Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

The Coming British Elections


What are we to make of Nick Clegg who now holds the banner of the Liberal Democrats in Britain?  The historian Max Hastings in The Daily Mail (Apr 28) is dismissive.  ‘It would be foolish to expect honesty from Nick Clegg and his party,’ he suggests, as they will only hope to force ‘proportional representation on whichever party is willing to cut a deal with them.’  The major political parties have suddenly realised that Clegg has become an unavoidable force in British politics, a potential spoiler of the balance of power in a country that, Benjamin Disraeli claimed, had no love for coalitions.  A clue is gathered, at least from Labour, in the opinions of the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband.  Reaction towards Clegg is based on a form of ‘anti-politics’, a sweet, relieving meal for those impoverished by corrupt, and dull politics.

The attack is orthodox, tried, and worn: anti-politics, Milliband wants to assure the electorate, is no substitute for government policy.  ‘Anti-politics is fine for opposition, but it is not sufficient for government.  There is a market for anti-politics, due to the sickening expenses scandal, but it is not a basis for running a country’ (Guardian, Apr 23).  Stay warming the benches of the opposition, rather than the seats of government, suggest the very political Milliband.

Cameron has made similar remarks – that Clegg is in danger of promoting a ‘holier than thou’ attitude, the saint whose halo shines with idealistic authority in the House of Commons.  Politics is a grubby business, and cleanliness is hardly desirable in this field.  Clegg is, without doubt, gathering steam for the very reason that he comes with a certain squeaky clean disposition, however disingenuous it might actually be.

Labour’s position on this has been a touch more fluid, despite a firming up of positions heading into the final days of the election. Lord Adonis was even complimentary in parts, paying tribute to the Clegg factor and similarities between the parties. Such flattery is presumably meant to get the beleaguered Labour party some leverage when it comes to forming that most unusual creature of British politics: a coalition.   That potential reality cannot be dismissed.  Labour is now falling behind in the three-cornered contest, finding itself languishing in third place in various polls.  The political exterminator is being readied to sweep the party that was brought into office under the leadership of Tony Blair in 1997.

Voters are also given a paternalistic warning: don’t be ‘tactical’ about preferences. Don’t make protest votes to punish otherwise favoured parties who have strayed from their allotted grounds.  From Labour’s perspective, the tactical vote might spell doom for them, given the tight contest in some 100 key Tory-Labour marginals.  But the Tories will be concerned that those ‘Essex voters’ – the political force of the ‘Basildon man’, will actually return to them as they did to Margaret Thatcher during the 1980s.  And the numbers in this group of low-earning workers are a formidable force: some 14 million, many in households with total incomes of £27,000.  Polling by the Resolution Foundation has found a 11-point lead in favour of the Lib Dems amongst voters in that group (The Independent, Apr 28), a development that may critically impair Cameron’s chances for a secure victory.

The true winner in the last stages of this curious election battle will be Clegg, who has managed in recent times, and certainly in the debates, to look more telegenic and exploit the power, with all its frivolousness and guile, of the camera.   Voters, for so long disappointed, are now waiting to be astonished again.  Cameron’s charm, as former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Lord Ashdown, suggested, was duly ‘leached away’ to Clegg before British television sets.  At times, both Cameron and Prime Minister Gordon Brown seemed bemused, even stunned by their more energetic opponent.  Clegg is making yards on the issue of fairness.  Direct elections to the House of Lords is desired.  Tax reform is required. Inequalities have to be righted.  Political spending, and spending by politicians, has to be scrutinised.

In truth, there is not much separating the parties – other than Clegg.  Whether Cameron is able to net those Basildon men will be something Tories will be fearful off.  What will be even more worrying will be what the winner inherits: the onerous task, the institute of Fiscal Studies has suggested, of making the deepest public spending cuts in 30 years.  On that score, all the leaders have been, and continue to be, reticent.

BINOY KAMPMARK was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:



Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future