Sunday, April 25, 2010

The UK election in the European press

How the European papers are covering the pre-election campaign.

"An underdog triumphs"
Die Welt (Germany, centre-right)

The situation has changed the chemistry of the British election campaign overnight, making the outcome completely unpredictable.

The second of three TV debates reaffirmed it on Thursday: many people are excited over the possibility of marking their dissent against the two-party system. In the polls, the Liberal Democrats are almost on a par with their major competitors. After 80 years, the insignificant party may finally return to the center of politics.

Should the trend continue, the output, a "hung parliament" seems almost inevitable - a situation in which no party has a majority over all others.

Nick Clegg today enjoys the double advantage of being the island's popular underdog: he has to fight not only the leaders of the two great parties, but more importantly, the constraints of the British voting system under which the Liberals' true strength has never translated into an appropriate number of seats. In 2005, they received 22 percent of the votes cast, but only ten percent of the seats in Parliament, that is 62. In February 1974, they got 19.3 percent of the vote, but only 14 seats.

The public seems prepared to no longer accept this unfairness against the underdog. Anti-establishment sentiments are throwing ash and lava into the political landscape. All calculations are still facing a potentially revolutionary process. Coalitions in Westminster? British politics would look "more European". But would it also be more stable?

"Clegg resists attacks"
Le Figaro (France, centre-right)

Nick Clegg didn't flinch in the face of his opponents' attacks. He did not mince his words against David Cameron, accusing the Tory anti-European attitudes: "We are stronger together and we're weaker separately".

"Spreading fear does no good", he also replied to Gordon Brown. "Don't believe all these ridiculous horror stories about the Apocalypse and economic policy" that a Lib Dem victory would bring, he finally said.

"Churchill, Obama or just a bubble?"
El Pais (Spain, centre-left)

The Liberal leader is making some tremendous effort to stop the current success from going to his head, if anything because he hasn't received the voters' backing yet.

In recent days, the Tory press has attacked him with brutality. Some tried to turn a simple irregularity into a scandal: donations to the party going through his private bank account. Nevermind all the donations had been declared to the parliamentary authority: the important thing was to cast doubt over his honesty.

Others have questioned his legitimacy to become Prime Minister through allegations over his bloodline: his mother is Dutch, his father is of Russian descent, his wife is Spanish.

The third strategy to burst the Clegg bubble was to expose him as a posh boy. The same press that for months ranted against the injustice of Labour attacking David Cameron's wealthy aristocratic origins in an attempt to discredit the Conservative leader, is now portraying Nick Clegg as a product of money and elitism.

"Gordon Brown clutches at the economy in last ditch attempt at survival"
Publico (Spain, left)

Times have changed. The British no longer feel obliged to choose between two parties only. In 1992, 75% of the votes were cast for the Tories and Labour. The percentage has been dropping relentlessly ever since. It was 68% in 2005 and opinion polls suggest this time it won't be over 60%.

"Cameron wins second debate but a Clegg-Brown alliance is born on TV"
La Repubblica (Italy, centre-left)

"I must be the only politician who has gone from being Curchill to being a Nazi in under a week", Clegg joked with the press just before walking into the TV arena. It was inevitable that, put under the microscope, he'd betray a blemish or two, yet the UK Tory press unleashed an attack of rare virulence, almost portraying him as a monster.

Corrupt: only because they found out that three businessmen transferred the staggering amount of £750 per month (roughly €850) into his personal account. He was yet to become Lib Dem leader and he'd done nothing illegal. The sum- he explained- was needed to pay the salary of a research assistant. And yet the press is talking about little else, portraying the man who is promising to clean up politics into someone who's got something to hide instead.

An aristocrat: because they unearthed the news that his great grandmother is a Baroness, evidence - according to the media hullabaloo - that Clegg is not a man of the people.

A former "eurocrat": that is to say, an ex EU bureaucrat, an accusation that - to most Britons- is worse than being dubbed a serial-killer.

And so on. All the way to "Nazi", as reported on the front page of the Daily Express, referring to some allegged slur [Clegg] was accused of having spelt out against his own native country.


Richard0 said...

Thanks for that, I'd actually been wondering about that.

"A former "eurocrat": most Britons- is worse than being called a serial-killer.", amused me and depressed me in equal measure.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Very useful insights there, thanks Claude.