Friday, July 25, 2008

Labour loses another "safe" seat

This cannot be good news for the British Labour Party. For the third time in three months the ruling party in the UK has lost a by-election; this time in Glasgow East. The separatist Scottish National Party won one of the safest seats for Labour by a fairly comfortable margin. The swing from the general election was 22%. If this is repeated in the next general election across the country, Labour stands to lose all but one seat in Caledonia ... and that seat doesn't belong either to the PM, Gordon Brown or to the Chancellor, Alastair Darling who are both Scottish.

On top of Labour's losing the mayoralty of London, all signs point to huge trouble for Brown who's barely able to justify staying on as leader just a year after he was finally able to wrest control of the party from Tony Blair. And where are the votes going? Well, besides the separatists -- the SNP in Scotland and Plaid Cymru in Wales -- a big chunk are going to the Conservatives who despite their name are actually the direct opposite of their Canadian cousins.

Under their new leader, David Cameron, the party has undergone a complete overhaul -- emphasizing quality of life and improving public services (what was once called "one country Conservatism" until the Thatcherites took over), and interestingly energy independence and a clean environment, with hard targets to meet. They no longer oppose the regional assemblies in Cardiff and Edinburgh; and in fact now say that only English MPs should vote on English issues -- which if implemented would make the UK close to a truly federal state. They now accept the independence of the Bank of England (which they once opposed as well). They have even gone so far as to change their logo, dumping the long familiar torch with a green-leafed tree to emphasize its green policies.

In other words, like other ideological parties forced into the wilderness by the electorate, the Conservatives have attempted to listen to the people -- and have made themselves a once again viable choice. What is interesting about it all is that this the first right-wing party I'm aware of for quite some time to move to the centre. In much of the world -- Canada, the United States, Australia -- when the left wing has moved to the centre the right has moved even further to the right. Who could have imagined someone on the right would embrace many of the elements of the Third Way, while Labour which ran on it has now essentially dumped it and gone back to its old ways?

Have the UK Cons moved enough? Maybe not enough for some but certainly enough for enough people, that they now pose a serious threat to Labour. PMS may want to take some notes here -- it is pragmatism, not hard ideology, that normally wins elections; but if you push your ideology too hard you'll wind up alienating people to go in a different direction or not to vote at all. Harper needs to take a hint from Cameron, and starting acting like what conservatives used to be in Canada -- and not as a Republican.

Some by-elections are coming up here in Canada as well. If the Liberals win, expect the Cons to say they were expecting to lose in "safe" Liberal seats. They should instead view such a loss to whichever party may win as a sign that they need to act up and rule for all Canadians and not just the oil companies in Calgary and the televangelists in Lethbridge.

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