Political pop idol comes to Britain
Such is the decline in traditional political allegiance in Britain that one appealing TV appearance can thrust an average performer to apparent super stardom as the general election comes to resemble a TV talent show rather than a political campaign.
The political version of Britain’s Got Talent or Pop Idol has propelled Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg from an also-ran to the one to beat, according to the pollsters. Clegg’s rise to fame certainly makes a hung parliament more likely than not.
There is no other way to explain the violent swing in the opinion polls since Clegg’s triumph over Gordon Brown and David Cameron during their TV debate last week. Faced with the prospect of either a New Labour or Tory government, voters have understandably taken fright.
Whatever Clegg is, he is not Brown or Cameron! Never mind what he stands for – he is young, appealing and pours scorn on the two parties that for almost 70 years have taken turns in running the country in a Tweedledee-Tweedledum act.
Disgust with New Labour runs deep for a variety of reasons. Watching Lords Mandelson and Adonis outside Downing Street, explaining why the volcano eruption in Iceland is bad news, is enough to put you off on its own. Both are courting the Lib Dems because essentially that is their natural home.
Mandelson came within a whisker of defecting to the Social Democratic Party in the 1980s, while Adonis was a member of the outfit that broke away from Labour and subsequently joined with the Liberals (Britain’s oldest capitalist party, going back to the mid-19th century) to form the Lib Dems.
New Labour – with the support of the Tories – enabled Britain to become an offshore haven for global financiers and left the economy to stagger and eventually collapse under unparalled debt burdens. Add in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the undermining of human rights and creating markets for public services, you can see why many people find it hard to stomach voting New Labour.
As for inequality, City bankers have experienced near-unprecedented income growth over the past decade, with the highest-paid workers taking home nearly a third of the UK’s total wage bill, new research from the London School of Economics shows. The report reveals that the top 10 per cent of workers saw their share of wages rise from 27 per cent to 30 per cent between 1998 and 2008. Big bonuses paid to bankers and traders accounted for most of those gains, with financial services professionals taking home an extra £12bn per year by the end of the decade.
The extreme electoral volatility shown in the polls does not herald, however, a new political dawn so much as the break-up of the old arrangements under the impact of globalisation and its offspring, the world economic and financial crisis.
The fact that Clegg himself represents constituents in Sheffield – once an engineering and steel-making town – speaks volumes for the decline of New Labour in what were once its heartlands. The city council is also Lib Dem controlled, as is Newcastle, York and other northern towns and cities.
If the Lib Dems do end up joining a coalition to keep New Labour in power it would mark the full turn of the circle and the completion of the Blairite project to unite both parties. Labour was formed in 1900 to end Liberal influence over the trade unions and win reforms from capitalism. A coalition would be a step along the road to a merger that would signal the formal and historic end of that venture.
19 April 2010