In little over a hundred days time, Britain will go to the polls, in what many are already describing as a “game changing” General Election. All elections are important, and in Britain where they only take place every four or five years and where they are decided in a winner takes all, first past the post system, there usually is a clear winner. Except this time, there is a possibility at least that there will not be a clear winner, and there could be a hung Parliament with no party enjoying an overall majority.
The more likely scenario is that the Conservative Party, led by a fresh faced David Cameron is likely to beat a tired and unpopular Gordon Brown and his Labour Party. Labour has been in power since 1997, winning two elections under Britain’s curious system, while haemorrhaging some four million Labour votes in the process. Cameron’s party currently enjoys a poll lead of some 10%, enough to give it a relatively small majority in Parliament, while Brown’s Labour has begun to chip away from a position that a year ago would have seen the party decimated. The reason for this is most likely fear of the unknown in difficult times, and a growing belief that Cameron isn’t experienced enough. Until recently at the very least, Labour was seen as less likely to inflict savage cuts on public services – with the very obvious knock on effect on jobs. Modern Britain’s economy is largely driven by the motor that is London and the South East. Much of the rest of the country, deprived of its industrial and manufacturing power base after decades a of contraction and closure, is dependent on it.
From now until May, it will be the job of politicians and journalists to create sufficient interest and excitement to cajole Britain’s increasingly reluctant electorate into the polling booths. They will have their job cut out.
The problem for Britain’s professional political class is twofold; the country, alone amongst its competitors is still in recession and all three major parties are to one extent or another wedded to a liberal economic consensus – the consensus that laid the foundations for the current banking crisis. From Thatcher to Blair and now to Brown and Cameron, the essential policies have remained the same. Loosely these can be described as free market based, de-regulatory, biased towards the finance sector and deliberately neglectful of the manufacturing sector. Labour has been kinder to public services, and as long as the bubble was still capable of expanding, allowed for an element of ‘trickle down’. However welcome some of the micro measures to boost training or build schools and hospitals, the gap between the rich and the poor has continued to grow. Britain is now more unequal than at any time since Queen Victoria was on the throne.
So attempting to create any enthusiasm, and especially by a political class now largely reviled as corrupt, would be a tall order in the best of times. But these are the worst of times, and all of the political leaders are agreed that the axe will have to fall on Government spending – the Government having spent much of our wealth bailing out the bankers. In truth cuts are already taking place, but after May comes the heavy stuff – whoever wins. This much the public already knows. It explains why there is so little enthusiasm for any of the parties or their leaders, and why this coming General Election may be less game changing, and more game playing.
In time it may also become known as the ‘phoney election’, because while all of the parties agree that cuts must be made, they are not really telling us where and how deep. And having artificially inflated the economy by pumping billions of taxpayers’ money into bust banks, the politicians are now set on deflating it as quickly – and before a recovery has even started.
Some have suggested that Britain is only a bigger economic version of Iceland. That may be true. But what I fear is that the direct result of slashing public expenditure will be that Britain will be caught in a stagnating deflationary spiral similar to that which has gripped Japan for nearly a decade.