Saturday, May 01, 2010

British Election and the National Grand Design




Britain will have the general election on May 6. The rise of the Liberal Democratic Party may change long time duopoly by the Conservative and the Labour Party since the Ramsey MacDonald premiership in 1924. Currently, poll results suggest this election extremely competitive, and the Conservative Party leads slightly over rival parties (“State of the Race for 30 April”; LSE Election Blog; 30 April 2010). I would like to talk of the overview of this election, and then, focus on foreign policy and defense issues. Also, I would like to talk about some vital points missed in the TV debate by party leaders.

First, listen to the above Pod cast of the Economist on April 30. The public debate on April 29 was predominantly on the economy. Andy Miller, Political Editor of the Economist, comments that Prime Minister Gordon Brown failed to impress TV audiences across the nation with his economic policy.

As the “change” has become a big theme, Prime Minister was overshadowed by his archrival David Cameron and rising Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg (“Bagehot: The last days of Gordon Brown”; Economist; April 29, 2010).

The Prime Minister may have failed to impress voters, but it is necessary to assess achievements of the Labour cabinet led by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in 13 years. Under a savage competition in the global economy, the Labour government struck a balance between economic equality and market capitalism to pursue social fairness. The minimum wage bill has saved the poor, despite criticism from the Conservative Party and the business. Inefficient public sectors, such as schools, hospitals, and job centers, have been improved through the private finance initiative. On the other hand, gross government debt has risen sharply under the Brown administration (“Labour's record: Things could only get better”; Economist; April 29, 2010).

The Iraq War spurred nationwide controversies, but Britain attacked Saddam Hussein whether governed by the Labour or the Conservative. Then, why is it the time for power transition?

First, the budget deficit has come to a tremendous level, at 11.6% of GDP. Brown has overturned Blair’s reform in public service. Despite amazing surge in the poll, the Liberal Democratic Party advocates more leftist policies than the Labour Party. In defense, the Lib Dems insists on scrapping Trident missiles, Britain’s only nuclear deterrent system. In the economy, the Lib Dems want to raise capital gains tax to 50%, which is higher than that of the Labour (“The British election: Who should govern Britain?” Economist; April 29, 2010).

It is understandable that the Economist selects David Cameron among the three. The problem is, the election debate focuses short term and daily life issues. However, long term and big picture issues are important as well, since this is the election to choose the prime minister.

Currently, Britain faces new global challenges, such as the War on Terror, proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the rise of Asian manufacturing. Therefore, it is a must to discuss foreign policy and defense more in depth. Academics of the London School of Economics leave brief comments on foreign policy debates among three candidates. Regarding the EU, Sara Hagemann, Lecturer in EU Politics, mentions gaps between Euro-skeptic Cameron and Europhile Brown and Clegg. She says that voters share Cameron’s view to Brussels bureaucracy. On the other hand, Professor Chris Brown and Research Officer Leandro Carrera talk of fundamental policy chasms between dovish Clegg and pragmatic Brown and Cameron. Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg insists on abolishing Trident missiles and drastic cut in defense budget (“Second Debate – International Affairs: What our Experts said”; LSE Election Blog; April 23, 2010).

Afghanistan is an urgent agenda of defense. Professor Christopher Coker says that the US led coalition has succeeded in ousting Taliban and helping nation building. However, NATO has not reached a consensus about the final stage of “stability enabling”, he says. As Britain is supposed to fight another War on Terror in Somalia and Yemen, Coker argues that war objectives needs to be defined more precisely. In any case, he says that it is Britain’s vital interest to impress its strength against terrorism and keep itself safe (“The Conflict in Afghanistan”; LSE Election Blog; April 20, 2010). The trans-Atlantic Alliance needs to be considered from this point.

Foreign and defense issues are not the only agenda, regarding Britain’s grand design. Susan Watts, Science editor of BBC, points out that the candidates failed to address science policies in the debate. Quoting a comment by Richard Pike, Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry, she says that science will be the key to promote economic growth, and improve health and environmental levels of the country (“Let's talk about science”; BBC――Newsnight; 29 April 2010).

I agree with Watts, because arts and sciences are the vital area in which developed nations enjoy towering advantages over rapidly growing Asian economies. Also, nations like Britain, the United States, and Japan are assumed to take leadership for global public interest.

Does David Cameron, the most likely next prime minister, have a real grand design for Britain? Some critical issues are not discussed in the public debate. Attention to the next leader of the United Kingdom.