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The politics of Hope and Change

by Frank Schnittger Wed May 12th, 2010 at 07:22:25 AM EST

Barack Obama campaigned on the themes of Hope and "Change you can believe in".  Nick Clegg promised a change from the tired old two party system and David Cameron asked people to choose Hope over fear.  

But what happens when fresh faced young newcomers seem to come from nowhere on the back of woolly promises of change and hope in order to tap into an anti-incumbent mood but at the same time seek to avoid alienating key party supporters and interest groups by being too specific in their policy proposals and promises? A great deal of public disillusion is the almost inevitable consequence as reality sets in. History has not been suspended and soon it is politics more or less as usual. The system does not change. Just ask Barack Obama...

The chart above is taken from the Pollster.com statistical trend of all polls and charts his meteoric rise in popularity from virtual unknown through his 52:44 win over McCain and reaching a 75:20 peak in the post election/inauguration euphoria. (Please note it measures personal popularity and not voting intentions or perceived job performance.  It is also a dynamic chart and will continue to update long after this story is written, so please note that the comments below relate to the position as of May 2010).


Everybody loves a winner and most people seemed to believe that the change was one they could believe in - especially after one of the most unpopular Presidencies in recent history which resulted in two unwinnable wars and a devastated economy.  However the chart also shows the steady decline in Obama's popularity over the next year as he is forced to make hard choices and difficult compromises on bank bail-outs, stimulus plans, executive and judicial appointments, Afghanistan escalation, Guantanamo, health care, and Don't ask don't Tell which galvanised opponents and frequently disappointed his supporters.

However the chart also shows a possible inflection point in the past couple of months as the economy appears to start recovering and Obama finally has a substantive legislative achievement - on Health care - under his belt.  Much as his most avid supporters have been disappointed, it appears their expectations have been lowered to the point where any substantive legislative achievement which succeeds in antagonising the opposition has got to be a good thing, even if the ideological origins of many of the Health Insurance reforms came from neo-conservative think tanks.

So what can we expect of the Cleggon Coalition (Clegg CamerON) or the ConDemNation (Conservative/Lib Dem) which they will seek to create. Will the Lib Dems get the more proportional electoral system they so desperately need to get a more ongoing role in UK Governance? Presumably Labour will campaign against the AV or alternative voting system if it is put to a referendum on the grounds that it will lead to permanent "unworkable" coalitions like the one just being formed.  

But will the Tories be so Machiavellian as to oppose a change they have just agreed to put to the UK electorate? Undoubtedly some on the fringes of the party will, but it is hard to see how Clegg could have agreed to a deal whereby Cameron will hold an AV referendum only to oppose its passage - even if it has been agreed that the Lib Dems can abstain on Trident and a few other very controversial Tory policies.

So will the Lib Dems get the real Change they so Hope for?  A lot depends on the timing.  If Clegg is smart he will have insisted on a referendum and legislative enactment within the first 6 months whilst the Government still has some of its honeymoon momentum and the whole project is less likely to be sabotaged by dissident Tory backbenchers worried for their future electoral prospects under the new system.  

The great fear for the Lib Dems must be that that the Tories will cut and run to the electorate in the hope of getting an overall majority before they get too unpopular and before a new system can legislated into place.  Any Government promising to tackle a 12% Public Sector Deficit is not going to be very popular for very long unless the economy stages a somewhat miraculous recovery.

Ironically, the Lib Dems could do very badly even with an AV system in place if they bear the brunt of the unpopularity for failing to prevent the implementation of a largely Tory agenda and the economy tanks in consequence.  But electoral reform - especially one enacted after a referendum vote - isn't just about the next election, but about changing the dynamics of politics over the longer term.  

Although not truly proportional, the AV system does encourage greater participation by fringe parties but also a more civil politics and fight for the centre ground as a successful candidate must also seek lower preference votes from the supporters of opposing candidates.

Thus even if this Government is a disaster, Nick Clegg could have achieved lasting Change in UK politics if he succeeds in establishing a more proportional system of voting for one of the oldest democracies in the world.

Poll
The Lib Dems will succeed in changing the UK electoral system to a more proportional one
. Yes 38%
. No 61%

Votes: 13
Results | Other Polls
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But will the Tories be so Machiavellian as to oppose a change they have just agreed to put to the UK electorate? Undoubtedly some on the fringes of the party will, but it is hard to see how Clegg could have agreed to a deal whereby Cameron will hold an AV referendum only to oppose its passage - even if it has been agreed that the Lib Dems can abstain on Trident and a few other very controversial Tory policies.
What if the fringes of the party and the Murdoch press both oppose AV in the referendum? This can give Cameron plausible deniability, and his own party is not monolythically behind him.

