Flags flutter over British government buildings in Whitehall two days before the election
London – Britain’s election this Thursday is coming down to the wire, and nobody has a clue what the final result will be.
The excitement of electioneering brought me back to London this week. British campaigns are noisy, breathless affairs with a boisterous, biased press that plays a leading role. Headlines in nearly a dozen daily newspapers proclaim their support for one party while demonizing the rest.
To me the game politics here is a spectator sport. I guess it’s in my blood. My Mom stood for Parliament in the 1970’s, and my grandfather was a Labor MP right after World War 2.
A headline this week in The Independent newspaper.
The latest polls suggest an election cliffhanger with no single party gaining the majority it needs to govern. The result could produce a constitutional crisis.
For many decades, Britain just like America, had a two-party system. Conservatives versus Labor. But in 2010 the perennial third party, the centrist Liberal Democrats, captured a surprisingly large 23% of the national vote and formed a coalition with the Conservatives. The overall result of that vote was a fairly successful and surprisingly stable government.
But today things are far less certain. While “Lib Dem” support plummeted (punishment for no longer being an anti-establishment underdog), three other parties have emerged as power players, all with very different goals.
For the Greens the big issue is the environment. To the right of the Conservatives, UKIP opposes Europe, free trade, immigration and modernity in general.
But the biggest destabilizing force is the Scottish National Party. Despite losing a referendum last year on independence, the SNP is widely expected to come roaring back this week, grabbing all but a handful of Labor’s seats in Scotland.
It’s quite possible that a party which wants to break up The United Kingdom will hold the balance of power in the next Parliament.
The day after the election negotiations are likely to begin in Whitehall (the seat of government power) involving as many as six political parties, all with different demands. Financial markets and investors are freaking out at the distinct possibility of a weak administration, which could lurch from one potential no-confidence vote to the next.
In a country that places such a premium on stability and tradition, many are quietly alarmed about what could happen.
But at least until the votes are counted the election spectacle is fun to watch. British democracy is anything but dull.
Here under the shadow of Big Ben, Parliament is where the art of debate and the sport of political battle is the stuff of theater.
Every Wednesday, when The House of Commons is in session, the Prime Minister subjects himself to the howls of the opposition and the the “here heres” of supporters during Prime Minister’s Question Time. Imagine a weekly State of the Union address frequently interrupted not by polite applause, but by shouting and chanting from Members of Congress!
Whether Britain’s next Prime Minister will be Conservative incumbent David Cameron, Labor leader Ed Miliband or someone else is anyone’s guess. But I’ll make one safe bet: the coming weeks will bring plenty of verbal jousting and lots of fireworks.