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From across the Big Pond: UK Election week 3
By Andy Walsh
Last week, the agenda turned back to politics after the curtain finally closed on the pantomime surrounding Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's bout of fisticuffs with a protestor.
Europe dominated the week. This has always been seen as a traditionally strong area for the Conservatives. As regards entry into the Euro (the pan-European currency), the Tories have the support of the majority of the British people. In nearly every poll when people are asked "Do you think Britain should join the Euro?" two-thirds of people are against it. William Hague has pressed strongly on this issue. Mrs Thatcher has added her views. The potential costs (from the Conservative's perspective) of joining the Euro have been laid before the British people.
Guess what? Even though the Conservatives have the support of the populace on this issue, the polls still predict a huge landslide Labour majority. Yet again, the percentage lead of Labour over the Conservatives remains unchanged.
So, we find ourselves asking again, where is the Conservative Party going wrong? It is a far more interesting question than asking where the Labour Party is winning the election. They hardly need to break sweat at all.
Well, it seems that the Conservatives have picked on a topic that is way down voters' lists of what is important. The Euro is a major issue for a very small number of people. The rest of the population are more concerned about the economy, education and health, issues on which the Conservatives find it hard to attack Labour. They appear to have picked the wrong fight. Maybe there was an opportunity for them to snipe at the edges of Blair's education promises, or perhaps to attack the Government's record on health. They haven't. They have retained an emphasis on the European issue. "Twelve days to save the pound," says Mr Hague.
While all this happens, Tony Blair continues running a relatively low-key campaign, with little zest or excitement. In this election, the Conservatives seem to be setting the agenda. Yet, to use cricketing terminology, Blair appears to be an old professional batsman just hitting back each ball until the bowler is too tired to carry on. In football terms, Blair's team are like a hugely confident defense. The Conservative's quarterback may be making all the plays but everyone knows that they will never break through for that touchdown.
Even with over a week to go before the election itself, the political gossip turned to the question of who will succeed William Hague as leader, given that the Tory Party are about to suffer a crushing defeat.
I believe there is some good news here for Mr Hague. The two frontrunners would seem to be Michael Portillo and Ann Widdecombe. Both are popular within the party but have less of an appeal outside of the ranks of the faithful. Portillo's defeat at the last election has proved to be one of the most popular television clips ever with the British public. He is undoubtedly a very competent politician but his profile in the nation as a whole may well be no more appealing than Mr Hague's. Ann Widdecombe would be a death wish on behalf of the Conservative policy. She is a pro-life, pro-hanging politician, both of which are vote-losers with the British public.
So, Hague's biggest rivals to his leadership position will find themselves facing many of the same problems as William Hague is currently facing. They need to find a leader that is as ruthlessly populist and opportunistic as Tony Blair. Only then, will they become an electable party once more.
Andy Walsh is a househusband and writer living in Cumbria in the UK. He writes novels, short stories, articles and poems some of which you can read at http://www.stbrodag.com. © Andy Walsh 2001.
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