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Will five breaks in one week be enough for Cameron and the Conservatives?

The final frenetic 24 hours of campaigning are kicking in before tomorrow’s elections here in the United Kingdom. And there is a tenuous yet palpable sense that momentum has shifted in favor of David Cameron and the Conservatives. Whether this late surge will be enough to overcome a hung parliament and produce a Tory governing ...

By , the executive director of the Clements Center for National Security and the author of The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and the World on the Brink.
Oli Scarff/Getty Images
Oli Scarff/Getty Images
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

The final frenetic 24 hours of campaigning are kicking in before tomorrow's elections here in the United Kingdom. And there is a tenuous yet palpable sense that momentum has shifted in favor of David Cameron and the Conservatives. Whether this late surge will be enough to overcome a hung parliament and produce a Tory governing majority remains anyone's guess.

Five factors all broke in the Conservatives' favor over the past week. First, the feckless Gordon Brown made his open microphone "bigoted" voter gaffe -- and in one fell swoop further demoralized his Labour base while reinforcing the concerns of undecided voters that he is just another calculating politician whose public pandering belies a private condescension towards the populace. Second, Cameron acquitted himself well and by most accounts won the third (and most important) television debate. Third, because Brown's "oops, is this mic on?" moment highlighted voter concerns over unchecked immigration, it also shined an unfavorable spotlight on the Liberal Democrat platform's support for an immigration amnesty -- just when Nick Clegg's burst of fame was starting to lose its luster. (And you know you have an immigration problem when even immigrants themselves are complaining about excessive immigration). Fourth, already leading with their chin on immigration, the LibDems took another punch courtesy of the week's headlines about Greece's economic travails. The LibDem platform's support for Britain joining the Eurozone, already unpopular, looks even less appealing to voters reading about a 110 billion euro bailout of the profligate Greeks. Fifth, the Tories enjoyed almost a clean sweep in media endorsements, which still carry a lot of weight here. Besides the expected support of the Telegraph, the Sun, and the Daily Mail, the Conservatives picked up some pleasant surprises in backing from the Times, Financial Times, Daily Express, and the Economist.

The Economist is especially bracing on the dire state of the British economy:

The final frenetic 24 hours of campaigning are kicking in before tomorrow’s elections here in the United Kingdom. And there is a tenuous yet palpable sense that momentum has shifted in favor of David Cameron and the Conservatives. Whether this late surge will be enough to overcome a hung parliament and produce a Tory governing majority remains anyone’s guess.

Five factors all broke in the Conservatives’ favor over the past week. First, the feckless Gordon Brown made his open microphone "bigoted" voter gaffe — and in one fell swoop further demoralized his Labour base while reinforcing the concerns of undecided voters that he is just another calculating politician whose public pandering belies a private condescension towards the populace. Second, Cameron acquitted himself well and by most accounts won the third (and most important) television debate. Third, because Brown’s "oops, is this mic on?" moment highlighted voter concerns over unchecked immigration, it also shined an unfavorable spotlight on the Liberal Democrat platform’s support for an immigration amnesty — just when Nick Clegg’s burst of fame was starting to lose its luster. (And you know you have an immigration problem when even immigrants themselves are complaining about excessive immigration). Fourth, already leading with their chin on immigration, the LibDems took another punch courtesy of the week’s headlines about Greece’s economic travails. The LibDem platform’s support for Britain joining the Eurozone, already unpopular, looks even less appealing to voters reading about a 110 billion euro bailout of the profligate Greeks. Fifth, the Tories enjoyed almost a clean sweep in media endorsements, which still carry a lot of weight here. Besides the expected support of the Telegraph, the Sun, and the Daily Mail, the Conservatives picked up some pleasant surprises in backing from the Times, Financial Times, Daily Express, and the Economist.

The Economist is especially bracing on the dire state of the British economy:

But in this British election the overwhelming necessity of reforming the public sector stands out. It is not just that the budget deficit is a terrifying 11.6% of GDP, a figure that makes tax rises and spending cuts inevitable. Government now accounts for over half the economy, rising to 70% in Northern Ireland. For Britain to thrive, this liberty-destroying Leviathan has to be tackled. The Conservatives, for all their shortcomings, are keenest to do that; and that is the main reason why we would cast our vote for them.

As my colleague Alan McCormick points out in today’s Wall Street Journal Europe, the UK’s only prospect for a sustainable economic recovery will come from empowering private sector entrepreneurs, not further expansion of government. And it is here that prospects of a hung parliament — and its accompanying gridlock, credit rating downgrades, weakened pound, and stagnation on economic reform — may have chastened voters into staying with the Tories rather than flirting with a protest vote for the LibDems. Sometimes wishing "a pox on all their houses" can bring, well, a pox on all houses including one’s own.

Yet even with these five favorable breaks, polls are still tight and the Conservatives may not run the tables they need in enough marginal seats to snag a majority. Thursday night will be a very late night indeed as the UK, and the world, watches the returns come in.

Will Inboden is the executive director of the Clements Center for National Security and an associate professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, both at the University of Texas at Austin, a distinguished scholar at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law, and the author of The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and the World on the Brink.

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