These are the last 48 hours before the general election in Britain. On all sides you hear that the campaign of all parties has been boring and irrelevant. Commentators are attaching the label of “anti-politics” to the general attitude of the public. Two immense scandals are in the air, it is true, and the voters can do little about it. The first scandal is that Members of Parliament almost without exception have taken advantage of a procedure that has been unbelievably lax but hidden from view allowing them to claim expenses. In effect they have been leeching money out of the taxpayer on a massive and disgraceful scale. You have to go back to the eighteenth century, to two notorious figures, the Duke of Newcastle and Lord Rockingham, to find this sort of naked embezzling. Those aristocrats at least built splendid houses and lived in style. Today’s wretches have nothing to show for their greed.
The second scandal is that Britain is in disastrous economic shape. The 13 years of Blair and Brown have left the country on the edge of insolvency. Again, you have to go back 200 years to find incompetence at this level. Outgoing prime minister Gordon Brown is the culprit, totally unbelievable when he repeats in his grim way that he alone can get the country out of the mess which is his gift to the nation. Nick Clegg on behalf of the other left-wing party, the Liberal Democrats, evidently doesn’t understand basic economics. Which leaves David Cameron, the Conservative challenger, who has an appealing manner but basically differs only in minute details from Brown. The winner of this election is going to have to cut public spending enormously and raise taxes. Greece, here we come.
Even at this late hour, the outcome of the election is unforeseeable, given the anomalies of the British system and the three-party race. Brown may have the lowest popular vote but still win the most seats, in which case in spite of the loss of authority he may cling Mugabe-like to the office of prime minister. A strange constitutional hiatus – a determined effort to dodge the electorate’s rejection — is a possibility.
The broader more interesting question is why Britain has come to this pass. In part or perhaps wholly, the answer seems to be that any form of socialism, even the Blair-Brown soft version of it, is a brilliant and unfailing device for impoverishing and infantilizing any country implementing it. Brown and Clegg promise more of the same, unable to recognize reality. Cameron may well win, and it would be for the best that he does so, but he too has so far been unable to engage the country in the adult and truthful debate that has to come, and soon.