Nick Clegg: Man of the Moment
The people of the United Kingdom will go to the polls on May 6th to elect a new parliament, and until a week ago, the opinion among the bien pensants
was that the Conservative Party
would win, albeit with a very small majority
. However, in the wake of Liberal Democrat> leader Nick Clegg
's performance in the first ever debate
between the leaders of the three main political parties, the Liberal Democrats have shot up in the polls, whereby they now either lead or come second to the Tories. In one, they even push the ruling Labour Party
into third place.
Nick Clegg casts something of an exotic figure in British politics. His mother is Dutch, his father is half-Russian, his wife is Spanish and his children all have Spanish names. He speaks numerous foreign languages. Not surprisingly, the right-wing press is now painting him as some kind of fifth column interloper for the European social order. The left, however, see him as a Barack Obama, upending the old order of the two statist parties by promising a different kind of politics from the one practiced by the two parties that have swapped power over the last seventy years.
Because of the vagaries of the British "first past the post
voting system, it is very hard for any third party—which is what the Liberal Democrats (and their predecessors the Liberals) have been for a century
—to win the election outright. What the Lib Dems can do, however, is cause a hung
parliament, with no party gaining an absolute majority. Depending on which party has the largest number of seats, the Queen will invite either Labour or the Conservatives to form a government. Should the largest party be the Conservatives, they will probably try to rule as a minority government, an inherently unstable position that was last tried in the U.K. in 1974
A more likely scenario is that Labour—who may get under 30 percent of the total vote—will attempt to form a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, with whom they have much more in common than the Conservatives do with either Labour or the Lib Dems. The price of that coalition may be high for Labour. Not only will the Liberal Democrats want immediate reform of the voting system to something more proportional
so they won't be so disadvantaged again, but they may demand the cabinet position of Chancellor of the Exchequer
, and even the head of the current prime minister, Gordon Brown. Right now, no one can predict with any certainty what will happen in an election campaign that has been upended in the course of a week.
I haven't been able to vote in Britain for five years, since I am no longer resident there. However, I've supported the Liberal Democrats for two decades, mainly because of the need for electoral reform, but also because of their solidly pro-European and environmental policies, and because unlike the deeply centralizing Tories and Labour parties, they offer the devolution of more power to localities. My heart's also with them because the bankers and titans of the City are suggesting that a vote for the Lib Dems will mean a "climate of instability"
that will roil the markets, just as Britain is trying to climb out of the financial hole it's dug itself into because it followed the American financial and economic model of wealth-creation. That the City is effectively saying, "The will of the people is unimportant, what is needed is one party to have total sway," shows that it has no genuine interest in freedom. Naturally, I hope they'll be proven as wrong in this election as they've proved so often before.