Battle of Britain Begins: General Election 2010

By DeusExMacintosh

Political leaders have headed off on the campaign trail after Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced the UK general election would be held on 6 May.

He said he would seek a “clear” mandate to continue the “road to recovery”, as Labour bids for a fourth term.

David Cameron, whose Conservative Party has been ahead in the polls, said they offered “hope” and a “fresh start”.

Nick Clegg, leader of the UK’s third biggest party the Liberal Democrats, said only they offered “real change”…

The election campaign will be the first to feature live television debates between the three main party leaders in the UK.

BBC, Sky and ITV announced the first 90-minute debates would be on ITV on Thursday 15 April, the next on Sky on 22 April and the last on the BBC on 29 April.

The three main parties – along with a host of other smaller parties – will be fighting for 650 seats, four more than currently exist because of constituency boundary changes…

To secure an overall majority, a party must win at least 326 seats. If no party succeeds in doing so, the result will be a hung Parliament.

After 13 years in power, Labour enters the election with a notional majority of 48 seats, meaning that a loss of 24 seats would see them lose their overall majority. Whatever the result, a post-war record number of MPs are standing down at the election – 144 – so there will be a lot of new MPs in the next Parliament.

Parliament will not be officially dissolved until Monday 12 April. MPs will have until close of business on Thursday to get remaining legislation, that the parties can agree on, through Parliament – a process known as the “wash-up”.

BBC News

[UPDATE by SL: Gordon Brown went to see the Queen yesterday, giving us a very short general election campaign. For our part — since two of us are in the UK — we’ll try to do some meaty posts on the UK election over the campaign. That said, we’ll focus on what takes our interest, and flag at the outset that one of us — DEM — is in Scotland, where some of the issues (eg Trident) are different from what I see on a day-to-day basis in England.

I’ll do my best to draw on information that comes to hand through Conservative Party friends and contacts, and also flag at the outset that I’m perfectly capable of stepping outside my own political preferences. This is in part because there are some things the Tories are doing right now that give me the willies as much as anything Labour wants to inflict on us. Listening too much to this bloke is one of them. 

When it comes to electoral crystal-ball gazing, you’ll note (if you visit the BBC site) that there’s been a fair bit of talk about a hung parliament. For a long while, David Cameron looked like he would be elected in a landslide, but some of that support has ebbed away in recent times. Interestingly, most of it isn’t flowing back to Labour, and pundits I respect (include the Institute for Humane Studies scholar Steve Davies) says we are looking at the real possibility of minor parties — the Greens, the BNP and possibly even UKIP — with seats in the House of Commons. For anyone who knows anything about the British electoral system, this would be a real shock. The Commons is elected on a ‘first past the post’ constituency system, and distributive vagaries mean that it is surprisingly easy to win a majority of the seats with a minority of the votes. Of course, there is also the possibility that Conservative support will harden in the fortnight before the general election, and that its current ‘softness’ is as a result of the widespread (in Britain) ‘Shy Tory‘ phenomenon. There is no doubt that Labour is on the nose with the electorate, but at this stage it is rather difficult to see just where that widespread distaste is heading.

There is also Britain’s ‘third party’ to take into account: the Liberal Democrats once regularly formed governments but have tumbled far from the days of David Lloyd George. In recent years they have begun to trend back to their Liberal (British definition) roots, and treasury spokesman Vince Cable has even sounded positively libertarian at times. He wants to raise the tax-free threshold and cut taxes, for example. This has helped to make his party more popular. Even so, the Lib Dems remain enduringly unpopular in Scotland for forming a coalition with Labour in order to keep the Scottish National Party out of office in the Scottish Parliament, and their support base in Scotland has declined considerably.

As for the issues, these are many and varied. Britain’s participation in two unpopular wars is front and centre, as is responsibility for the financial crisis (the latter is particularly hurting Labour). Britain has yet to have its ‘One Nation’ experience, and immigration is also a prominent issue. Parliamentarians of all stripes (although once again, Labour are particularly afflicted, thanks to incumbency) are in the public’s bad books thanks to the Expenses Scandal, which led to a very large number of MPs opting not to contest their seats this time around. Whoever wins on May 6, there will be a large number of new faces in parliament.

