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Britain on the brink

It’s been a harrowing 24 hours in British politics, as Prime Minister Gordon Brown stared down a rebellion in the Labour Party; Labour won less than 15 percent of votes in the MEP election; and the country elected two members of the far-right British National Party to the European parliament. I’ve seen two interesting theories ...

It’s been a harrowing 24 hours in British politics, as Prime Minister Gordon Brown stared down a rebellion in the Labour Party; Labour won less than 15 percent of votes in the MEP election; and the country elected two members of the far-right British National Party to the European parliament.

I’ve seen two interesting theories relating to the proportion of votes that went to the BNP, founded by Nazi sympathizers.

Here’s Steve Erlanger for the New York Times:

The crisis has presented the European Union with its greatest challenge, but even many committed Europeanists believe that the alliance is failing the test. European leaders, their focus on domestic politics, disagree sharply about what to do to combat the slump. They have feuded over how much to stimulate the economy. They argue about whether the European Central Bank should worry more about the deep recession or future inflation. And they have rushed to protect jobs in their home markets at the expense of those in others.

The latest European parliamentary elections on Sunday drove home the point. Only 43 percent of Europeans voted – a record low turnout, despite the financial crisis and compulsory voting in some countries. Far-right parties, opposed to the European Union and to immigrants from poor member countries, recorded gains, as did the Greens. Those who did vote weighed in largely on national issues.

 And here’s the UK’s Channel4 (via Andrew Sullivan): 

[P]erhaps the most startling finding came when we tested anecdotal reports that many BNP voters were old Labour sympathisers who felt that the party no longer speaks up for them. It turns out to be true. As many as 59 per cent of BNP voters think that Labour "used to care about the concerns of people like me but doesn’t nowadays".

What is more worrying for Labour is that this sentiment is shared by millions of voters, way beyond the ranks of BNP voters. Overall, 63 per cent of the British public think Labour used to care about their concerns – and only 19 per cent think it does today.

I agree that what we’re seeing here is a tidal shift away from what numerous Britons feel were years and years of political and economic mismanagement: the Iraq war and the financial crisis chief among them. 

And it’s fascinating to contrast the current political Tory/Labour and Republican/Democrat dynamics. Labour, unlike the U.S. Democratic party, has presided over the creation and burst of the bubble. Furthermore, Barack Obama has taken advantage of a shift to the left in the U.S., with moderates more amenable to big government; David Cameron, the Tory, looks poised to take advantage of a similar shift to the right in the U.K. 

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