Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, April 19, 2010

Why the election matters

The editors at The Economist believe that the upcoming British election will be important no matter which way it turns out.

They're off! Why the campaign will count in a contest that matters
THE election date had been an open secret for so long that its announcement this week might have come as an anticlimax…

For this is a contest that matters greatly. The next government must deal with a woeful inheritance of vaulting public debt. It must chart a new way forward for the economy and finance after the old model has foundered so spectacularly. It must rebuild trust in politics following a scandal over parliamentary expenses that has soured the public mood. And after a decade of sending overstretched armed forces to fight foreign wars, it must either provide them with adequate resources or settle for a more modest role in the world...

If Mr Brown wins, it will be a record-breaking fourth consecutive victory for Labour and make the prime minister the Lazarus of latter-day politics. If, on the other hand, David Cameron delivers victory to the Conservatives, it will be with the biggest swing to the party from Labour in the past 60 years (see chart). And if neither big party manages to get an absolute majority, it will mean the first hung parliament since February 1974, and only the second since 1929…

The main front will be the economy, now uppermost among the issues worrying people. Both the main parties are vying to present themselves as best able to secure the recovery. Public services such as the National Health Service are next in importance when people decide how to vote, they tell pollsters…

More than any past election, this one will be about leadership, pitting a young pretender against an old hand. That will also make the televised debates of the three main party leaders—a first in a British general election—a crucial part of the campaign. They will give unusual prominence to another Young Turk, Mr Clegg, thus perhaps benefiting the Lib Dems the most.

Some campaigns matter; others don’t. In 2005 voting intentions changed little in the run-up to the election, whereas in 1970 and February 1974 they changed fundamentally. With so much uncertainty about the outcome, in this election the campaign could well make the difference.

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