Tuesday, 2 March 2010

A tea party for Britain?

If you want a laugh this afternoon, check out this video of Tory MEP Daniel Hannan on Fox News in America talking about his efforts to bring the anti-government “tea party” movement to the UK.

The idea that this rag-tag movement of disaffected, gun-toting right-wingers with funny hats could ever catch on in the United Kingdom is laughably absurd. I probably couldn’t think of a more un-British phenomenon. But perhaps the most amusing part of this clip is watching Fox’s Neil Cavuto pretend that he knows anything about European politics.

Who knows how many people actually turned up to Hannan’s little gathering, I certainly didn’t hear anything about it in the British media (a quick check reveals about 100 people showed up). But though he may be on the fringe of British politics and is an unwanted thorn in the side of Tory leader David Cameron, it is important to remember Hannan is still a Tory politician. His brand of populist, anti-government rhetoric is just an extreme representation of a strain of thought that is still deeply engrained in the Tory psyche.

Perhaps it is the realisation of this by British voters that has caused the Conservatives’ poll numbers to plunge as we get closer to the April election. A vote for the Conservatives in two months won’t put Daniel Hannan in power, but it would bring in a party with close ties to America – particularly the American right. Labour would be wise to show these Fox News appearances by Hannan ad nauseum over the next two months. After a decade in which Britain’s obsequious relationship with America dragged the country into the Iraq War and an economic collapse, is the British public eager to vote in a party that would only strengthen this relationship?

Sarah Palin-type politics doesn’t sell well in the UK. Having a Tory politician on TV promoting it is a gift the Labour Party should eagerly embrace. And a society which views these kinds of protests as normal political discourse is not one the British public would like to recreate.

Then again, Hannan doesn’t normally get much attention in the British media, so his recent antics certainly haven’t been the real contributor to the Tories’ fall. So what is? Truth is I have no idea. There have been a couple of minor embarrassments and internal squabbles for the Conservatives over the past month, including an obviously airbrushed billboard of Cameron going up across Britain, but nothing major. Surely the biggest recent embarrassment in British politics has been the allegations of Gordon Brown bullying, hitting and pushing his staff. But despite so called “bullygate” getting tons of media attention here, Brown’s polling numbers haven’t suffered at all. In fact he’s been closing the gap with his Tory rival.

The latest polling shows the Conservatives lead over Labour has shrunk to just five points. Because Labour currently has such a large majority in parliament, a 5% victory in the election would not win the Tories enough seats to be the majority in parliament. If the election were held today, the result would actually be a hung parliament – where no party has a majority.

Hung parliaments are extremely rare in British politics, but when they happen it is always a mess. The last one was in the early ‘70’s. There would be three options for Brown if this were to be the result. He could try to govern as a minority government, which would mean every piece of legislation would require the support of another party (thereby making the government very weak). He could call another election hoping for a better result. Or he could form a coalition government with the third party, the Liberal Democrats.

This third scenario would see Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg cast in a kingmaker role, as he could ally with either the Conservatives or Labour. But given that most Lib Dems favour Labour over the Conservatives, Clegg would almost certainly choose Labour. Yet coalition governments are almost unheard of in modern British politics, and Lib Dem leaders have always traditionally ruled out such an option.

Though some of these options might sound appealing at first to the British left, the reality is that none are particularly good options. Clinging to a minority government even though the Conservatives won the popular vote would not make a new Labour administration very well-liked, particularly at a time when they are almost certainly going to have to make dramatic cuts in public spending. A coalition government could be beset by similar problems, leaving the government unable to take the dramatic action needed as the UK debt situation is becoming increasingly worrying.

Whatever ends up happening, the new political uncertainty introduced by last week’s polling has been bad news for me personally. News that the election could result in a hung parliament has sent the pound plummeting. It fell 3% against the dollar yesterday and even fell against the troubled euro (itself in freefall against the dollar), dropping to a six-month low against the European currency.

Given that I’m moving to Belgium on Saturday and will be making British pounds there, this is extremely bad news for me. Reading the currency trading articles today I’m starting to get really worried. Analysts are predicting a dramatic fall for the pound if this hung parliament prospect becomes a reality. Funny enough, the last freefall for the pound against the euro happened when I moved to Paris in the fall of 2008, when I was also making British pounds. I just can’t seem to win with this exchange rate thing.


Simon said...

Hannan is such a creep. I think he has wet dreams about America during the night. It's Tories like him that make people in Britain not trust them. David Cameron may be trying to sell the public a scrubbed up, friendly face for Conservatism, but at heart this is what they really want to do - turn the UK into an extension of America (even more than it is already)

Joe said...

Funny - and I thought dissent was patriotic. Oh! I forgot who was in charge in Washington now!

My bad!