Britain’s general election has looked a little like a roller-coaster ride on LSD since the first debate between the three party leaders two weeks ago. Underneath the hellzapoppin’ surface, however, there have been two important game-changers.
The first was the debate, which did indeed shake up the electoral prospects of all three parties by pushing the Liberal Democrats into a position of equality with their two “main” rivals, transforming their telegenic leader, Nick Clegg, into a modest political superstar, opening up the posibility of a “hung Parliament” in which no one party has an overall majority, and making all calculations about the result both very difficult and highly changeable. But something like a stable relationship between the parties soon settled down as follows: The Tories enjoyed a slight lead with 32-24 percent over the other two parties, which battled for second place with percentages around 28-32 percent. Such an outcome on Election Day would have produced no clear victory for any party — and both Labour and Tory parties had good grounds for hoping that their side would emerge as the largest party in terms of seats.
Then, with eight days to go before the election, the second game-changer occurred. Yesterday, Prime Minister Gordon Brown — unaware that he was speaking on a still-open neck-microphone, described a Labour-voting woman who had ventured mild criticism of high immigration levels in an otherwise friendly chat as “bigoted.” This was played out in full on television — even the horribly embarrassing moment when Brown buried his head in his hands as he heard his own words played back to him. Brown apologized, but to little avail. Today’s headlines run as follows: “She went out to get bread and came back with BROWN TOAST!”
What makes this much more than simply embarrassing for Labour is that it illustrates the private contempt of Left elites for ordinary Labour voters, with their old-fashioned patriotic and conservative social prejudices on immigration and much else. So Labour’s vote is likely to go down substantially further as even the faithful desert the party — pols and pundits are breathlessly waiting for the next set of polls. This now looks like a two-party race again, but this time between Tories and Lib-Dems. Given that the Tories start out from the stronger position, it is hard to see how they can avoid winning the election. But there’s another debate tonight — and one week for a third game-changer to emerge.