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Friday, May 06, 2005

Blair Back For A Third Term

So it seems Tony will be back, albeit with a reduced majority. At the time of writing vote shares show around 36% for Labour, 33% for the Conservatives, and 22% for the Lib Dems.

That this should give 350 odd seats to Labour and 59 to the Lib Dems is one of the vagiaries (and of course injustices) of the British electoral system.

At school in the sixties we were told that the two party system was one of the strong-points of British democracy, since it guaranteed stable government when compared with the 'instability' to be found in countries like France and Italy.

Of course thinking on this has changed substantially. The UK has effectively a version of 'lock-in'.

Since I came to live in Spain my opinion on this has changed accordingly: governments with large absolute majorities may not be particularly desireable. There is much more chance of public opinion getting its voice heard when the government is dependent on a 'third party'.

Also, despite all the back slapping congratulations, I'm not sure 'third terms' are especially desireable. A well-functioning democratic system should be tuned to produce a change after two. The problem in the UK seems not to be the unchallengeable 'merits' of the incumbents, but rather the lamentable state of the 'official' opposition.

Which brings us back to an interesting point: what Europe reading can one put on all this? Now Europe seems not to have been an explicit issue in the election. But the vote must offer some guage of 'anti-EU' sentiment. Labour these days is hardly an anti-EU party, and the poor Conservative showing must tell us something.

Here I think it is absolutely essential to distinguish between the EU and the euro. The euro is undoubtedly completely off the UK agenda: and with good reason. But this is *not* the same as being pro- or anti- European.

Now the fact that there has been so much heart-searching about Iraq seems to me, in foreign policy terms, to lead in one direction, and one direction only: towards a greater reconciliation with Europe. This would seem to me to one of the the principal reasons the Conservatives were unable to avail themselves of this sentiment.

I may end up with egg on my face, but I'm getting to be rather more confident that the French will vote 'yes'in the constitution referendum, if they do it wouldn't surprise me to see the Dutch follow suit, in which case I wouldn't be totally pessimistic about a UK 'yes' vote next year, whatever the polls now show.

Of course as Harold Wilson said 'a week in politics is a long time', and I could be well wide of the mark.

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