Gordon Brown vs. David Cameron: real winner could be a hung parliament
Neither Gordon Brown nor David Cameron is popular with British voters. Elections this spring could result in parliamentary paralysis.
In Britain’s upcoming general election, the nation’s public may end up unable to decide which of their political parties they dislike the least.Skip to next paragraph
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According to traditional logic, Gordon Brown’s world should be collapsing around his ears. Following a coup attempt by disgruntled colleagues in his Labour Party, the embattled prime minister has found himself at the center of a fresh row after being accused of “bullying” his staffers. It’s the kind of political poison that should have the Conservative opposition circling in for the kill. Yet recent polls show support for the party at its lowest ebb in two years.
On current projections, the country is headed for a so-called hung parliament in elections this spring, with neither party able to secure the majority required to form a government. This is less a consequence of a tightly fought contest than it is of an almost complete collapse in political trust among British voters, a deadlock swept in on a tide of apathy and disgust.
For a brief moment last summer, Britain’s misfiring political system appeared to have hit rock bottom. Explosive revelations about politicians’ misuse of taxpayer-funded expense accounts to pay for anything from duck shelters to pornography whipped up a storm of public fury. Angry and alienated at the end of a decade that has seen parliamentary debate descend into a meaningless squabble for the political center, the British public turned on the political classes with indiscriminate ferocity. One report released glumly concluded that a whopping 82 percent of Britons now expect their elected representatives to lie through their teeth whenever they open their mouths.
For a few short months, both Parliament and the media resounded to the sound of clarion calls for political reform. Despite the absence of war, revolution, or other traditional stimuli, Britain was, according to commentator Timothy Garton-Ash, on the cusp of a “constitutional moment.”
This low period generated a movement to tie together the confusing mess of laws, precedents, and gentlemen’s agreements that make up Britain’s “unwritten constitution,” to create a new system that would reenergize the nation’s politics and restore the trust of its people.
Suddenly, the corridors of Westminster were crackling with ideas once more. Hoping to encourage ordinary people to break career politicians’ virtual monopoly over Parliament, the Conservatives proposed using US-style “open primaries” to select new candidates. The Liberal Democrats (Britain’s third party) suggested readjusting the political system to ensure fairer representation for minorities. Labour and others proposed replacing the appointed House of Lords with an elected senate.