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.