The UK is all set to go to the historic polls on May 06. Labour Party’s Gordon Brown, Conservatives’ David Cameron and Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg are the key candidates. The polls hold more significance this time due to the emergence of Liberal Democrats on the British political scenario, usually dominated by the Labour and the Tories. This has increased the prospects of a hung Parliament.
In an exclusive interview to Kamna Arora of Zeenews.com, David A Andelman, an expert on European Affairs, discusses new trends in UK polls and the significance of British Indians for the parties.
David A Andelman is the Editor of World Policy Journal, published in New York for a global audience, and a veteran New York Times and CBS News correspondent. His latest book is `A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today`.
Kamna: What is the significance of the forthcoming UK polls?
David: The critical issue for Britain, not to mention all of its allies, trading partners and especially economies throughout the world, is the question as to whether the next government and prime minister will continue to pursue an expansionist and non-protectionist economic policy that will allow broad growth that continues to put the recession behind us. David Cameron’s Tories clearly want a more conservative fiscal policy, reining in regional development agencies at a time when more government intervention and investment may indeed be the only clear prospects for future growth and especially development of new jobs and the return of the army of unemployed or underemployed to the labour force.
Kamna: In Britain, surging support for the Liberal Democrats has come as a shock after decades of dominance by Labour and the Tories. What does this signify?
David: It suggests a deep dissatisfaction by the electorate with the status quo - a pattern that is quite familiar in a number of other western democracies, particularly the United States, with respect to job stagnation and slow economic growth. Labour and Tories are seen as the “old way” of ruling in Britain where the outs replace the ins. Then a few years later, the tables are turned again, but no fundamentally new ideas emerge. The Liberal Democrats and especially their dynamic leader Nick Clegg, are promising to inject new energy and new ideas into the process.
Kamna: Why has so much fuss been caused in the UK by the prospect of a hung Parliament?
David: It’s really fear of the unknown. A hung Parliament suggests the prospects of new and shifting coalitions on virtually every major (and perhaps even minor) legislative initiative. At a time when single-mindedness and agility are needed to cope, especially with the most parlous economic environment, such uncertainty is scarcely a recipe for confidence. At the same time, the swing party, the Liberal Democrats, could play an unfairly powerful role that exaggerates its true electoral popularity or acceptance.
Kamna: Now when Nick Clegg is open to supporting Labour in a hung Parliament even if Gordon Brown’s party finishes third in the general election, will it help him garner more votes?
David: There may be some disenchanted Labour voters, anxious to send a message to the Labour government but not prepared to go all the way toward supporting the Tories, who will see this as a nice compromise. With the polls indicating such a close vote, it is difficult to see just how much this strategy might mean at this point for either Liberals or Labour. Still, it is a strategy that should not be ignored when considering the potential outcome. The other key question is whether indeed a Labour-Lib alliance will assemble enough votes to counter a big Tory backlash.
Kamna: Out of the three, which leader is expected to forge better ties with India and why?
David: Right now, British voters of Indian origin are being wooed by some candidates as potential critical swing votes in the tight election. In this respect, Labour would seem to be the best bet. As Labour Foreign Secretary David Miliband put it: "Since India does want a seat on the Security Council and we want one too for India, I would argue that it is better to have a strong Britain to argue for that rather than a weak Britain, and I believe Britain will be weak under a Conservative government internationally because the Conservatives would move us to the margins of Europe.” This was a carefully framed response for the domestic British-Indian audience. On the other hand, the Tories are especially concerned to appeal to the right wing of the British electorate, opposed to what the London Telegraph has labelled “a huge social experiment on the British population without asking us whether we wanted it or agreed to it. Labour has claimed that immigration [largely South Asian] has enormous economic benefits.”
Kamna: What role did TV debates play in forming opinions about the parties and leaders?
David: Television tends to create impressions rather than convey facts. So in this respect, in a tight three-way contest, the debates could prove to be an important force. Or at least, they might have done so if any of the three candidates had truly managed to win decisively or lose definitively. Still, the debates, especially the first debate, did
give Nick Clegg the opportunity to look straight into the camera and proclaim: "Don`t let them tell you that the only choice is between two old parties who have been playing pass the parcel with your government for 65 years now—making the same old promises, breaking the same old promises." And this certainly is his message.
The question is whether such promises from a third party, even an earnest and clearly
telegenic third party, will carry the day.
Kamna: Is Nick Clegg another Obama?
David: Certainly, he’d like to position himself as such a change-agent—charismatic, dynamic, filled with fresh ideas and a fresh vision. The question is whether this is what the British electorate want right now. All three candidates have imported political operatives fresh from the Obama campaign. And indeed, there’s some suggestion that the style they’ve brought might be most appealing. On the other hand, in these precarious economic times, many Brits may feel it unwise to send the nation into the hands of a hung Parliament or indeed to change horses at all in mid-course. And then there is the broader question as to whether Obama himself, or what he stands for, has truly lived up to the promises he seemed to convey during his campaign. Potentially, a cautionary tale.