08 May 2015

The British election -- some observations

Amid yesterday's massively disappointing news from the land of my ancestors, there are a few points worth making.

1)  Paul Krugman was right, as he usually is.

2)  Low turnout among young, urban, left-leaning constituencies was a problem, as has often been the case in the US -- highlighting the importance of understanding the reasons for apathy among these voters and overcoming them.

3)  The side which better resists the purist distraction of third parties and third candidates has a huge advantage.  Many of Labour's lost seats were lost to the triumphant rise of the  SNP in Scotland.  This likely reflects not pro-independence sentiment, which lost in a landslide in the referendum less than eight months ago, but the fact that the SNP is economically more left-wing than the Labour party.  It was the 2000 Ralph Nader effect writ large.  Hopes that the UKIP would draw off enough right-wing votes to cost the Conservatives numerous seats were dashed, while the Conservatives' coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, was obliterated as conservative votes "came home".  Right-wing voters were more united behind the main right-wing party, while the left was more splintered -- and we see the result.

4)  Conventional wisdom has long has it that opposition to immigration is a top issue with British voters.  Yesterday's result is evidence to the contrary.  The Conservatives had five years to reduce immigration and did nothing effective -- in fact, it increased during their tenure.  And voters massively rewarded them.  It's hard to see what incentive any party will have in the future to take any serious action on the issue.

5)  While disappointing, this is not the existential disaster that a similar Republican sweep in the US would be.  The British Conservative party more resembles US conservatism in the pre-lunatic days of Buckley and Goldwater (as Frank Schaeffer said, "you could disagree with them, but these were not crazy people").  It's inconceivable that a theocrat like Huckabee, an extremist ideologue like Cruz or Rand Paul, or a clown like Perry could ever be seriously considered as a party leader by British Conservatives.

6)  It's still remotely possible that Cameron will keep his promise of a referendum on European Union membership by 2017, but I'd judge it to be unlikely.  As with immigration, claims that British voters are strongly hostile to the EU were not borne out by actual results.  The UKIP got 12% of the popular vote, less than most polls predicted, and won only one of 650 Parliament seats.  Cameron now knows he can safely ignore it.

7)  Conversely, the risk of a break-up of the UK itself has now dramatically increased.  Socialist sentiment in Scotland and Wales is much stronger than in England, yet they are now stuck with five more years of austerity and general stagnation.  Don't be surprised if the issue of Scottish independence, at least, re-emerges over the next few years.

8)  Finally, if you're worried that this might be a foreshadowing of our own election next year, don't be.  Britain's culture, its political system, its candidates, and the character of its right wing are all substantially different from those of the US.  See instead the recent startling and encouraging result in Alberta, Canada, a country rather more comparable to the US.  Note too that turnout in that election was "the highest in decades", enabling the left to win in a province long run by conservatives.  As always, getting out the vote is the key.


Anonymous NickM said...

You show an intriguing view on British Politricks. But I think you are wrog on some issues. Yes, the Tories are not the Republicans. They are way different. In a sense they are more similar to many of the Democrats.

As to the EU and immigration... No, it is simply not an issue for most Brits. We would be a highly regulated state without Brussels and I think at some point we grok that. Similarly we don't honestly have a serious problem with EU immigration (or Commonwealth, US etc).

Dodgy Somalians who rape are a bit different but we are a welcoming nation and this is not a political issue but a cultural one.

08 May, 2015 05:11  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Well, that was more or less my point -- the election results suggest that, contrary to conventional wisdom, immigration and the EU are not such major issues to most voters there as we've been led to believe.

08 May, 2015 05:23  
Anonymous AWJ said...

You're being entirely too cavalier about the consequences of this election. The UK may not have exactly the same hot button issues as the US (abortion, guns) but that does not imply that it lacks for frighteningly authoritarian social conservatives. And a crucial difference between the US and the UK is that the latter does not have a written constitution saying "Parliament shall make no law..." Rather, the fundamental principle of British government is "Parliament shall make any damn law it wants", aka "Parliamentary sovereignty".

The last British government passed a law making it a crime merely to possess pornography depicting adults performing certain sex acts. And the party that was just returned to power has promised further measures to spy on and filter Britons' access to the Internet in order to protect them from "harmful" ideas and images.

09 May, 2015 09:23  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

AWJ: Again, you seem to be attributing attitudes to me that I didn't state and don't have. Nowhere did I suggest that the Conservative win is anything other than a very bad thing -- quite the contrary. At most I said the British Conservatives aren't as bad as the violently deranged and theocratic US Republicans, which is true. I've mentioned here the British government's efforts to restrict porn (and the US Republicans would do even worse if it weren't for the First Amendment).

There seems to be a severe outbreak of reading-comprehension issues this week (here too). I'm getting tired of being accused of saying things I didn't remotely say or imply.

09 May, 2015 10:03  

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