British Election Watch: Part 1

Prime Minister Blair has announced that a general election will be held on May 5th, and asked the Queen to dissolve Parliament. This year's election will be one of the most important in recent history, since there are many issues of a momentous nature facing the British electorate, and the choices the country makes in the next few years will be very difficult to reverse. The outcome will also have serious repercussions for Bush & Co., since the last few years have seen Mr. Blair turn the United Kingdom into the Neocons’ lap dog, to the great displeasure of members of even his own party, not to mention the great embarrassment of the British public, which is for the most part dismayed at the country’s involvement in the war. Should the election not go Mr. Blair’s way then the Bush administration may not only lose the contribution Britain has made to the war effort, but more importantly, the diplomatic support and the veneer of a genuine international coalition that British involvement has created. Of course, other allies do exist, but none possess a seat on the Security Council, nor have any of them supplied troops in sufficient numbers to make anything more than symbolic gesture.

However, the bad news is that both of Britain’s major political parties– The Conservative Party, led by Michael Howard, and The Labour Party, led by Tony Blair, support the Iraq war; the only major contention between them being over whether or not Tony Blair lied about WMD, an issue that the Conservatives are trying to push in order to undermine trust in the Blair government. Fortunately, however, Britain does possess a 3rd sizable political party – The Liberal Democrats, led by Charles Kennedy, which has in recent times positioned itself at the center of Britain’s political spectrum. However, as The Labour Party has drifted right under the Thatcher-Lite leadership of Mr. Blair, the Lib Dems, have moved to fill the political void that has opened up on the left. This has proved to be a great boon to them, as they have taken their base in the center with them, and picked up many votes from Labour supporters disaffected with Mr. Blair’s behavior over the Iraq war. As a party they are defined by their vehement opposition to the war and a strong pro European stance; in other words, they personify a Bush nightmare.

Now, while there is no chance that the Lib Dems could actually win this thing outright, as they are currently polling at around the 20% mark (Labour and The Conservatives are tied up at 36%), if they can bleed off enough of Labour’s support, they may create a situation where the Conservatives are forced to form a coalition government with them. I won’t bore you with the mechanics of how this would all work (the British electoral system is possibly even more convoluted than the American one), but the upshot would be a Government that stands a good chance of putting an end to British support of the Iraq war. The Conservatives are far more likely to compromise on this issue than they are over Europe, and it would be the smartest political move for them, since most Britons dislike the Iraq war and have traditionally been suspicious of what those pesky Krauts and Frogs get up to in Brussels.

As recently as a few months ago, a scenario such as the one outlined above seemed impossible; Blair was riding high in the polls, and the Conservatives were failing to capitalize on the catastrophe in Iraq. Recent revelations that Blair may have withheld important caveats from the intelligence he presented to his cabinet prior to the Iraq war has changed the playing field considerably, however, and the Labour Party, already deeply divided over the war, is starting to tear itself apart. Only the prospect of a general election around the corner is holding the malcontents in check, and if the squabbling worsens, a Conservative victory, with or without The Lib Dems, will be the likely outcome.

All right – That'll get us started. Over the next month I’ll be keeping an eye on events, and will do my best to keep all you Shakers up on the latest developments. In the meantime I’d appreciate some feedback on just how much interest this topic holds for you lot. Should I go into more detail about the individual parties and their historical role in British politics? Should I take the time to outline all the major issues at stake, even those that do not have ramifications for Bush? Or alternatively, should I keep my Limey mouth shut!?

Let me know.

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