British Election Creates Hung Parliament
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Each of the big three British parties campaigned for change. The Conservative manifesto or platform spoke of real change that comes when the people are inspired and mobilized. Labor said its manifesto was, and I quote, "about the greater progressive change we need because of the tougher times we're living through." And the Liberal Democrats said they have the big ideas for fundamental structural change in the way our country works to make it fair.
There was so much talk of change, we wondered if people in Britain really expect much change or if there are any big new ideas in the wind. And we've got columnist Simon Hoggart of The Guardian joining us from the paper's newsroom at Westminster.
Simon, do people there expect great changes?
Mr. SIMON HOGGART (Columnist, The Guardian): No, I dont think so. Change is one of those buzz words. You know, the Liberal Democrats had a slogan: Change you can believe in. I mean it's just everywhere. A beggar came up to me the other day and say, got any change you can believe in, sir?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. HOGGART: It's just - what Im saying is, look, you're unhappy. Things have gone wrong. We'll make it different. Thats exactly the message that Barack Obama brought. And I fear that it doesnt mean any great deal.
SIEGEL: But the Conservative Party, which won a hundred more seats in this election than last, thinking back to the last time that the Tories came out of the wilderness, it was with Margaret Thatcher. There were big ideas about denationalizing things and the wisdom of the marketplace. Is there any similar big idea attached to David Cameron's Conservatives?
Mr. HOGGART: No, there was one big idea. He called it, actually, the big society, which is the most meaningless phrase I ever heard. What he meant was that the state should abandon a lot of its roles, and that the community should take over many of the things that government had been doing. He meant voluntary work, hospitals, help with teaching in schools, that kind of thing, which is a great idea but he simply couldnt sell it on the doorstep.
People were looking at him and say, what does that mean? Or, are you saying that on top of my work, Im trying to keep my family and food and shoes, you want me to go out and work in the evenings as well?
So that was the only really big idea I guess we had in the election. And that was abandoned after about a week. So does that answer your question?
Mr. HOGGART: No.
SIEGEL: Gordon Brown spoke of implementing political reforms, including changes to the election system. That would obviously be attractive to the Liberal Democrats. How much change, in that regard, do you expect? Runoff elections or proportional representation, what might they propose?
Mr. HOGGART: It could be either. There are lots and lots of different systems of proportional representation. People in this country, as in yours, are very pleased and proud with the way that a representative in Parliament or in Congress represents a particular area.
And as soon as you get off into a proportional representation system, you have several people responsible for a much larger area, and those people often turn out to be very competitive.
Well, it kind of works in some places. I would not say that France and Germany, for example, have been at all badly governed over the past few years, but it's been resented here.
Now, you've got a situation where the Liberal Democrats, who got a little under a quarter of all the votes, wound up with something like one-tenth of all the constituencies (unintelligible) less. And it looks as if they will make some move towards proportional representation, a condition for any deal they cut with one of the two main parties.
That said, it's quite clear that David Cameron and the Conservatives were the leading party. Gordon Brown, the Labor prime minister, has lost, and yet is still at Number 10 Downing Street, hoping that he could hold on to office. I think thats trying to be crazy. I think the voters are going to say: Look, you had your turn, clear out.
SIEGEL: Simon Hoggart of The Guardian, thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. HOGGART: My pleasure.
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