It is very much a case of stepping into the unknown].


  1. Jason Soon
    Posted April 8, 2010 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    That Phillip Blond does sound like a bit of a tosser.

  2. Posted April 8, 2010 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Oh yes, Blond is a tosser; that article in the Guardian is actually kinder to him than a lot of the others around the place. The Telegraph (which is solidly Thatcherite) loathes him.

    Also: Sinclair over at Catallaxy reminds me that Intrade has the Tories well ahead; this wouldn’t surprise me. People in this country are notorious for lying to pollsters.

  3. Posted April 8, 2010 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Yep time to kick them out they fully don’t deserve it. Still I don’t know what a British Tory is anymore. All the ones I’ve met are more politically correct then a Blue Stocking Week basket weaving wordshop. This’ll be interesting.

    And it’s time for generational change in the British Labour Party. There’s a new breed. They’re breeding them. Y’know: urbane, slick, cuddly one minute, snapping like amphetamine psychotic seagulls the next. It’s time for a Neo-Socialist technokratic robot series V: Step up David fucking Millebrand.

    Why should we have to deal with Kevvie and those miserable pommy gits not?

  4. Posted April 8, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    As requested, skepticlawyer:

    As far as I’m concerned the big question is how much success the racist new right parties – UKIP and BNP – are going to have. After the European elections UKIP claimed they were going to field a candidate in every seat at the national elections, and they’ve got a lot more money to throw at it this time round. The BNP are contesting Barking, and are vastly more cashed up than they were during the European elections or the previous council elections (they’ve held Barking before at council level). It’s going to be a real disaster for Britain – and particularly for all those foreign workers living under the constant racism of British life – if UKIP and BNP manage to get a few members into a hung parliament.

    I happen to believe that Cameron is a genuinely better type of Tory than previous Tories, and some of his frontbench are with him in a genuine attempt to create a kind of compassionate, semi-libertarian Tory party that drops the old class and race lines. However, if he only manages to win the party a hung parliament, he could be hung out to dry, which will be bad for the Tories in the long run.

    I also think Labour really need to be punished. Illegal wars, the financial crisis, letting the BNP in the back door, failing to deliver electoral reform, failing to reverse inequality, and just generally being a pack of oily scumbags, is a pretty poor record for a party “of the workers.” It’s a shame though, that in being rescued the good things they did – genuinely improving the quality of life for the middle classes (at least), and rescuing the NHS – will be forgotten. Oh well, that’s what you get for being incompetent fools.

  5. Posted April 8, 2010 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for that sg; have now convinced the spammer that you are a real person!

    Also on Labour and the BNP: I agree that this problem is intractable now, and while I like Cameron I don’t see how the Tories can fix it without giving into some of the electorate’s demands (like cutting low-skill immigration/immigration from outside the EU). It is a real conundrum.

  6. Jason Soon
    Posted April 9, 2010 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    The stuff by Philip Blond about how he disapproves of abortions and therefore conservatives should encourage single mothers instead is so whacked it would turn me off voting Tory. Especially now that there is evidence the idiot’s thinking is filtering through – Cameron wants to crack down on abortion and assisted suicide.

  7. Posted April 9, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Jason, do you have a link for that? I’m very curious to read it, especially as the House of Lords (just before it became the Supreme Court) struck down most of the impediments to assisted suicide (at least for those Britons willing to travel to Switzerland or the Netherlands for it).

  8. Posted April 9, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    skepticlawyer, what’s problematic about the tories giving in to the electorate’s demands? The British hate foreigners and don’t want them there – surely in a democracy their leaders have to represent that?

    I’m only being partially facetious. If the British got what they mostly wished for (zero immigration) their society would go back to the insular hell it was in the 70s, and they might finally understand why immigration is a good thing.

