However, in poor Gordon’s circumstance, trailing horribly in the polls a few months ago (it’s a little tighter now), his only chance of being reelected is through the risk of a TV debate.

Tonight the leaders of the three political parties will go head-to-head in a format that they’re not used to at all (no jeering, no cheering, no shouting…basically nothing like the House of Commons).  They are Gordon Brown, leader of the Labour Party and current Prime Minister, David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party and currently leading in the polls, and Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, a smaller third party but with the potential to steal seats in Parliament.  I have very little idea how their policies differ and that’s why I’m so excited to watch this TV debate.  Although it may just come down to simple things:  Gordon’s Scottish resilience…or David’s youth and charm…or Nick’s…ugh…giddiness to be included in the debate…?  Regardless, this event is unprecedented here in the UK and the buzz about it is huge.  So better start cooking my dinner and pop the tele on!

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Responses

  1. Speaking of British politics, I’ve been watching Nigel Farage harass the EU president.

  2. Actually, the incumbent doesn’t decide whether the debates happen or not. These debates were jointly agreed by all three leaders, and would not have taken place had they not all agreed to hold them.

    The real question is why did Cameron agree to them? He was well ahead in the polls when they were agreed to, and as you said, there is no reason to risk the debates when you’re so far ahead. And look what happened, Cameron probably did more harm to his campaign than good as he didn’t live up to the expectations people had for him (as the poll leader and great orator he supposedly is).

    I listened to them live at work on Five Live (God Bless my iPhone), and I have to say I was very impressed by Clegg. I’ve always been slightly impartial towards the Lib Dems, for many reasons, but he truly took advantage of this opportunity to battle it with the big boys, and I think it’ll do wonders for his polling. Cameron and Brown were pretty equal in my eyes (or ears), but I’m sure my opinion would be somewhat different if I had watched the whole thing. I saw one clip last night, and was impressed by Brown’s stage presence.

    What are your thoughts on their policies? Are you able to differentiate between them a little more now?

  3. Ah ok, I stand corrected. Yes, Nick Clegg came off very well in the debate – he was seen as the clear winner (about 14% above Cameron, who was just above Brown) – and all the newspapers reported today that he has become a true contender. That said, Clegg always had the most to gain going into this debate by being a third party candidate and he succeeded by distancing himself from the other two. As you suspected, he’s already seen a significant rise in the polls.

    My favourite quote of the night was from Brown though. Talking about all of the posters that the Tories have put up slandering Brown for being too weak on criminals (showing the smiley/sort of stoned expression of Brown in that photo above), he thanked Cameron for making him look so good…and thanked Lord Ashcroft for funding them! That got a few laughs.

    I’m still a little hazy on the policy differences between the three. To be honest, I’m probably leaning towards the Conservatives but I’m still on the fence while I get to know their platforms a bit better. I like Cameron’s idea of a voluntary “teenage army” of community service that kids at 16 are able to do to keep them busy for several months (basically keeping them off the streets if they’re out of school). Clegg plans to give 700 pounds income tax back to first 10,000 earned a year which helps people with lower incomes – though that will inevitably mean cut-backs. Apparently Brown wants to make the House of Lords smaller and electable (rather than hereditary) but he’s done nothing about that during his time as PM (Cameron does not support that, though they all want to make it smaller). But still, I don’t see that much of a difference between any of them. Brown just annoys me more than the others and nobody over here can stomach the idea of 5 more years with him. Besides, with Cameron as PM, good old William Hague would be the Foreign Secretary!

    So, you’ll like this – I’m going to see Fulham play Wolverhampton tomorrow! Unfortunately our tickets are at the away goal side at Craven Cottage, so we gotta cheer for Wolves if we want to see some goals!

  4. Wow! You are very English, Jack!


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