The brainless should not be in banking -- Willem Buiter
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 12th, 2010 at 08:57:32 AM EST
That is quite a likely scenario, which is why I said that if Clegg is smart he will have insisted that all the electoral reform is all done and dusted during the honeymoon period in the next 6 months.  If Cameron shows bad faith on this, then Clegg will have cause to force a general election whilst he still has some chance of electoral survival under the old system.  I can see Labour licking their lips at the prospect of putting a spanner in the works once the Coalition becomes really unpopular... - at which point a referendum is unlikely to pass anyway as it will be seen as a referendum ON the coalition.

Frank's Home Page and Diary Index
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed May 12th, 2010 at 09:40:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Is Clegg smart? On TV, he comes across as permanently amiable but rather befuddled - a slower downmarket proto-Blair without the Satanism.

Would a smart leader not have negotiated a better position, or opted for a less formal alliance, allowing the Tories to crash and burn without tying himself to their depleted uranium boat anchor?

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed May 12th, 2010 at 10:25:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not close enough to the situation to judge whether he negotiated a good deal on either jobs or policies, but supporting a minority Government is a mugs game.  You get none of the credit and all of the blame, and the moment when it least suits you Cameron runs to the country and gets an overall majority.

If Clegg has any smarts he will have negotiated a 5 year programme with his priorities in their early.  That way the Lib Dems come to be seen as a party capable of influencing policy and of Government after 100 years on the fringe - which gives them a certain credibility even if the Government ends up being unpopular.

Even the fact that Coalition Government comes to be seen as "normal" in the UK means it is moving closer to the European norm!  Joining the Euro was never going to happen anyway barring a financial melt-down, and if that happens Clegg will have an issue on which to precipitate an election if he wants one.

If Clegg does achieve AV he will have achieved more than any other Lib Dem leader in living memory - not just for the Lib Dems, but for all minority parties, for electoral participation, and for a system seen as being more inclusive and fair.

Frank's Home Page and Diary Index

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed May 12th, 2010 at 10:36:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Joining the Euro was never going to happen anyway barring an even bigger financial melt-down

FIFY

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed May 12th, 2010 at 05:44:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Recall my diary: Blogging the Liberal Democrat Conference: Day One (September 17th, 2007)
The Euro was barely mentioned, but there was an intervention by someone from "The City" which I'll report here. He started out with the claim that London is subsidising the rest of the UK through its tax revenues which, as we know (ahem), are due mostly to London's position at the centre of the world's capital markets. He mentioned that the Euro Zone is taking over from the US as a global standard-setter in finance, and that this is driving international banks to establish offices in London, which (see above) is good for the UK economy. So the Euro is good for Britain because of that. But, of course, that doesn't mean that the UK should trade the Pound for the Euro. And here's where I really felt like slapping the guy to wake him up: he said there wouldn't be a case for the UK joining the Euro Zone unless and until there's some serious economic crisis which is not what "the current hiccup" is.
A hiccup, all right... This was just after Northern Rock failed...

The brainless should not be in banking -- Willem Buiter
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 12th, 2010 at 06:10:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Having just read the coalition Government agreement it appears that the Conservatives are not committing themselves to support AV even though they will support having a referendum on it.  So what are the chances of AV passing if BOTH Tories and Labour campaign against, and will this not strain Tory Lib Dem relationships to breaking point?  

A few Tory mavericks and the Murdock media campaigning against AV is one thing.  Cameron and the Tory part of the Government campaigning against their Lib Dem colleagues is quite a different matter.  I could see this becoming the game breaker.  Its all very well the Lib Dems abstaining on a couple of Parliamentary votes by prior agreement.  But the two parties campaigning against each other on an absolutely fundamental issue will do nothing for the longevity of the Government.

Of course if the British people had any sense they would vote for AV precisely because the two main parties are against it, and in a low poll the Lib Dems might actually beat both major parties.  After all, AV changes nothing except giving people effectively more than one vote - or making their one vote count as part of the final determination of who gets the seat and ending the spectre of "wasted votes" and pointless candidacies .  In theory its a win win for the voters.

But never underestimate the power of the media and the establishment to persuade people to vote against their own best interests....

Frank's Home Page and Diary Index

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed May 12th, 2010 at 04:51:15 PM EST
If it becomes Tory&Labour vs Lib-dems in the referendum, I think Lib-dems stand to gain. If they win, well victory. If they loose, but has more votes for "yes" then they had in the general election, they can pull the plug on the coalition and enter an election campaign with easy pickings among those that just voted yes.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!
by A swedish kind of death on Fri May 14th, 2010 at 09:44:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If they call a general election because they lost a referendum on AV, that will be perceived as sour grapes and not accepting the will of the electorate.  Thus even if they got 40-% of the vote for AV in a referendum, they might get less than 20% in a subsequent General election.  Failing to accept a referendum result is the very worst reason for calling a General.  They would have to find another legitimate reason to pull a general...

Frank's Home Page and Diary Index
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri May 14th, 2010 at 06:59:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
David Miliband is already tweeting that Labour should be the 'movement for change'.

Yup. That should do it.

I think he's still in that state of post-Ministerial denial where he gets in the back of the car and expects it to go.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Wed May 12th, 2010 at 07:25:23 PM EST


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