Op-Ed: UK — the first big test for the politicians

Posted Apr 23, 2011 by Donna Murphy
When the British electorate go to the polls on May,5, 2011, they will be looking back at quite a turbulent year. We have a coalition government, the first in a long time. It will be a testing time for all three main parties.
Karaoke Clegg
Karaoke Clegg
Liberal Democrats
In the United Kingdom, the people go to the polls. It is traditional to use each years local elections as an opinion poll about the state of the parties, even though the real purpose of the poll is to choose the councillors whose services will affect our daily services. Tony Travers, director of the Greater London Group and the LSE (London School of Economics) said in his written article, It would be impossible not to see the fate of the three main parties as evidence of the state of national politics.
Much of England go to the polls, with the exception of London. They will be voting for four different strands of councils up for grabs. Scotland will be voting for 129 MSP's who control their parliament. Wales will be voting for 60 Assembly members, and Northern Ireland will be, after a six year delay, voting for 582 councillors for all 26 District Councils. The whole of the country will also be taking part in a referendum on the Alternative Vote system.
It has been a very turbulent start for the coalition government. By it's very nature, 'compromise' has had to be the order of the day. With Britain's finances, much like the rest of the West, facing a recession, many unpopular decisions are having to be made. Consequently, things like the selling off of Britain's forests, and just recently a bill to reform Britain's beloved National Health Service both ran into trouble quite quickly. And one of the most contentious, and potentially damaging reforms the coalition government is trying to get through parliament is the reforms to university fees and student tuition fees. The latter has even started to show cracks in the coalition government as some of the Liberal Democrats either voting against or at least abstaining from the voting when the bill was going through Parliament. The Conservatives are always perceived as the party that would like to get rid of the NHS, their new ideas have now gone back for "consultation" after doctors, nurses and other health professionals as well as the general public said that the ideas were awful and needed to be looked at.
Then we have the Liberal Democrat dream, a change to the voting system, the Alternative Vote. This has also divided, for the most part, the coalition again. The Conservatives have flagged their colours to the wall and are asking people to vote NO, whilst the Liberal Democrats have alway passionately wanted some other system of voting at a general election, mainly because it means that they will get more seats in the Houses of Parliament. The Labour party, in the main are also against it but their new leader Ed Miliband and a few others have campaigned for the yes vote.
So as we see, the elections and referendum next month are going to be a real test for all the parties. At present, those in the know are telling the Liberal Democrats to prepare for a devastating night. The Conservatives know that they have an exceptionally high number of council seats, more than 5,000. 20% of these are expected to lose their seats. The thing is the Conservatives are used to the phenomenon of a mid-term slump. The Labour Party know all about being punished by the electorate too. The Lib-Dems do not. They look set to learn for themselves that being in power and taking difficult decisions sees the electorate punishing you at the local elections.
It is just under a year since Clegg was the pride of the Lib-Dems and hailed as the most popular leader since Winston Churchill, during a brief period of election hysteria. Now, he admits to crying regularly to music and his children wonder why students are being so hard on him (in an interview with Jemema Khan for the new statesman). His colleagues have also decided that it would be better if he was not the main focus of their campaign. In Scotland, they have gone for the ever popular Charles Kennedy in their literature, not their leader.
David Cameron has his own problems, I think a comment I saw on twitter a few weeks ago summed it up, it went something like, wasn't it nice of Cameron to save us all of this money in cuts, I did not realise he was going to spend it all on a war! Since taking power, we have heard nothing else but recession this and cuts need to be made to that. Now we are spending millions on a war in Libya, which seems to be about to go on for quite a while. He is always telling us that it is Labour's fault, they left us with this debt, which they did. However I am not sure just how much longer the people will keep on believing that. After a year, nothing much seems to have improved. Labour , on the other hand have been blamed for the mess already by losing power. They can now target the other parties, telling everyone that the government is not fixing it but making things worse.
When the country goes to the booths on election day in May, it will be interesting to see just whose truth they believe. When it comes to the referendum on the Alternative Vote, it seems that the smart money says that the No vote will win. That will be the end of Clegg's dream, the thing is that people are wondering now, will it be the end of the coalition.