It's a three-horse race

Which way the Brits will vote today?

The UK general election takes place today. The campaign has been a three-horse race between the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats. For the first time ever, the party leaders have appeared head-to-head in a series of TV debates, which set the campaign alight.

After the scandals surrounding MPs’ abuses of the expenses system, many pundits felt that interest in the election would be low. Not so. These presidential style leaders’ debates caught the public’s imagination and propelled Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, into the limelight.

If David Cameron, the Conservative leader, represented youthfulness and a new start from the worn out looking and unpopular Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg stole Cameron’s clothes by looking even more youthful and exciting. It was a case of ‘Nick who?’ prior to the televised debates, but since the debates Clegg and his party have secured second place, ahead of Labour, in the opinion polls.

Until recently, David Cameron may have thought he was about to waltz into Downing Street as the next PM, but Clegg and his party’s emergence have upset the applecart, and all indicators have been suggesting that perhaps no single party will have an overall majority to govern. This ‘hung’ parliament scenario has dominated the media recently.

Many perceive Labour to be rather washed up after 13 years in power but also feel there may be little substance behind Cameron or his policies. For Clegg and the Lib Dems, it’s a different matter. While it is also debatable if the public really positively endorse the policies of the Lib Dems, apart from propping up the Labour government in 1974, the Liberals have not been in power since the early part of the last century and have traditionally been the third party in British politics.

Given the boost received by the TV debates, the party now appears to represent real change in the eyes of some voters and a chance to break the traditional two party system.

Britain’s electoral system could mean the Lib Dems coming second, ahead of Labour, but with substantially less seats in parliament. Any deal done with Labour or the Conservatives after the election to support a minority government may be conditional on reforming the system and bringing in proportional representation, whereby in future elections the Lib Dems will secure an amount of seats proportionate to votes received. This could indeed change the face of British politics by loosening the stranglehold of the two main parties.

If the Conservatives fail to secure enough seats to govern on their own, we could be in for a degree of horse trading in the coming days. Much of it will hinge on who the Lib Dems decide to get into bed with, and, to date, they haven’t been saying.

Credibility

New Labour’s unpopularity stems from various factors. To many, it has abandoned its traditional core working class voters. The financial crisis and the abuse of the expenses system occurred on its watch. Add to this a number of policy blunders and the fact that the regime took the country into two unpopular wars, and you have a party that is in trouble.

Cameron’s Conservative party are still mistrusted because sections of the electorate feel that, despite the happy smiling facade, beneath the surface lurks the ugly face of Thatcherism. This brings back memories of the strife of the 1980s and the party’s ideological obsession with privatisation and deregulation, which lies at the core of today’s economic crisis.

The fact that the Tories have been out of power for so long and are inexperienced and that their policies seem rather vague doesn’t help either.

When Tony Blair came to power in 1997, people wanted change and positively embraced him. This is not the case now. People want change, but Cameron and Clegg are somewhat unknown quantities and lack the ‘Blair factor’ required to attract voters in their droves.

Finally, it is worth noting that non-voters may outnumber those who vote for the winning party. Some people have no faith in the political system and opt not to vote, believing the whole process to be a sham. Indeed, a telling feature of last few weeks was a campaign dominated by three bureaucratic media savvy party machines with no great ideological differences.

For many, it was disappointing that the campaign deliberately sidelined key issues. Getting out of Afghanistan, for instance, or breaking with the free market policies that caused the financial crisis in the first place was hardly, if at all, mentioned. But with all three parties now acting as de facto arms of the business community, and the mainstream media a compliant partner, none of this came as a surprise.

I happen to believe that any Labour government, no matter how terrible, is better than a Conservative one. But whoever gets into power could find themselves being the most unpopular government in British electoral history, given that the economy is in dire straits and the scale of cuts being proposed.

Perhaps a coalition would be the best option, particularly as many people have had enough of confrontational party politics. What the British public don’t want after the election is squabbling politicians and parties, followed by another election in six months time in order to secure a majority government.

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