In Britain, the upcoming May 6 election has already brought great attention and excitement to the landscape of British politics. This sort of excitement has not been seen for some time in British politics, as, in the last few decades, the popularity of politics has gone down. Live televised debates have garnered enthusiasm for this year’s election.
For the first time in British political history, televised debates have enabled the British public to see the politicians describe their policies in front of a live studio audience. In contrast, televised debates in the U.S. have been influential for presidential elections from Kennedy vs. Nixon to Obama vs. McCain.
Britain’s three main parties are represented in the debates, although the country essentially has a two-and-a-half party system. The Labour party has a center-left ideology, and is represented by its leader and the current prime minister, Gordon Brown. The Conservative party is center-right, represented by their leader David Cameron. The Liberal Democrats represented by leader Nick Clegg, fall nearest to center.
The Liberal Democrats are the third or “half” party, and they have not had much media coverage in the past. These debates have been an opportunity for the party to get its point across, which The Daily Telegraph (a British newspaper) reported as very effective in the first debate, writing that Clegg “emerged as the winner.”
The newfound popularity of the Liberal Democrats is surprising. Before the debates, the party was ranked third after Labour with a 15 percent lower popularity rating. The Conservative party (about 15 percent) had a much larger lead in January, but this fell gradually over the last few months and plummeted during the debates. Now the party holds a lead of only four percent, according to ComRes, a British polling consultancy.
The second debate did not leave Clegg in such a favorable position, as polls suggest that both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives won. According to Yahoo! News, Britain’s electoral race “tightened” after the second televised debate “failed to produce a runaway winner, increasing the chances of a hung parliament.” Many in Britain now see this ambiguous outcome as a likely end to the election instead of producing an outright winner.
A “hung parliament” is a political scenario in which there is no majority party and the leading parties must work together. No one party’s agenda can lead the way or make much progress. Betfair, a British online betting exchange, has predicted that the most probable outcome is a hung parliament at 56.8 percent, followed by a possible Conservative victory at 37.8 percent.
The new limelight for the Liberal Democrats may be favorable for the party and its supporters, but it means that they come under increased scrutiny. Just before the second debate, questions arose over whether Clegg should have claimed for upkeep of his second house in London.
The Labour party has supported Clegg in light of the increased media scrutiny, ostensibly in an attempt to gain favor with Liberal Democrats in the event of a hung parliament. Senior Labour politician and Business Secretary Lord Mandelson said that the Conservatives had been attempting to “smear” Nick Clegg through the negative coverage of right-wing newspapers, adding that the coverage was “quite frankly disgusting.”
The other side of this scrutiny is a closer look at Liberal Democrat policies, which according to many Labour and Conservative politicians are extreme and therefore not viable. These policies include getting rid of Britain’s nuclear program “Trident” and eventually assuming the euro as British currency in place of the pound.
The final debate before the election was last night, and at press time for this paper no definite outcome could be forecast. The final debate will certainly have helped make the picture clearer of who will win. It could be the Labour Party, which promises a “future fair for all,” or the Conservatives, who argue that this is the “year for change,” or the Liberal Democrats who say they represent “change that works for you, building a fairer Britain.” The election promises to be a fascinating contest.