Talking Politics
  • Election aftermath: The public

    In the third part of a special week-long series of features, looks at what the election tells us about the public.

    By Ian Dunt

    The public is a strange beast. People make sense and say intelligible things. The public as a whole often doesn't.

    The year 2010 should have marked the end of the two-party system. The expenses scandal, a hated Labour government and an unloved Conservative opposition should have signalled a breakthrough for Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats.

    Cleggmania seemed to reflect this assumption. As soon as the public saw him its approval reached fever-pitch. Journalists, activists and academics got terribly excited. But it didn't happen. The Lib Dems increased their share of the vote marginally, but actually lost seats.

    What went wrong? The best bet is that with the economic situation as it was, voters got into the voting booth and decided it wasn't the time to try out a newbie. Clegg himself came out with the most believable interpretation of the result.

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  • Election aftermath: The constitution

    Attacks against the 'unconstitutional' proposals to shift the dissolution benchmark to 55% are missing the point. The flexibility of Britain's constitution is what got us out of the hung parliament mess in the first place.

    By Alex Stevenson

    Britain has just completed one of its biggest transitions of government in decades, emerging from the turmoil of a hung parliament relatively unscathed.

    Things would be very different under a minority administration permanently dogged by uncertainty. A quick glance at the disappointed faces around the journalists of the Palace of Westminster, who had been anticipating months - if not years - of a teetering unstable government generating fantastic news stories - is illustration enough.

    Yet that is the reality that Britain would have faced if agreement on a formal coalition government had not been reached. That was only possible under the 55% proposal first tabled by the Liberal Democrats' former justice spokesman David Howarth.

    His idea was a

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  • Election aftermath: The media

    What has the 2010 general election campaign told us about the influence of the media on British politics?

    By Ian Dunt

    One wonders who was more nervous on election night: the candidates, or the Sun newspaper. Having dramatically taken away its support for Labour at the party's autumn conference and given its backing to David Cameron, the electorate suddenly became churlish enough to deny the Tories an outright victory.

    This is not how it is supposed to be. The legend goes that the Sun won the 1992 election with its devastating campaign in the lead up to polling day, culminating with: "If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights". The newspaper always picks the winner, or so the legend goes. True or not, Tony Blair clearly believed it. He feted and charmed Rupert Murdoch and the sense that the Sun could swing British elections was set in stone.

    The 2010 general election has made the limits of the newspaper's influence quite plain. Cameron is

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  • A VAT rise will turn us into America

    VAT may be on the rise. What politicians haven't yet told the public is how this is going to affect the economy - and, in turn, us.

    By Matthew West

    Since the formation of the coalition government speculation has been rife that changes to value added tax (VAT) may be needed. A hike to 20% is possible. The exemptions enjoyed by many goods may be withdrawn. This isn't a case of either/or - both may be possible.

    A VAT rise of 2.5% may not sound all that much. It would make the cost of the average iPod £3 more expensive. But the reality is it will maintain the current unfairness within our tax system and leave the poorest paying the most in terms of a proportion of their income.

    This arises from a shift in our economy to a greater reliance on consumerism, something our economy is already highly dependent on as it is. Essentially it's a piece of taxation trickery.

    Why this is necessary is simple. The Liberal Democrats stood their ground on raising the income tax threshold to £10,000 but gave

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  • A star-crossed coalition

    We now know what would have happened if the Capulets and Montagues had decided to patch things over and form a coalition government.

    By Alex Stevenson

    It was to be expected, given the similar privileged backgrounds of Romeo Cameron and Juliet Clegg, that the pair would be able to strike up some sort of rapport. Little did we realise the chemistry would be this intense.

    As their historic first ever press conference in No 10's Rose Garden wore on it became increasingly apparent Cameron and Clegg are in the first throes of a passionate love affair.

    Clegg came up with a tagline which, with one minor correction, would have been perfect for a Hollywood movie. "Until today we were rivals. Now we're lovers." It's a shame "colleagues" was the word he used. But Mr Juliet couldn't hide his true feelings for long.

