As Japan Goes in UK Labour’s Summer or Discontent – Is a Tory Win Assured?

tea-leavesLast night Japan’s ruling party lost control of the Diet by a 3:1 margin.  Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown escaped the UK and spent the weekend in Afghanistan. Is this where we are? The PM must go to a war zone to get some peace? As Japan goes, so goes Labour in 2010?

Mr. Brown has spent most of the last year fighting for survival within his own party and looking over his shoulder at a steadily gaining Conservative Party leader David Cameron. The Tory leader has made great sport of attacking and to most seems on cruise control to Number 10 next summer.

Or is he? As Mark Twain, my countryman, famously said “The reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated.”

While the recent ICM/Mirror poll suggests Cameron has an unassailable lead, there is one wild card to this campaign – the UK media. Politics is a day-to-day bloodsport and the UK media, if not indeed the public itself, loathes a front-runner.

It is somehow “uncivilised” to brazenly or ambitiously excel, so when one is so far in the lead, we watch for what the Dutch call “allowing one’s head to rise above the mow line.” If, like that one rogue cornstalk, one rises so far above the rest of a field there are potential dangers. While you gather more strength and sunshine than the others… you just beg to be cut down to size (and there will be no shortage of people willing to do it). Too, the fall is from a much higher place with damaging consequences.

In that ICM poll, the Labour Party drew an anaemic 25% of support while 41% now support the Tories. As you read this, one is inclined to think “Dead Man Walking” every time you see Mr. Brown on the telly. But these are highly illogical times, Captain. Look back at how the Expenses row broke, the economy was showing green shoots, Mr. Brown seemed to be slowly climbing out of the nose dive when he blew 3 of 4 engine. It became a weekly death by a thousand cuts of expense revelations. One cannot help but notice that the Tories went relatively unscathed. What could the Telegraph Editorial group be holding back for their spring surprise?

With the public “throw the bastards out” furore of “MP Expenses-gate” has subsided (we Yanks call any scandal –gate after the bungled break-in of the Democratic National HQs at the Watergate hotel complex brought President Nixon down), it’s been a pretty quiet summer.

Mr. Brown’s attempts to right the ships of banking and state are un-sexily proceeding apace and the PM who was dealt this bad hand to start (with no lifelines), seemingly cannot get a break.

Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats, who should have been hustling all summer long before every open microphone, turning over every bush and making this an Obama-style change election where they offer a credible and sane 3rd choice? He was last seen pictured on the side of a milk carton (where we Yanks place missing child notices).

They have little to celebrate as they not only lost a point of support but even amongst those officially registered as Lib Dems, 56% of them will now vote for the Tories?!? Wow, other than THAT Mrs. Lincoln how did you enjoy the play?

So as the broader EU pendulum swings hard to the right, will the same happen here? Labour leaders think the Tory lead will be whittled away and they will prevail with a smaller majority. The Tories are already measuring for new drapes at Number 10. Lib Dems will hold hands, sing Kumbaya, predict 25% of seats, settle for 9% and somehow call that a victory. And UKIP and BNP will try to outdo each other on the US Republican lunatic fringe (with whom they will conceive a three-way love-child).

What’s really missing in the UK is a true apolitical, slavishly wonkish polling analyst like Nate Silver of fivethirteight.com. Nate cut through the US election hyperbole, grabbed data from dozens of polling sources, developed complex mathematical algorithms based on years of crunching baseball statistics (really!) and came up with the best system to explain what was really happening in the shifting electoral sands. He predicted the 2008 US Presidential election and Congress with stunning accuracy.

There does not seem to be this attention to detail and tea leaf reading in UK Politics. The wonks who ruled in 2008, in 2010 getting beyond apathy and turning out a vote could be challenging. He only prediction I feel certain in making is that this election will see MSM broadsheets and broadcast continue to lose power and ground, tabloids and paparazzi behave even crazier and the maligned and dissed/dismissed blogosphere play an even greater role.

Not even an immediate internal coup and wholesale replacement of Gordon Brown and his Cabinet can slow Labour’s bleeding, yet no one is putting their neck out there saying definitively, change will come. On the basis of crunching Nate’s and the fine work detailed work of others such as DemConWatch, Daily Kos and POLITICO, we could predict 325 Obama electoral votes in mid-September.

Here, not so much. Too many opinions and not enough real work. Summer is ending and the game is beginning anew. The media teeth are just getting cleaned and sharpened. In this country we build people up just for the sheer sport of tearing them down. Ask Susan Boyle how much fun her life was made by media expectation.

So do beware Mr. Cameron and X-Factor’s Danyl Johnson. As we say in 3-a-side pick-up basketball, you’ve got next. The paparazzi are armed and ready to serve you both up and… they have nothing but time. Green tea anyone?

by Denis Campbell

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Denis G Campbell
Denis G. Campbell is founder and editor of UK Progressive magazine and co-host of The Three Muckrakers podcast. He is the author of 7 books and provides Americas, EU and Middle Eastern commentary to the BBC, itv, Al Jazeera English, CNN, CRI, MSNBC and others. He is CEO of Monknash Media and a principal with B2E Consulting in London. You can follow him on Twitter @UKProgressive and on Facebook.

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