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From across the Big Pond: UK election week 1

By Andy Walsh
web posted May 21, 2001

It has been a week since parliament was dissolved and the race for No.10 Downing Street was begun. From a personal point of view, it's going well. No canvasser has darkened my doorstep and no prospective MP has tried to pick up my rebellious two-year old to kiss him.

As far as the main political parties are concerned the week has passed with mixed results. The Conservative Party came out of the blocks like an Olympic athlete. They appeared to have a good first few days with a very slick campaign. The Labour Party started much more slowly, delaying the launch of their manifesto until the second week of the campaign. The Liberal Democrats, too, delayed their manifesto launch until the second week. Their main thrust appears to be distancing themselves, wherever possible, from the other two parties. Under their popular leader, Charles Kennedy, they are ploughing a furrow of their own.

So, what are the main issues being discussed?

The economy is one. Traditionally, the Conservatives have been the party for business. However, in last four years, Labour have shown themselves to be capable of handling the economy effectively. Polls suggest that voters have more confidence in Labour running the economy than the Conservatives.

Another issue is tax. Both Labour and the Conservatives see this as an area where they can win the argument. Labour has increased the tax burden - they have admitted so themselves. The Conservatives are pledged to reduce taxes.

Conservative Party leader William Hague with his wife Ffion leave St Albans, England aboard their bus in Hertfordshire, England, where they were campaigning on May 17
Conservative Party leader William Hague with his wife Ffion leave St Albans, England aboard their bus in Hertfordshire, England, where they were campaigning on May 17

This should be a clear area for William Hague to deal the Labour Party a decisive blow. However, so far he has failed. Partly this is because his party has not been clear on exactly how much they will reduce taxes by and what services they will withdraw to fund such an exercise. The nation is wary of such promises as these, easily made and easily broken. Even traditional Conservative voters show concerns with the figures. The other issue is that, even though the tax burden has been increased, because the economy is doing so well, the vast majority of the population doesn't seem to mind. If the economy was performing poorly, then this perception would change accordingly.

Further European integration was expected to be a central election battleground. It has yet to rear its ugly head. Part of this may be due to the splits in both the main two parties, especially the Conservatives. However, such a central and important issue cannot remain forever shackled. I fully expect a few hot debates to emerge in the coming weeks.

However, it is the polls that show how effective all this campaigning is being and they have hardly moved since day one. It looks increasingly likely that Tony Blair will be returned with a large (if not larger) majority.

Conservatism in the UK must find itself a new voice. It is failing with the one that it speaks with at the moment. They have three short weeks to turn things around or they will face another term in opposition.

Andy Walsh is a househusband and writer living in Cumbria in the UK. He writes novels, short stories, articles and poems some of which you can read at http://www.stbrodag.com. (c) Andy Walsh 2001

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