    He was the coy one, having been pursued by his very persistent suitor in a rapid and frantic courtship. When Cameron said Clegg would stand in at PMQs when he was away he looked down and

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  • Today's events may seem unprecedented, but in fact they will cement the political status quo.

    By Ian Dunt

    When history records what happened today, it will note that what seemed unprecedented at the time was actually the most uneventful outcome which could have emerged from the rubble of the 2010 general election.

    For a short time it appeared things might change forever. A rainbow coalition would have been hugely unpopular in the right-wing press, but it could have passed wholesale reform of British politics and then called another election in two years. History forgets the daily headlines. A referendum on proportional representation would not just have served the Lib Dems. It would have helped all smaller parties - some respectable, some disgraceful.

    Instead, things will stay broadly the same. The Tories may secure a referendum on the alternative vote (AV), although the opposition in the Commons and the Lords makes this highly questionable. The referendum may even pass, although with

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  • Brown’s dignified exit

    This was the best ending to his political career that Gordon Brown could possibly have wished for.

    By Ian Dunt

    It doesn't seem dignified. An unelected prime minister, sitting in Downing Street despite losing an election, and fixing up a shambolic coalition. But what we saw today was the best ending to his political career which Gordon Brown could possibly have hoped for.

    I've been following, and writing about, the prime minister for three years now. In that time his popularity has fallen so low we simply ran out of metaphors. It would fall, and some pollster would point out that that was as low as Michael Foot, and then it would fall again. Crewe and Nantwich saw a 17.6% swing to the Tories. Could it get any worse? Yes. The humiliations were legion. Even in contests where Labour couldn't possibly win, fate found ways to humiliate Brown, for instance by dropping Labour to fifth place in Henley, where it lost its deposit.

    For two years, we knew the way the story would end for Brown. He

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  • Clegg may be kingmaker but every option leads to oblivion.

    By Ian Dunt

    It's said that the greatest irony of the election is that the Liberal Democrats ended a poor showing with the greatest power they have ever had. It's true, but the greater irony is that Nick Clegg is now both kingmaker and victim. He has the fate of the country in his hands, but every choice results in the end of his political career.
    If Clegg goes into coalition with David Cameron he will be tainted by the ugly battles over public spending to come. His brush with power will come at the worst possible time. At this nascent point in the Lib Dems' flutter with government, it will end them.

    If he goes with Labour, the right-wing press (that is, the majority of the press) will dub it the government of the defeated. To those with a passing interest in politics, but little understanding of it (that is, the majority of people) it will seem undemocratic.

    Either road leads Clegg to political oblivion. That's unfortunate,

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  • Vince Cable won the chancellor's debate hands down, but Lib Dem strategists will be aware of the limitations in his performance.

    By Ian Dunt

    Vince Cable easily won the chancellors' debate on Channel 4, using his assured public persona to win applause and warmth from the audience.

    It is for this very reason that his victory has no meaning in terms of the general election. Cable pulled through today because of his personality, not his party's policies. He appears reasonable, funny, confident, and reliable. He has a disarming knack of readily agreeing with those suggestions from other politicians which he accepts, and turning out a wicked turn of phrase when he wants to go on the attack. In short, he most closely resembles a real human being, albeit one with a political instinct.

    The Lib Dems have some strong economic policies - the proposal to take those on lower incomes out of income tax altogether should be particularly effective with a TV audience. But the applause he won was for his

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  • Mephedrone ban will do more harm than good

    Politicians should construct policy on the basis of evidence, not media circuses.

    By Ian Dunt

    How long will it take until we learn how to deal with drugs? Mexico is now perilously close to becoming a failed state. Our enemy in Afghanistan is funded through our own heroin habit. Crime in this country is so reliant on drug use - both as motivational factor and funding source -that the prohibition on drugs is the greatest gift politicians could grant the criminal underworld. Thousands die unnecessarily as a result of drug impurities.

    And still we debate more bans as if none of this were happening. A drug available for quite some time now has become the centre of a media storm. Mephedrone, or meow meow, has been linked with various deaths over recent weeks, and the media coverage around it has quickly built to saturation point. But we still do not know of an evidence base to confirm its role in the deaths of these young people. 'Linked to' is not the same as 'caused'. And 'media coverage'

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