  9. JuliaThorn
    Posted April 10, 2010 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    Battle of britain begins indeed, however the result will be as always is, I have been following everything and doing comparisons at

  10. Jason Soon
    Posted April 10, 2010 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Here SL

  11. Posted April 10, 2010 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    Julia: that’s a very handy site, thanks (worth squatting on just to see if a senior pollie drops his bundle on Twitter).

    sg: On immigration, the Tories wouldn’t need to do that. All they’d need to do is drop the boom on Muslim immigration and bump up incentives to attract more skilled migration from within the EU. Basically what Howard did with Hanson’s ideas here. They’d then get all the benefits of immigration and would skewer the BNP’s support base at the same time. Yes it’s cynical politics, but it’s also perfectly workable.

    Jason: thanks for that, very revealing. The Telegraph coverage of Cameron’s flirt with Blond has been very revealing thus far.

  12. Posted April 10, 2010 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    that’s not what the British people want, though, skepticlawyer. They want all migrants out. And the political orthodoxy in the UK is that the UK govt has no way of controlling which migrants come to the UK.

    Also, the upper classes in the UK don’t want skilled migration to come to the UK from Europe – they want unskilled migration from Eastern Europe to feed the housing bubble and the growth of the restaurant sector. There’s no chance that the Tories will be interested in pissing off their mates in business (especially after that letter they received) with a rational migration policy.

  13. Posted April 10, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    (that should say “come to the UK from Europe,” btw)

  14. Posted April 10, 2010 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    Fixed, sg (I think).

    Maybe I’m mistaken by virtue of living in one of the more Lib-Dem extremities of the country, but the only real anti-immigration attitude I’ve seen here is basically Hansonite, ie, Muslims out. I’ve not encountered hostility to Europeans, not even towards Poles. Of course (large caveat), I don’t live in Hull or Bradford or Glasgow. The attitudes may be different in those places.

  15. Posted April 11, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    Haha! skepticlawyer, are you sure you’re actually living in England? Poles are roundly hated in the UK. Have you ever been to Salisbury? There’s a massive UKIP poster at the railway station which demands an end to ALL immigration. Low-paid Eastern Europeans are just as much a point of concern with Britons as Muslims.

    Some people who live in the same dream UK as you even think that UKIP’s politics are about Europe, rather than what their electoral material in the English heartland makes clear – that they are a party built around English resentment of all forms of immigration. They only talk that “reasonable” anti-European talk to impress elites; the rest of Britain is reading their real message, which is that all foreigners have to go.

    You don’t have to go to Hull or Bradford to see this. The standard British sentiment anywhere outside of the halls of upper-class workplaces is that all foreigners should get out now.

  16. Posted April 11, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    I wouldn’t agree with sg that the British want ALL immigrants out (apart from the Daily Mail), however a stop of some kind until the labour market rebalances would be sensible, and then get more picky about those that come (Australian style). It’s national insanity to have so many citizens out of work and on welfare while economic migrants pour in.

    It’s great for employers because they get eager recruits, whose education/training has already been paid for in their country of origin and whose numbers keep the minimum wage nice and low, but for local workers it means work quite often doesn’t pay even in the few instances where it is available full time (the vast majority of even skilled jobs are these days on a casual, part-time or annual contract basis) which is a disaster for the national balance sheet because they quite sensibly prefer the security of unemployment benefits.

    The incentives are all out of whack and it’s a big challenge to work out a system where business makes a fair contribution to the national welfare without strangling them in red-tape and unreasonably reducing their profit. (An almost identical problem exists in the area of Education where employers seem to be the only beneficiaries now making no contribution to the system).

    Unfortunately as pointed out in The Guardian the immigration statistics defy clear analysis because the definition of “foreigner” is based on place of birth and fail to account for people like Skepticlawyer and myself who were born overseas but have British Citizenship and have chosen to live their lives here. It does seem clear that the vast majority of jobs created under Labour have indeed gone to fresh migrants, principally from the newer members of the EU. This was entirely avoidable and even untypical – Britain was only one of two EU countries who maintained an open door policy, most other members managed to put controls in place.

