A Very American Election

So that's it then, the dust has settled and the Cabinet has been selected following what was meant to be the 'closest election for decades' and instead turned into a Conservative rout of the opposition parties.

So that's it then, the dust has settled and the Cabinet has been selected following what was meant to be the 'closest election for decades' and instead turned into a Conservative rout of the opposition parties.

While it fell short of the tight finish so many were expecting, the election could certainly not be described as boring. From the wrangling over TV debates , the meteoric rise of the SNP and the rise and fall of UKIP there was plenty to talk about (admittedly little of it scandalous) even before the exit polls showed that heavy Conservative lead. In fact, as someone who was raised in the policital culture of the United States, I was suddenly feeling right at home.

In fact, I would argue that while this may not have ended up as the generation-defining election we were promised, it certainly marked a shift in British politics, a full step closer to Americanisation. It's not just the TV events and the heavily choreographed public appearances that give this impression. Both sides hired campaignexperts from across the pond, both attempted to use the 'power poses' and polished appearances common in US campaign appearances (for reference, see Millibands incredibly creepy staring down the camera). Sometimes this came across as laughably fake, particularly in the Question Time sessions where both Miliband and Cameron thanked everyone and their mothers for any question before completely ignoring it as they segued back to their 'key message'.

Still, it's early days so, if this trend continues, I have no doubt that over the next 5 years you'll see newer, younger politicians coming through the ranks much more at ease with this kind of faux personability.

For the record, when I describe this election as 'Americanised' I'm referring strictly to the Presidential races, the first overtures of which we've already started to see (comparing the Will-they-won't-they anticipation of candidate announcements to the forthcoming leadership selections for Labour and the Lib-Dems may be interesting); despite increasing Polarisation the congressional races in the States are still more about electing a representative for your area then a party, leading to titles such as RINOs and DINOs ('Republican In Name Only' etc). In Britains party-based politics the election of your MP is increasingly a verdict on the future PM rather then a judgement of who represents your interest, for better or worse.

So, if the UK Election was becoming 'Americanised' does this give us a hint as to what led to the shock result on Thursday night? Well, I think it may offer a starting point though obviously there were a number of other factors at play from fears of a surging SNP to the ever-elusive 'shy Tory' voter.

Still, there is a Mantra in American Politics that Ed Milliband would have done well to heed. That is, quite simply, 'Energize the Base'. This is the theory that, because politics is increasingly polarized, your first duty is the give the people already inclined to vote for you either a reason or the means to vote for you. It's the reason why nice young men in corduroy and polo shirts drive vans of seniors to polling stations in Republican states and Democrat activists do the same for students in University towns. If you maximise your loyalist vote, you need convince only a handful of undecided or independent voters to your cause and any election is sealed.

Judged from this standard, Cameron clearly was the more successful. For the entire campaign he didn't diverge from a single central theme (or 'Core Message'); Economic Competence. He played up the Tory record as rescuers of a beleaguered economy, played down Lib-Dem contributions (or outright stole them, like raising Income Tax bands) and threw out a few well-placed pledges on other issues, like £8 Billion for the NHS, to entice a few middle-ground voters to his side.

By contrast, Ed Milliband and the Labour party seemed to take the votes of the Left as a given. He attempted to tackle Cameron on his home turf, weighing the entire Labour manifesto with pledges on balancing budgets and Fiscal Responsibility and not talking enough about hot-button topics like social housing and the NHS. This led to the unkind moniker of 'Austerity-Lite' and a bleeding of Labour voters in small but significant numbers to parties like TUSC and the Greens. No where is this failure to engage with their traditional base clearer then in Scotland where Labour didn't recognise the threat from the SNP until it was too late. Nicola Sturgeon masterfully positioned herself as the face of the 'True Left' and disaffected Labour members flocked to her en-masse.

The logic to Millibands strategy is pretty clear, votes taken from the Conservatives should weaken their opponents but it assumes a level playing field. The truth is we are in an era of entrenched politics where there are fewer and fewer truly undecided voters left. In this environment you're unlikely to turn a fanatic from their cause, and you abandon your own supporters at your peril.

Perhaps in 5 years the climate will have shifted and more reasoned debate will prevail...but in the meantime I think I'll continue to feel right at home.


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