Thursday, January 7, 2010

The 2010 Elections - in Britain!

Summary: Conservatives expect to take down Labour in this year's UK elections - but can American poltiical consultants change the dynamic?

You can rest assured that we’ll be following this year’s midterm elections in the U.S. with a close eye. But we’ll also be following a very pivotal General Election in the United Kingdom, which could shift the balance of power in our close ally’s realm.

Lately, I noticed a strange increase in hits for this blog coming from London. I didn’t think much of it at first, until we received an email in press release form from a fellow campaign person.

Subject: The Independent (London) / Tory leader embraces "progressive" brand

David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party, is now leading [Prime Minister] Gordon Brown's Labour Party by 9% in the polls - in a nation with 3 major parties and some minor ones as well -- the current situation portends a disastrous predicament for Labour.

Cameron is a very articulate politician - so articulate that he has seized the 'progressive' brand and promised reforms that will include "incentives" -- ie. tax cuts or 'socialism' for the wealthy and the richest corporations.

In his 'progressive' statement, Cameron announces a law and order crackdown on drugs, alcohol and debtors along with the privatization of welfare and a massive expansion of the prison system as 'progressive' policies. Quite.

This very brief statement is a masterpiece of political rhetoric and propaganda.

He then added in Cameron’s statement to The Independent, a London newspaper.

David Cameron: Progressive Conservatism will mean a fairer, greener society

We will use the state to help remake society by encouraging people to take responsibility for themselves and for one another

Monday, January 4, 2010

If we win this year's election Britain will be under new economic management. We will send out the loudest signal that this country is back open for business and ready for investment. Decline is not inevitable. Confidence can return. If we take action now – to get a grip on the public finances and unleash enterprise – Britain can have a bright economic future. A strong economy gives us the foundation for a better life. But the mission that drives this party is building a stronger society.

We are progressive Conservatives. Our goal is a fairer, safer, greener country where opportunity is more equal. It's because we are progressives that we will protect the [National Health Service]. We recognise its special place in our society so we will improve it for everyone.

It's because we are progressives that we will support aspiration so that people from every background, not just the rich, have the chance to get on in life. A pupil premium that gives the poorest children the chance to go to the best state schools. Welfare reform that helps those in long-term poverty move into long-term employment. Strengthening families with practical and financial help to give parents time with their children and keep couples together. We will fight back against the root causes of deprivation – drug addiction, alcoholism, indebtedness, failing prisons.

It's because we are progressives that we will support responsibility and strong families so we help mend our broken society and tackle the crime and misery it brings. A decade of big government and blunt, bureaucratic control has undermined responsibility and made our social problems worse, not better.

We are determined to forge a new direction. We will use the state to help remake society by encouraging people to take responsibility for themselves and for one another. We will provide new opportunities for community groups, neighbourhood organisations, charities, social enterprises to help rebuild our civil society. We will create incentives and use the best technology to encourage and enable people to come together, solve their problems together, make this society stronger together.

As we do this we will redistribute power from the political elite to the man and woman in the street.

First let me address the rhetoric. It’s of no surprise to me that Cameron presents the Tories as “Progressive Conservatives” - progressive conservatism has been a sweeping force across Europe for a decade now. Leaders like French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi all embody this sort of ideology.

And outside the individual countries, conservatives have been making electoral strides as well. The European Union Assembly is now dominated by a coalition of center-right parties. The UK’s Labour Party was especially upset following the EU election last June.

Conservatism itself doesn’t play well in Europe - few if any Europeans will tell you they respect the Republican Party of the U.S. But modern center-right parties like the Tories have done well to use the “progressive” brand. When I was in London a few years back, I remember non-affiliated young voters (the most progressive kind) telling me how David Cameron was a great man, and how he and his party were the best choice for Britain.

And the Conservative Party has gone beyond rhetoric and into image. British blogs frequently mention the way Cameron has tried to emulate President Obama (it’s somewhat easy, since they’re both young and articulate) and how the Tories’ website has been updated to look hip and optimistic, including the slogan “Year for Change”.

Of course, it’s all politics. Obama himself has reportedly called Cameron “a lightweight” and my guess is they’re not too interchangeable ideologically. But Obama has a strong resonance in Europe, and every politician wants to look like him.

And despite being a nearly all-white party, the Tories are doing it better than anyone.

Back to the London hits…

A quick query into why these Brits were reading our blog produced an interesting find: they were searching for American political consultants. We just happen to be American political consultants.

You see, the UK doesn’t have set elections. The government (i.e., the majority party) has to call for elections within 5 years of their last election. If they fail to do so, the Queen does it instead. The last election in the UK was in 2005, so everyone knows that there has to be one this year, although when it will be exactly no one's sure.

Keep in mind this is for all of Parliament (except for some of the Lords) - different from how Congress runs on just two-year cycles. Plus, local elections are often seen as meaningless and no one really works on them, except for some big Mayoral races. Almost all real policy work is done on the national level from Westminster.

From what I understand, because campaigning can only officially happen between the time the election is called and the date of the election they don't really have any professional campaigners - it's all organized by the parties.

Again, from what I’ve seen, party operatives place staffers from Parliament on the ground for those weeks to run campaigns. But because of the uncertainty in the system, there aren't many consultants because it's not as economically feasible to be one there.

As a result, American consultants are often brought in to work for the Tories, Labour, and other parties.

The reason 2010 will be a pivotal year for British politics is because few are actually expecting Labour to maintain control - most have resigned to accepting Cameron as the next Prime Minister. One only needs to see the downturn Labour has had on the electoral map to understand why.

Yet I believe a rush of American political consultants could help change the dynamic. Neither party in the UK has done an especially good job of expanding the electorate or appealing to new, young, and important untapped voters. Politics is rarely something to get excited about in Britain.

American politicos, however, have learned some important lessons on those fronts following the 2008 election of Barack Obama. The ongoing study of just how effectively that campaign built support, enthusiasm, and inevitably a movement demonstrates just how much campaigning matters.

And despite the glaring differences in electoral systems, British voters could be moved the same way Americans were with the proper input. We’re not saying Gordon Brown could easily present himself as the British Obama, but Labour will need to make a dramatic move towards an Obama-like campaign strategy if they really want to retain power.

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