    I’d certainly accept that there is a genuine issue with Muslim immigration in the public mind. It’s unfair to generalise but a significant and noisy minority are really fouling the nest for the rest of the community – though it seems fair to point out that the wider community itself is becoming far more conservative and deliberately insular over time (the earlier wave of Muslim immigrants in the 60s were far more assimilated than their children have become). If they can’t accept the primacy of British Law then I don’t think they have any place here though.

    Interestingly, anti-Pole feeling (like anti-Muslim feeling) is only bad in areas with very high population concentrations so the issue seems not to be primarily about differing values rather than economic competition. Where immigrants are dispersed more evenly through the wider community there seems to be far less friction, though it’s also incumbent on the wider society to make them feel welcome and safe living as a minority here.

    It should be possible to put a “Ten Pound Pom”-style geographical rider onto migrant admissions (immigrants to Australia were required to spend the first two years of their residence living and working where the government sent them, usually the bush) which then avoids the sudden strain on public services and amenities and forces immigrants to be exposed to proper integration at least for a while. I don’t think it’s racist to expect immigrants to pass an English test either and perhaps it’s time to remodel the significance of citizenship, making it the key to accessing public services.

    I don’t have such an issue with parties like UKIP because I see them as part of the national conversation about what British values actually consist of. There are naturally going to be extremes at the ends of any distribution, but their numbers will always be small and therefore unthreatening. I’m not much fond of either the BNP or the Socialist Workers but I think they both provide a useful electoral voice for groups that have been ignored in the mainstream parties push for the middle England, middle class, mortgagee vote.

  17. Posted April 11, 2010 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    Excuse my ignorance, but what’s the problem with Poles? When I lived in the UK 15 years ago, the only Poles there were WWII left overs, and there was no resentment toward them. I presume that there’s been a massive influx since they joined the EU? And that this has caused resentment?

    You’ve pretty much guessed what happened, LE, although that said quite a bit of the sting has gone out of anti-Polish sentiment recently, mainly because in the wake of the GFC, the majority of Poles went home!

  18. Posted April 12, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    legal eagle, I saw a documentary series on crime in Oxford which made it pretty clear that Oxford actuallly has some really nasty, awful suburbs with very high crime. I think even in Oxford, if you scratch the surface, you’ll be able to find some pretty extreme racism. Unfortunately, the class system in England means that one never does scratch the surface.

    I don’t think anti-pole feeling is high only in high population density urban areas. My partner’s family, for example, live in Gloucester and refer to “Polish scrotes” in polite conversation. If you jump in a cab anywhere in rural England you’ll soon get an earful about all the migrants taking white jobs (even if, like me, you have a strong Aussie accent). UKIP is making a strong showing outside of urban areas too.

    deus ex macintosh seems to be suggesting that British anti-migrant sentiment is driven by the migrants’ own behaviour – ghettoising in “high population areas,” or not accepting “the primacy of english law.” I would like to humbly suggest that this has nothing to do with the reality of English views on race and migration. Which is why the BNP are no longer a “small and therefore unthreatening” group (more than a million people voted for them, and UKIP came 3rd, in the European elections). This election is possibly going to throw up some interesting information on just where the British polity is heading in the near future, and I wager it won’t be pretty…

  19. Posted April 12, 2010 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Blackbird Leys (part of Oxford) is reputedly the largest council estate in Europe.

  20. Posted April 12, 2010 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    For me, it’s the same with politics. Even if Cameron is a better kind of Tory, I just could not bring myself to vote Tory.

    I believe that politicians use this kind of tribalism against us. I don’t like voting Tory because I found out what they were like at school. I don’t like voting Labour because I found out what they were like at Uni.

  21. Posted April 12, 2010 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    deus ex macintosh seems to be suggesting that British anti-migrant sentiment is driven by the migrants’ own behaviour – ghettoising in “high population areas,” or not accepting “the primacy of english law.” I would like to humbly suggest that this has nothing to do with the reality of English views on race and migration.

    No, I’m suggesting that the British anti-migrant sentiment is driven principally by economic competition rather than racism. This sense of competition is concentrated in areas of high minority population density.

