Britain’s first hung Parliament since 1974 creates uncertainty that will damage the country’s relationship with the United States, says distinguished British journalist Anthony Howard.
He was editor of the New Statesman, The Listener and deputy editor of The Observer. He also edited the Crossman Diaries.
In Thursday’s election, Conservatives, led by David Cameron, won 306 seats; to 258 for the Labour Party, led by current Prime Minister Gordon Brown; and 57 for Liberal Democrats, led by Nick Clegg. When no party has a majority of seats, it’s called a hung Parliament.
“I don’t think that’s very healthy [for Britain’s relationship with the United States], because no one looks forward to dealing with a weak government,” Howard told Newsmax.TV.
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“The view no doubt already has been taken in the U.S. embassy that it won’t be worth doing agreements or stitching things up too much with either Cameron or Brown, because they’re not strong enough to enforce their will.”
Bottom line: “This will be a great disadvantage to the whole Anglo-American dialogue, and that will be the case for as long as we have a weak government,” Howard said.
So what went wrong for the Conservatives, who had sizable leads in pre-election polls?
“Their campaign wasn’t a very exciting one,” Howard said.
“They didn’t seize the imagination of the British public. When Tony Blair became prime minister in 1997, there was a great air of anticipation. Everyone was looking forward to things being different. I don’t think Cameron managed to touch that kind of nerve with the public.”
Cameron tied to moderate Conservatives’ hard edges, Howard says. “He had great success in some ways. He had a socking great lead in polls for three years. But he didn’t live up to it in the election.”
And why did Labour lose 87 Parliament seats in the election?
“I would have to say it’s attributable to the policies of our government and to the Blair government before Brown,” Howard said.
“Gordon Brown has only been prime minister for three years. You can’t blame him for everything. But it wasn’t a very inspirational campaign. He isn’t Tony Blair.”
In addition, Labour policy decisions, such as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars lost popularity, Howard notes.
Brown will likely tender his resignation to the queen within the next few days, he says.
If not, when Brown presents his legislative program in the May 25 Queen’s Speech, he’ll lose a vote at the end of the debate, Howard points out. Then he’d have to resign.
“Prime ministers generally jump before they’re pushed,” Howard notes.
He doesn’t anticipate a deal between Cameron and Labour. Britain’s economic crisis requires some action, so the Conservative leader will probably make a deal, though not form a coalition, with Liberal Democrats, Howard says.
“Cameron will say here’s what’s going to be in the Queen’s Speech. Don’t vote against it, because we’ll be in a terrible pickle if you do. He’ll do it on a piece-by-piece basis,” he said.
But given the hung Parliament, Cameron may not last in office for more than a few months, Howard says. “I don’t think for one moment that he can survive for five years.”
Howard sees a good chance for another election this year. “You can’t govern effectively if you don’t have a majority party,” he points out.
The parties are now jockeying for what they will look like in the next election.
“One of the reasons why Clegg isn’t too keen on joining Gordon Brown and Labour is because he thinks that if he does that, he will get massacred in the next election,” Howard says.
“He will join an unpopular ship and go down with that ship. That’s why he won’t form a coalition with the present Labour government.”
Working with Cameron doesn’t have the same liability for Clegg. “But it would cause a great rupture in his own party, which is more sympathetic to Labour than Conservatives.”
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