There’s nothing quite as brutal as politics. No fewer than three party leaders resigned here within hours of the UK’s surprising election.
Scores of highly experienced Liberal Democrats and Labor politicians were stunned by their defeats as they saw their high flying careers crash to the ground in a sudden and very public way.
The sensibly centrist Lib Dems, who received absolutely no credit from British voters for their crucial role in propping up the coalition over the past five years, were unfairly punished by voters.
But this was also a refreshing election in several ways. The number of ethnic minorities in the House of Commons rose more than 50%. The results also mean progress for women, who won one-third of the seats in the British House of Commons. Authoritative female commentators and political thinkers today play a far more prominent role than in years past.
The vote was also a defeat for the politics of envy and class resentment. David Cameron – now the Conservatives’ Tony Blair – reached out to young, middle class voters with a positive tone and an optimistic message about the future.
The lessons of his success should be taken to heart by White House contenders in the 2016 U.S. campaign. The charming and easy-on-his-feet Cameron talked a lot more about wealth creation than income distribution. But at the same time his one-nation message addressed voters’ insecurities, with promises to boost spending on Britian’s popular government-run health service.
While he did speak of more deficit reduction, the Tory leader is no libertarian. He knows that people like their government benefits. Unlike American Republicans and right-wing British Conservatives, Cameron put aside calls for smaller government in the future.
Labor (or, as my English friends say, Labour) seemed to be caught in the past, nostalgic for a time when large trade unions were more powerful than they are today. While Cameron aimed for the center, Labor’s awkward leader Ed Miliband moved his party to the left, with calls for higher taxes on the wealthy and more business regulations. Labour politicians talked about “protecting the working class,” when more Brits now see themselves as part of the middle class.
David Cameron’s victory was more decisive than polls had predicted.
“The Conservatives’ majority means they will be able to form a most likely stable government lasting the full five years until 2020,” says IHS UK economist Howard Archer. This “should be supportive to economic activity.” Financial markets loathe uncertainty, and they reacted positively to the clear Conservative win.
You may have noticed from my earlier blogs that pre-election polls were unanimous in predicting a much closer result. They were flat out wrong. In this age of big data and ever more powerful numbers crunchers, that too is encouraging.
I don’t want the polls to be right all the time. The complexities of human behavior are often hard to fully explain or predict. And that’s one more reason why democracy and the marketplace of ideas are so interesting.