Parliament Dissolved

The first article in my series COMMON SENSE published in the Lake Champlain Weekly, New York.

Parliament Dissolved

By Quentin Langley

Dateline 15 April 2005

The Queen has dissolved Parliament. But don’t worry, this is not some monarchist coup against parliamentary government. It means that an election has been called.

The UK does not have fixed term parliaments. There is a maximum length of five years, but within that limit the Prime Minister can call an election whenever he feels like it. Which is to say, whenever he feels he will win.

Tony Blair had long signalled that 05 May was his favored date. And so it remains, even though recent polls show a shift from a strong Labour lead to a fairly even race.

Most people say they would pay more taxes for better public services, but after eight years of Labour, people have paid the taxes, but not yet seen the goods. Iraq divided opinion from the outset. Blair made a severe miscalculation. Knowing his party would not support him on a mission for regime change he based his pitch solely on weapons of mass destruction. President Bush’s decision to make a much wider case now seems to have been much cleverer.

Blair will probably win, but not by the thumping majorities of 1997 and 2001. And he has already made it clear that he will not serve a full term. So if Labour secures another majority, the party will, at some unspecified future date, choose a new leader, who will become Prime Minister.

If that does happen, Blair’s most likely successor remains his close colleague and long-time rival, Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer (Treasury Secretary) for the past eight years. Brown is thought of as being to the left of Blair, and has cultivated support on Labour’s powerful left wing. More passionately committed to equality, he would probably spend more, and be more resistant of public service reform. But he has only ever been his party’s spokesman on economics, so it is hard to know if he would change Britain’s pro-American foreign policy.

Most likely, not. Blair is an instinctive European, a fluent French speaker, who likes relaxing vacations in France and Italy. Brown prefers Cape Cod and a huge pile of political biographies or philosophical texts.

If Labour loses it will be to the Conservatives, who ruled for 18 years under Margaret Thatcher and John Major. But this would not be the radical Conservatives of Thatcher's days. The party promises only a few modest tax cuts and minimal restraint on current spending plans. Their leader, Michael Howard, a cabinet secretary under Thatcher and Major, is strongly pro-American and would resist further European integration.

The most immediate possible threat to the cosy relationship between the White House and 10 Downing Street is from the third party – the Liberal Democrats, who opposed the Iraq war. The LibDems cannot win, but if Labour fails to get a clear majority in Parliament then a coalition with the LibDems is possible. They could demand either the Home Office (interior department) or Foreign Office in exchange for their support. A LibDem as Foreign Secretary would be far less friendly to the US and much closer to France and Germany.


Quentin Langley lectures in public relations at the University of Cardiff, Wales, and is international correspondent of Campaigns & Elections.


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