    I am extremely careful about making claims of racism since I watched a program called “I wont marry white”, which followed various Asian singles who were looking to marry other Asians only. A similar program about white singles called “I wont marry black” would certainly have been considered incredibly racist. Racism seems a problem in ALL communities, not just white ones.

    Ghettos do exist. There are northern schools where 95% of pupils are Asian in areas like Bradford and while Asian and English communities live cheek by jowl, there is very little actual contact. I think Panorama once did a program in which they mapped out the routes of taxi firms in these areas showing that the Asian taxi firms only worked the Asian areas, and the English firms only worked the English areas. Crossover was less than 5%.

    The issue of primacy of British Law is specific to the more extreme Islamist political movements (such as the Islamic Forum of Europe attached to the East London Mosque. Channel 4’s Dispatches did an interesting documentary on their work in “Britain’s Islamic Republic”.)

  22. Peter Patton
    Posted April 13, 2010 at 11:41 am | Permalink


    Unfortunately I haven’t had the time to follow UK politics for a while. But what is the skinny on this UKIP? Is it really a front for BNP-style racism? From a quick gander at the Wikipedia entry, most of the reported policy positions look pretty good to me.

  23. Posted April 13, 2010 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    Not really. UKIP are widely considered the “rat bag” party, made up primarily of disgruntled former Tories for whom the current Conservative Party isn’t right wing enough. I think the original split was over Europe; UKIP are very anti-Europe though funnily enough that’s where they have won most of their seats. Immigration is the second biggest issue hence the accusations of racism. They’re completely different from the BNP who do have a history of actual racism and cater to a different sector of the electorate (BNP are very white working class, UKIP target the middle class).

  24. Posted April 14, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Peter Patton, actually I think UKIP has two stories to tell – in the “elite” media they tell a “reasoned” story of being anti-Europe, but in the popular press and especially in their direct mail and posters, etc. they tell a very clear anti-immigration story. They’re undoubtedly anti-Europe but they have hitched that cart to a very racist horse.

    DeusExMacintosh, this idea that the British are worried about foreigners for simple reasons of economic competition doesn’t wash with me. For a start, Britain is awesomely racist in areas where there are no minorities (e.g. Southwest England); secondly, Britain has a history of Imperialist racism which informed their views of “Johnny Foreigner” long before they ever met him; thirdly, this economic competition is never balanced in their minds against the benefits – so for example, they will whinge about Poles taking British jobs at the same time as they pay a pole to do a shtonking good job on their kitchen at cut price rates; and fourthly, I grew up in Britain and it’s a racist hellhole, was then and is now, and there’s no way you can paint over it by pretending that the racism is in “response” to anything.

    My partner’s extended family, for example, will say “I’m going to visit the Pakis” when they mean to say “I’m going to the corner store.” Race enters the British consciousness immediately, even where it is not necessary or is tangential to the issue being discussed. They have a deep-seated fixation on race based on their own insecurity as a failing imperialist power. You can’t paint it away as a “response” to anything.

    Which is why UKIP requires a more subtle analysis than “they’re anti-Europe,” and why the British educated left has consistently under-estimated the BNP – because they don’t want to admit that a large proportion of the UK population are vulnerable to their extreme views on race and culture.

  25. Posted April 15, 2010 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    Peter Patton, actually I think UKIP has two stories to tell – in the “elite” media they tell a “reasoned” story of being anti-Europe, but in the popular press and especially in their direct mail and posters, etc. they tell a very clear anti-immigration story. They’re undoubtedly anti-Europe but they have hitched that cart to a very racist horse.

    In a word… bollocks. “Anti-immigration” cannot be used interchangeably with “racist”. It is entirely possible to be anti-immigration for purely economic reasons – and in fact you could argue that economic hostility towards immigrants is actually anti-racist. A racist believes that ethnic or religious out-groups are inferior to themselves. Hostility that arises because outgroups are seen as genuine economic competition acknowledges their parity as effective workers within the UK economy.

