The sudden resignation of the Lib Dem leader Menzies Campbell is another indication of the turmoil at the top of British politics as the main parties struggle to occupy the same small piece of territory – the so-called “middle ground”. While all parties claim to have the interests of the “whole nation” at heart, all they are really interested in is garnering the votes of a few crucial voters in key marginal seats who determine the outcome of general elections.
This is made more difficult by changes in the political landscape. One of the indelible features of the recent globalisation period is the convergence of the existing political parties to the point where voters find it difficult to separate their policies and outlooks.
In their 10 years in office, the Blair-Brown axis have taken up and deepened Thatcherite policies on a whole range of policies and issues, from privatisation to competition in the public sector and being tough with the trade unions.
Not to be outdone, the Tories have welcomed many of the government’s policies – including the invasion of Iraq – but have struggled to find an idea they can call their own. New Labour has, for example, in recent weeks stolen Tory policies on inheritance tax, crime and the family. Now Tory leader Cameron is forced to attack New Labour for not doing enough to tackle poverty just to make himself heard.He himself is the leader of a deeply divided party.
Under these conditions, the Lib Dems find it difficult to get any attention, especially with a leader whose charisma rating – deemed so crucial in these days of image and spin – was off the radar. So he had to go. Which brings us to another leader with a personality problem, according to the bourgeois media. Gordon Brown is clearly a control freak with an authoritarian streak whose heavy handed approach has dismayed many New Labour MPs - especially those in marginal seats. Now the knives are out in his own party, with Blarites and assorted disgruntled former ministers putting the boot in.
Some of those who have backed New Labour – like the Murdoch News International empire – are also having second thoughts. Irwin Stelzer, the economist and a close adviser to Murdoch, told The Guardian this week that the media tycoon recognises the resurgence of the Tories under Cameron. "You'd have to think that Murdoch is a closed minded dunce not to think that he recognises that something is happening here in Britain, that the political landscape has been shaken up and he has to look at it," Stelzer said. He described Brown’s decision not to call an election as "an appalling blunder".
What might finally swing Murdoch papers like The Sun behind Cameron is the European Union treaty issue, where the Tories are demanding a referendum and Brown is resisting. The paper’s political editor Trevor Kavanagh even suggested this week that the New Labour project was in danger of being revealed as nothing more than an illusionist’s trick and could easily fall apart. That’s the sort of comment that would reflect the thinking of the paper’s owners. The Lib Dems are not the only party with problems.
AWTW communications editor