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The election of 2010 will be remembered as a game-changing event in different, though no less marked seriousness than that of Labour’s historic dominance in the 1997 election. The landslide won in that election was borne out of a combination of disenfranchisement with the status quo and a sincere belief among the electorate that the freshly polished Labour party would bring Britain into the 21st century.
In many ways, the climate of 2010 is similar. Like the Tories of ’97, Labour is deeply unpopular, owing in large part to an ignorant and arrogant foreign policy and an economy that collapsed under its own greed, but also as a result of a woefully uncharismatic leader in Gordon Brown who, rightly or wrongly, seems slow and unkeen to embrace the image-centric politics that Tony Blair was so eager to exploit. True, there’s enough blame to go around the whole of Parliament for the expenses scandal, Iraq and the economy, but Brown’s inability to seriously connect with voters has turned a media-savvy population against the party they gave the reins to 13 years ago.
One difference that will be remembered of 2010, also, is the lack of a seriously credible opposition. The Conservative party lacks credentials in opposing Labour’s insistence on the invasion of Iraq and its economic solutions are generally regarded as having been worse than what Labour proposed. Granted, David Cameron has more television charm than Gordon Brown, but his platitudes and insincerity fail to generate the kind of excitement that Blair managed in 1997.
The Liberal Democrats have shown themselves as a party that is in some ways able to fill the current rhetorical void. The debates have allowed Nick Clegg to channel the anger and suspicion of the general public towards the two main parties in general and sell himself as the real candidate of change to an electorate that wants to oust Labour, but is still haunted by the memories of the Thatcherite Tories.
It’s difficult to say how much of the move towards the Liberal Democrats has been a result of general disillusionment or actual alignment with the policies with public opinion, but there is some evidence to suggest the latter. On many key issues, such as Trident, Iraq and the minimum wage, the public is far to the left of the two main parties and in a platform such as the television debates in which the three party leaders are arguing as equals, it gives the Lib Dems an excellent platform to insist that they are not a wasted vote.
The biggest shift, then, is to cement 2010 as the year in which public opinion changed and the election became a three-way competition by the parties to figure out exactly what exactly they can do to regain the support and trust of a disaffected electorate. But democracy only begins at elections and any victor will have to offer some significant and weighty follow-through on their grandiose campaign promises. If it’s become difficult to overstate the unpredictability of this election so far, it is absolutely impossible to predict just what is going to come afterwards.