  26. Posted April 16, 2010 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    You obviously aren’t familiar with the pitch that UKIP are handing to the lower middle class in the regions, then, DeusExMacintosh. It’s not exactly your reasoned economic argument that they’re putting forward. It’s a “send them back home,” “end all immigration now,” “cultures don’t mix” message that has appropriated such charming images as big pictures of Churchill flashing the V symbol. In these messages their contempt for the European parliament is also mingled with their contempt for Europeans. Did you see Nigel Farage’s attack on the new speaker of the European parliament? That kind of language is not the language of a purely economic objection to Europe.

    This “purely economic” objection to immigration is hardly libertarian, though, is it? And in the British case, rather ignorant of the existence of those sink estates full of Britons who won’t work. A Briton complaining about employment competition from Europeans is a rather odd sight indeed.

  27. Posted April 16, 2010 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Yes, if you hit the ‘about’ tab above, you’ll see we’ve set out (roughly) our political persuasions. I’m the libertarian, but LE is broadly (I hope I’ve got you right) centre-left while DEM doesn’t really fall anywhere on the political spectrum. That makes me the most consistent ideologue, I suppose!

    For that reason, I’m less fazed by immigration, and tend to think it’s good for the economy. However, I try not to hold those views in a vacuum: I’d rather live in a peaceful but more homogenous society than a multicultural but violent one. Of course, I’d prefer a peaceful and multicultural society overall, but I think the evidence is in that this is rather difficult to achieve.

    One thing I never want to do is fall into the trap (to paraphrase Bertold Brecht) of wanting to elect a new people because they failed to support the sort of government I’d like. Democracies have many benefits; one of the burdens is living with the consequences of what the people decide.

  28. Peter Patton
    Posted April 16, 2010 at 7:20 pm | Permalink


    I was going to remark that I thought your use of the ‘racist’ brush was too broad to be informative, and perhaps even lazy. HOWEVER. After reading your responses on another blog about the internet porn filter issue, you are clearly a much, much, MUCH more sophisticated political thinker and passionate advocate for your team on those issues, than my intended comment would have acknowledged!

    I was EXTREMELY impressed with the nuanced position you hold innately about what left politics is really about, and f***ing frustrating it is to have all this wishy-washy academic accommodation with current ALP flirtations with right wing opportunism. To that end, I bet you could similarly produce a similar “cut through” post here. By the way, you absolutely wiped the floor with your interlocutors over there. Well done!

  29. Posted April 17, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Peter, that’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said about my politics online. Maybe the only nice thing 🙂

    Thanks for the political outline skepticlawyer. I’m not advocating electing a different people, btw, just saying that the British people are looking to elect someone who supports their views on race, and if they get their views represented in office they’ll be very sad and maybe learn a few important lessons about the modern world.

    Legal Eagle, I think the kind of considerations which drive racism in Australia are economic and suspicion of foreigners; but these are overlaid in the English case on an underlying, really ugly attitude that’s particular to Britain. I think it’s driven by a mixture of arrogance and insecurity. It’s really noticeable how much race intrudes into ordinary consciousness over there. I sometimes think it should be characterised as “race consciousness,” with consciousness meant in the Marxist sense.

    I can’t count the number of times I have seen an issue in the UK which begs a class-based, or cultural, or economic explanation, and yet the first explanation the British manage to come up with is race. Even issue completely unrelated to race – like a train strike or the February snow day, whatever – seem to get a full race-based treatment in the press within a day or two. It’s astounding.

    But anyway, it’s possible that Nick Clegg has blown this whole election off course. Maybe SL will have to write a new post!

  30. Posted April 17, 2010 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    sg, DEM has already done that post-writing job most admirably — go here. I’ll be reviewing the second debate, and we’ll have some other coverage as well. I’ll also try to liveblog election night from OCA’s offices.

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by searchtempo. searchtempo said: Battle of Britain Begins: General Election 2010: Political leaders have headed off on the campaign trail after Pri… […]

  2. By The Battle for Britain at Catallaxy Files on April 8, 2010 at 6:53 am

    […] The UK is off to an election. The incumbant Labour Party is going for a fourth term. Skepticlawyer is in the UK and will provide on-the-ground updates as to how things are going. […]

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