Elections & Voting
British election becomes a beauty contest
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

May 5, 2010, 00:20

If Britain�s Bulldog Sir Winston Churchill were around today, I doubt he could get his ample form into Number 10. He would be considered too rotund, too grumpy and there would be complaints about his polluting the atmosphere with Havanas. And the same goes for cloth cap Harold Wilson who would be attacked for his poor dress sense, along with his penchant to drench all his meals in HP Sauce.

The game has been changed by 24/7 news networks together with the cult of celebrity that put style before substance. Voters nowadays haven�t got the time or the inclination to delve into a prime ministerial candidate�s soul. As long as he�s youngish, contemporary, has the right image, knows how to sell himself and is a slick talker he�s in with a chance. If he happens to have a trophy wife on his arm and a couple of cute kids, so much the better. As for his policies, who really cares?

Americanism has contaminated British politics. There was a time when candidates remained fairly low key whereas now they take to US-style campaign trails and take part in televised debates. This isn�t Gordon Brown�s scene and just a day before the parliamentary vote it looks like poor Brown has missed the boat. He will likely become a footnote in history as a mediocre leader who was never elected into office.

If Brown is pipped at the post by the fresh-faced Conservative leader David Cameron -- as most polls predict -- he has to be the unluckiest politician on earth. First of all, Tony Blair reneged on his pact with Brown to step down midway during Labour�s tenure to make way for his friend. When Blair finally caved to pressure to resign, Brown inherited an unpopular government marred by the Iraq blunder. He has since been plagued by one misfortunate after the other from floods to mad cow disease, terrorist attacks, a parliamentary expenses scandal and, of course, the global economy downturn that resulted in a collapse of the banking system. None of this was Brown�s doing.

In truth, Brown guided his nation through those crises superbly proving to be a pair of safe hands. In 2008, he was even credited by experts for saving the world from economic doom by encouraging fiscal stimuli, low interest rates, and bank bailouts. As soon as he offered British banks temporary unlimited funding to prevent a run on deposits, other countries followed suit. Britain still has major problems not least the ballooning debt set to reach �1.1 trillion next year but until now Brown has managed to keep the economy afloat and has pulled the UK out of recession, albeit barely.

But there is one thing he hasn�t managed to do, that is to win the hearts and minds of the British people. He doesn�t have Blair�s energy and powers of persuasion. He doesn�t possess the manufactured charm of Cameron or Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg. He hates doing walkabouts kissing babies and when he forces a smile he comes across as slightly weird. He�s a clean-living, honest, non-materialistic, principled family man who all his life has tried to do the right thing. He adores his wife and two sons and still tears up when he talks about the premature baby girl who died in his arms when she was just 10 days old. You won�t see him on the lecture route raking it in when he waves goodbye to Downing Street. He�s not interested in plumping up his bank balance or so he says. Instead, he intends working on behalf of charitable organizations. I believe him.

Until last week, Brown was still in with a fighting chance. An encounter with a 66-year-old grandmother has probably put the kybosh on his hopes. A Sky News microphone picked up a private conversation with an aide when he referred to the lifelong Labour Party supporter as �that bigoted woman� because she asked uncomfortable questions on the topic of immigration.

Naturally, the media made a meal out of the gaffe when Brown nipped around to the shocked woman�s house to shower her with apologies from �a penitent sinner� (his words, not mine). In the event, his attempt at damage control failed. She refused to join him for a friendly photo opportunity and couldn�t even offer him a cup of tea because she had run out of milk. A photo of Brown speaking on the radio later that day depicts a sad and weary figure. In just a few unguarded seconds, he had managed to alienate the anti-immigration crowd while his subsequent apology had angered those in favor. Once again, Lady Luck -- with more than a little help from Sky News together with his own negligent aides -- had slapped him in the face.

Pundits and polls predict a three-horse race on Thursday when British voters cast their ballots with Cameron�s Tories in the lead, followed by Clegg�s Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party�s Brown in last place. The narrow margins between each of the three parties could result in a hung Parliament when Nick Clegg would emerge as �kingmaker.�

It�s not clear which way he will jump. He�s so far been tight-lipped, apart from saying that neither side will garner his party�s support unless they sign up to his �Fairness Agenda� that will raise the lowest income tax threshold to �10,000 and filch the treasury shortfall from the wealthy. Clegg also wants to give an amnesty to illegal immigrants already in Britain and wants to scrap Britain�s Trident nuclear deterrent as being unnecessary and costly -- both issues on which his rivals will be loath to compromise.

It�s no surprise that Cameron and Clegg are forging ahead. They�re are both clones of Blair when he became Britain�s youngest prime minister in 1997, except the former appeals to the well-heeled while the latter has packaged himself as a champion of the poor. As for Blair who has stayed on the peripheries of the campaign, the fickle media has written him off as past his sell-by date.

An article in the Telegraph last week, headed �Why does Tony Blair look so old and frail?� refers to Blair as �shrunken,� �scrawny� and �wizened.� Politics in Britain is nasty and brutal. In the event that Thursday marks that nice Brown�s swansong, he�s well out of it. If Britons prefer to be led by smooth pretty boys without a jot of experience in government, they�ll get what they deserve.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at heardonthegrapevines@yahoo.co.uk.

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