james debate
james debate

Thursday 29 April 2010

Britain has suddenly been swept by Nick Clegg fever in the wake of the historic first live televised Prime Ministerial debates, with newspapers and sensationalist rags running headlines crowing him as the "British Obama". Indeed it's not just this country, even over in the States people have begun to take notice of British politics, a rare thing indeed.

nick clegg

For sure the parallels are obvious. Clegg, like Obama has burst out of nowhere to take a strong position in the polls, a charismatic and well spoken natural born orator bearing promises of change. And like Obama, Clegg is a leader, a man who inspires and connects with the people he addresses unlike 90% of politicians. That being said I hope we never hear another Obama comparison again. Frankly, ever since he became President, the media have been looking for someone to label the 'new Obama'. The first warning signs came in late 2008 and Conservative politicians made the highly unusual gesture of sucking up to the new American President, despite being of supposedly the opposite political persuasion (not necessarily the case as it turns out). Since then all three parties have been trying desperately to win this moniker, even going so far as to take slogans and catchphrases directly from Obama's campaign in the hopes that they will still work.

As someone who usually finds my policy positions somewhere between Tory and Lib Dem, I've certainly been impressed by Clegg's authority and confidence with the issues. All of a sudden Lib Dems are beginning to dream and believe that they can become a major player in Parliament, and perhaps even the winner. But any Lib Dems dreaming of a Prime Minister Nick Clegg would do wise not to get ahead of themselves, for the chances are very slim indeed.

The reason is that we don't have proportional representation in this country. A larger share of the popular vote does not necessarily translate to a larger share of seats in Parliament. The Lib Dems may have as much support as the other parties, but it's all concentrated in a few areas, whereas Labour's support is more spread out. This means that while the Lib Dems might go and win one or two seats by handsome margins, Labour can squeak by in a hundred seats by 1%, getting overall less votes, but winning the seats nonetheless.

This is why, if you look at any election projection, you will see that even the Lib Dems win the popular vote, say with 35%, they still come in last place in the election with the fewest seats. According to this electoral model, the Lib Dems would need about 40% of the popular vote just to be on even footing with the other parties, an extremely unlikely event, and winning an outright Lib Dem victory is pretty much impossible.

Instead, what Lib Dems will be hoping for is a large share of the popular vote with a view to using it as leverage in a hung Parliament. Indeed Clegg has already begun campaigning to this effect by declaring that it would be appalling for either Brown or Cameron to make themselves Prime Minister of any coalition government without winning the popular vote. He furthered this by adding that he had no interest in propping up either candidate. If Lib Dems do win the popular vote, or come second, they will be sure to push their man Clegg for Prime Minister in any coalition government (likely to be negotiated with whichever party comes in last place for reasons of leverage).

As for my preference, I strongly dislike Labour, and it would please me no end to see the Lib Dems, a more centrist party, replace them as the other major party in UK politics. Until recently I pretty much assumed I would vote for David Cameron, a highly intelligent man, capable leader, and an OE to boot. But I've always had a soft spot for Nick Clegg, who comes across as a more charismatic and thoughtful politician.

Of course, there are policies from both I like and don't like. For example, Clegg being the only candidate to express determination to repeal the Digital Economy Act is a big big win in my books, as are his various proposed electoral reforms (and being the first to suggest the implementation of recall elections is a positive). Then again there are policies I'm not entirely sold on, like his bank tax, breaking up the banks, and numerous spending cuts in other areas. However, at the end of the day I accept that the money has to come from somewhere in order to fix the current crisis, and the fact that Lib Dems are being honest and up front about the fact that cuts and tough decisions have to be made must surely play to their favour.

On the other hand there's Cameron and the Tories. I love his economic policy (tax reforms), his focus on green infrastructure, education reforms, and his measured approach to involvement with the EU. And just generally I appreciate the fact that this is an unusually progressive Conservative party, seemingly aspiring to the best of both ideologies. However there are also the questionable cuts of the NHS, and the fact that his party don't seem to have an idea of how they're actually going to pay for everything they're promising and simultaneously lower the deficit. Sure, I've heard Tory propagandists riff off their list of tax adjustments and cuts, but do the numbers and they simply don't add up. Cameron and his party seem unable or unwilling to concede the bleakness of the next few years or admit that they will have to make tough compromises on many of the policies they would otherwise like to instate. This costs them major points with me.

So while there are things I like and dislike about both of these parties, I remain wholly unconvinced that the Tories can deliver everything they are promising, whereas the Lib Dems are offering a much more pragmatic manifesto and a frank disposition. Ultimately I have faith in both parties running this country competently, both Cameron and Clegg would make fine Prime Ministers, and as long as Brown is gone I will be happy. Indeed a Lib-Tory coalition could well be the ideal situation for someone of my political persuasion.

We at the Ephemeric pride ourselves on our uncanny ability to pick a winner, and more importantly to pick someone who would be good for the country and the people who live here. We firmly believe that David Cameron will be our next Prime Minister, though it could well take a hung Parliament before this is determined. But personally, I am going to go and vote for the Lib Dems, who will never have a better opportunity to break into the mainstream of British politics. Their rise can only be a good thing for the country, especially if it is at the expense of Labour.

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