23 October, 2008

Is the Revolution Coming to America?

For those who didn't see this in comments, Last Hussar linked to his fascinating post comparing the Labour Landslide in Great Britain to the Republicon party's U.S. implosion, and believes we could be looking at a similar moment:

Current affairs and politics geeks in the UK will remember the question that was on all their lips on the 2nd of May 1997. “Were you still up for Portillo?”. I am beginning to wonder if the same sort of thing may happen on 6th November 2008 in the USA. For those too young, too foreign (in a nice way- I don’t expect you to follow every nuance of British politics), or just too disinterested at the time, allow me explain. The Conservative (aka ‘Tory’) Government of the mid/late 90’s was deeply unpopular, and deeply divided with the Europhobes threatening rebellion, and Tony Blair’s successful rebranding the Labour Party into ‘New Labour’, basically standing, in an ideological sense, as close as they could to the Tories to pick up their voters promised a landslide. What no one forsaw was the complete massacre of Tory Top Brass that happened.

Through out the night (Counting starts shortly after the polls shut at 10pm, with the first constituencies declaring at about 11pm) more and more Tory ‘heavyweights’ lost their seats. Political parties in the UK tend to try and get their most important MPs to stand in ’safe seats’, ones they would never lose. But in ‘97 deep unpopularity morphed into tactical voting, with voters for a party that would normally finish distant third throwing their votes behind the best placed non-Tory.

Then at 4am (and I stayed up to watch it) came the shock news. Micheal Portillo, a man touted as a future Tory Leader, had lost his ’safe’ Enfield seat to the unknown Stephen Twigg (Labour). Portillo had been expected to be a leading player, possibly even a leader, in the wake of the defeat every one predicted. Could this happen to the Republicans, facing not only defeat for President, but both Congress and Senate.

What follows gives me hope. Last Hussar has an intimate understanding of both British and U.S. politics, and as such is able to provide a panoramic perspective. It's good to see this election through other eyes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The important thing to remember is that the effects of a meltdown may well be very different, depending how Congress turns out, because of the differences of where power vests in the UK and US system.

Theoretically the UK parliament is also a bicameral legislature, with a head of state with (theoretically) the power of veto. In reality the majority of power vests with the lower house (House of Commons). This is composed of 646 Members of Parliament (MPs), in a system that seems similar to the House of Representatives. Party leaders are elected from members (only) of that party. Following a General Election, where all seats are voted for, the Leader of the largest party is usually the one 'invited by the monarch to form a government'. That party immediately forms a Government- the day after a General Election- with the leader as Prime Minister.

Where as in the US the President forms a cabinet of the various Secretaries, in the UK these (usually) come from the ranks of MPs. The largest 'opposition' party will have 'Shadow' counterparts to the main roles. General Elections happen effectively whenever the PM decides, with a maximum of 5 years between them. At that point all seats are elected.

The reason for this long explanation is to show why the effect on the Tories in 97 was so drastic. Although the (unelected) House of Lords has powers of revision, and can delay a bill, it can be forced through by the elected chamber. The House of Commons, as a source of political power, really is the only game in town. Because all the Secretaries of State (meaning the senior ministers- not the US position) come from MPs, losing badly in an election not only reduces your voting power in the House, but can leave you with few 'big hitters' to oppose the Government with- when the Minister for Defence stands to speak, the person opposing him on defence related matters will initially be his Shadow. The PM, especially with a large majority, wields enormous power.

In the US there are three 'legs' up for grabs- POTUS, Senate, and the House, and losses in one or even two does not render the minority party powerless because of the 3rd. Wiki explains the difference from a parliamentary system:- http://tinyurl.com/68q9p3

My take on a landslide Obama victory will that it will not destroy the practicality of the GOP machine, unless the Dems win big 'on the Hill', so can avoid filibusters etc. Famously the US electorate put in 'the other' party to the president at regular intervals- though this seems odd to me- "I'll ignore what I think is right, just for 'Balance'".

What it will do is start soul searching, especially given the opponent (did you know he's BLACK!), which could force the party left or right, depending who wins- the 'appeal to more people' or 'keep the base happy' (and rumours of Palin '12 have started).