By David Dayen, a lapsed blogger. Follow him on Twitter @ddayen
While in this country somebody’s probably writing up an early analysis of the 2024 elections, for UK elections they do quick-strike campaigns only lasting a handful of weeks. And today voters cast their ballots in an election most observers agree will really get interesting in subsequent days.
To summarize, the Conservatives capitalized on the global financial crisis and took power, instituted a massive and ridiculous amount of austerity in the first couple years (see Krugman’s opus on this from a couple weeks back), enough to reach the cusp of a triple dip recession. The Tories also raised college tuition, enacted the “bedroom tax” against recipients of the dole, and cut the top tax rate, among other deprivations. They loosened up on the austerity in the past two years, allowing the economy to come back a bit. Regardless, there’s still a lot of anger among ordinary Brits, particularly with the Liberal Democrats, the junior coalition partner whose support has completely collapsed due to their status as a lapdog for the Tories (This campaign ad putting the LibDems in the middle of the political scene is embarrassing).
The potential exists for an anti-austerity party to rise in the UK. The problem is that there’s really only one in Scotland, where the SNP is poised to take virtually every seat in the country. Under Ed Miliband, Labour has feinted to the left on a couple issues, but they still adhere strictly to deficit reduction. As Bill Black points out, this is completely unjustified:
The UK still has a sovereign currency (the pound). The UK, therefore, has no excuse for following such an economically illiterate policy of austerity while the economy is far below its productive capacity. Labour, however, is proud that it is embracing the economically illiterate practice of austerity. The Lib-Dems and the Tories are also proud of their support of austerity. The only major party that is economically literate is the dread SNP. The two big things that Labour, the Tories, and the Lib-Dems publicly agree on are (1) the need to inflict austerity on the UK and (2) the evil of the Scots. Of course, they still despise the Irish and the Welsh, but at the moment the Scots have taken the lead in the race to be the “most feared Celts.”
The three major parties are then stunned that the Scots favor the SNP. Damn ingrates!
It kind of says it all that Obama advisor David Axelrod is advising Miliband, and other Obama advisor Jim Messina is at the side of David Cameron. Interestingly, friend of the friend of the blog Russell Brand has backed Labour in the final days after arguing against voting for years.
Then there’s the populist/nativist backlash from UKIP, which if anything is even more committed to austerity. The Greens are expected to have limited reach.
All of this has created a real jumble, with the outcome completely unpredictable. The latest poll of polls show a virtual dead heat between the Tories and Labour. UKIP actually polls third but their support is dispersed. The LibDems languish in fourth, with the smaller parties after that. But the SNP is expected to sweep most of the 59 seats in Scotland (they currently have only 6), taking them from both Labour and the Liberal Dems. UKIP isn’t expected to pick up more than a couple seats.
SNP has basically said they would never enter a government (they certainly don’t want to become the next version of the LibDems). They wouldn’t partner with the Conservatives, and Labour – holding out for votes in the Scottish constituencies, and rebutting claims that they would partner with SNP to break up the country – has also demurred. Without the SNP, you can’t really figure out a victor, though there could be a sort of “non-agreement” agreement between SNP and Labour.
May 2015 believes Labour will win, but that Cameron still has a chance to salvage. 538 has an analysis showing that even a Labour/SNP coalition wouldn’t have enough seats to win a majority; they’d have to pick up Plaid Cymru or the Greens or some other partner. DK Elections has pinpointed individual races to watch. There’s even an outside chance for a second election, though it’s unlikely.
The Tory press is trying to make it sound like Labour would be engineering a coup if they manage to form a government despite holding less seats, a definite possibility. They’re pitting it as a legitimacy crisis to use the existing Parliamentary rules to form a government.
John Lanchester has been doing amazing work on the election in the London Review of Books. Here’s an interesting bit:
The Americanisation and professionalisation of our politics has helped to break this general election. I don’t much like Prime Minister’s Questions, noisy and uninformative as it is, but political enthusiasts from all around the world tune it to watch it, because it’s unique. That’s what British democracy is meant to look like: argumentative, confrontational, transparent, and public. This election has been the opposite of that. In British democracy, decisive things are supposed to happen in the public arena. By avoiding that arena, the parties have helped to ensure that nothing decisive has happened. So everything is stuck. The result is an electorate that’s bored and fretful, and anxious about what Friday will bring.
There are other policies at issue besides austerity – regulation of the banks, for one – but it would be nice if there was a clear distinction that a country with its own currency can ignore bad economics and help their people. That’s not really the election we have.