Irish Republican News · April 22, 2010
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: Balance of power seen shifting in Britain
Balance of power seen shifting in Britain

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With just two weeks left in the campaign, a hung parliament is the likeliest outcome of the British general election, according to the latest polls.

Following last week’s televised election debate, Nick Clegg, leader of the centrist Liberal Democrats, briefly became the most popular politician in Britain, with his party either leading or tied with the Tories throughout the week.

Other polls had his party ahead, although the latest poll this evening, in advance of a second TV debate, showed his party had dipped once again.

The instant rise of Clegg caused a furore in British political circles, long used to the binary Labour-Tory system.

Clegg’s performance in the country’s first-ever televised electoral debate a week ago saw an immediate leap in popularity similar to John F. Kennedy’s in 1960.

“Nick Clegg Nearly As Popular As Winston Churchill,” ran a banner headline in the conservative Sunday Times, arguing that not since the great wartime Tory leader has any British politician registered such high personal approval ratings.

The Liberal Democrats’ economic policies have always been free-market enough to draw votes from alienated Conservatives, and its social policies progressive enough to appeal to Labour supporters.

However, the ‘Lib Dems’ have a reputation for feel-good policy statements and an off-beat or even eccentric membership. It is considered too inefficient and poorly organised to convert the sudden popularity into power. In addition, the first-past-the-post system used in Westminster elections has always mitigated against a third party.

Nevertheless, the jump in support has reinforced the belief that no party will win a majority in the House of Commons, putting Clegg’s party and possibly other smaller parties into the position of power-brokers.

Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) which campaign for an independent Scotland, said that the prospects of a hung parliament had become “increasingly likely”.

He added: “The thought causes panic in the Labour and Tory ranks.

“But it is a development that is welcome here in Scotland and one which we embrace enthusiastically.

“For it is with a balanced parliament that Scotland’s greatest opportunity exists - the more SNP MPs, the stronger Scotland’s hand will be.”

Mr Salmond said he believed that a vote for the SNP was a vote for maximum influence for Scotland.

“A window of opportunity is emerging for Scotland. And it is an opportunity our nation can seize by voting for more than just a politician,” he said.

The possible effects of a hung Westminster parliament on the north of Ireland remains unclear. While the Liberal Democrats have a historical political alignment with the moderate unionist Alliance Party, it is unlikely to place any emphasis on Ireland in any post-election negotiations. Paddy Ashdown, a former MI6 agent and author of a now-shelved review of parading in the North, is a former leader of the party.

But it is the possible emergence of a minority or coalition government dependent on the Liberal Democrats (or even the DUP) on which Clegg’s sudden emergence will have the greatest impact. Body-language experts observed evidence of a rapprochement between the Lib Dems and current prime minister, Gordon Brown, during the first television debate.

If, as some commentators have predicted, that flirtation is brought to fruition following the election, Britain’s first-past-the-post system will be rapidly abolished and the power of the traditional centre in British politics will be further eroded.

© 2010 Irish Republican News