So 5 days before the election I predicted that the Tories would win with a plurality of seats, and then form a coalition with the LibDems. How did I do?
Well, that’s exactly what happened. Thank goodness, since I teach a political class! My credibility was on the line.
Now it didn’t take much to see that by the Saturday before the Thursday election, the Tories would gain the most seats. However, for quite some time prior to that the “poll of polls” at ukpollingreport.co.uk had Labour as the largest party. And that in turn was preceded by a year or so of anti-Labour (but not quite pro-Tory) feeling. If Gordon Brown had gone to the polls last year this result would look sweet by comparison.
I’d argue that a coalition with the LibDems was a bit more of a risky pick however. In fact Brown did angle (as was his right) for a Labour-LibDem coalition, which he called a “progressive alliance” using some American phraseology perhaps. And a coalition is not the same as a “pact” because it is more formal and involves members of the minority party in the cabinet. Another possibility is a minority government, as they have had successfully in Canada.
I asked my political geography class to do the same prediction and almost all of them really inflated the LibDem numbers. In fact Cleggmania largely fizzled, though they perhaps shored up their vote they were disappointed on the night. I’m not sure how much Americans have a feel for UK politics (to be fair we didn’t spend much time on it per se).
I also asked them to predict the midterms here in the USA in November. Almost all of them saw Democratic losses and some even felt confident in predicting GOP takeovers of both House and Senate. My feeling is that while there might be reduced majorities at this time it looks unlikely that the Dems would lose power in either chamber.
On the face of it, this is a surprising claim, given that Specter is behind in the polls (to Sestak, a more liberal Democrat) and that Bob Bennett was ousted by the tee-pee candidate, then there’s Crist and Rand Paul. All pointers, you might think, to anti-incumbency or anti-mainstream. NPR’s self-described “brain trust” (sic, their words) of Mara Liasson and Ken Rudin made this argument this morning, and here’s Howard Kurtz at least “musing” along the same lines.
But if you look at these things in more detail you can see that simple headlines aren’t the whole story. Here’s Kurtz quoting from his own paper’s editorial:
A Washington Post editorial says “the increasing polarization of the nation’s politics is fueling a blood sport in this election year: the ideological purification of both parties. Conservatives in Utah denied Republican Sen. Robert Bennett renomination last week. Liberals have targeted Arkansas Democrat Sen. Blanche Lincoln in a May 18 primary. Activists in other states and congressional districts hope to punish politicians they view as insufficiently devoted to party creed. . . . The more litmus tests are imposed, the greater the number of voters who will find themselves politically homeless.”
It’s interesting to examine the unfounded assumptions in this editorial. The most important is that we are, and should be, centrists. Another view (correct in my opinion) is that a healthy democracy benefits not from having two very slightly divergent parties plumped in the center, but by having real choices. There’s also a big difference between the tee-pee party (whether it be Palin or Paul) winning in its own little corner and somebody like Joe Sestak who could win the PA Senate seat with broad support (he’s ahead of Specter right now).
The people who are actually politically homeless are those looking for a genuine slate of candidates on the left. As the Dems move to the right, often led by President Obama who has swallowed the he said-she said style of politics (ie both sides have equal and opposite purchase on the truth), this disenfanchises those who don’t want their representatives to be in thrall to Wall Street and the banks. We don’t need a cypher for the Supreme Court, we need a full-throated progressive like Diane Wood to counter-act the full-throated conservatives.
(Though here I have a thought. GOP presidents have recently appointed ideological activist justices I think because they want to dismantle the achievements of earlier courts–a concern that Obama has also expressed–and Dem presidents are content with weaker justices, perhaps because they will defend and not advance rights. The balance of rights then, at least at this time, is favorable to the defenders, ie to liberals. And so that’s good news: the gains have been made. Of course we’d like to see more, and playing defense forever is not a winning strategy.)
So what we need is more partisanship from a genuine array of political actors.
Anyway, once again, I’ve strayed somewhat off-topic from the original title of this post!