The UK Election Debate: “Hamlet Without the Prince”

John Weeks, author of Economics of the 1%, says the most important single issue that divides the parties is austerity, and he predicts the results of the May 7 election.

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

The UK general elections will be held on May 7th to elect the 56th Parliament. The candidates are David Cameron, the incumbent prime minister, Ed Milliband for Labour, and Nick Clegg for the Liberal Democrats. Now joining me to discuss the candidates and what is at stake is John Weeks. John is joining us from London, England. He is Professor Emeritus of the University of London and author of the new book, New Economics of the 1%: How Mainstream Economics Serves the Rich, Obscures Reality and Distorts Policy. His recent policy work includes a supplemental unemployment program for the European Union and advising the central banks of Argentina and Zambia.

Thank you so much for joining us today, John.

JOHN WEEKS, PROF. EMERITUS, UNIV. OF LONDON: Well thank you for having me.

PERIES: So John, something very peculiar about the UK election process is that the incumbent doesn’t debate on debate night. It’s only the contenders. Tell us more about that.

WEEKS: Well, it is a bit strange. I mean, David Cameron, who is the prime minister, I sense that he was delaying and trying to minimize any debate he entered into. In the previous one there were seven parties present. He said he would not debate the major opposition party Labour directly. Then now, the second debate that we had just last night was a very strange hybrid creature. It did not include the prime minister. So it was among the opposition parties. Nor did it include the Liberal Democrats, who were also in power. So it included challengers, you might say. And as a result of this, it’s very difficult to know what the impact of that will be in the longer term.

Of course, there are always these telephone polls immediately after, but they never–I don’t think they ever mean anything in any case, and in this case they mean even less because each of these parties in effect was jockeying around with each other, and you might say that it was Hamlet without the prince.

PERIES: John, tell us about this election process. How do the UK citizenry select their prime minister?

WEEKS: Right. It’s a parliamentary system, so the prime minister runs like any other member of Parliament. The party that has the most seats then forms the government, or the party that has, that can put together a coalition to form a government moves on.

Now, in the UK it was last–five years ago was the first time in a very long time, since the 1930s, that there has been a government of more than one party. And now we’re almost certain, I would say, to have a government of at least two parties after the 8th of May. And Britain, completely unlike the United States, the day after the election a new government comes in. Or the old government stays. But if it’s a change in government, they take over the next day.

And so we’re seeing a very unusual situation for Britain. If I may, I’d like to mention a couple of other things, too. Particularly to American watchers. And one is, unlike the United States, money does not determine–does not overwhelmingly determine the outcome of the elections. The amount of money that is in U.S. election is just many, many times more than in Britain. The average expenditure for a U.S. congressional race can go $2-6 million dollars. In Britain it’s very rare for expenditure to go, in a constituency election, to go beyond about $40,000 dollars.

PERIES: Now John, tell us what the election polling results are, related to the three leading candidates. Give us a sense of who they are, what they stand for, and what’s at stake here.

WEEKS: For the two major leading parties, largest parties I should say, Labour and the Conservatives, it shows Labour ahead slightly. And they’ve been holding that position for several months, all during the calendar year so far. And so it would appear that they, when election day comes, they will have the largest number of seats. And at the end maybe I can come back and go out on a limb and make a prediction about what will happen.

Next would normally come the other party in government, the Liberal Democrats, but they are almost certain to be pushed aside, overwhelmed as a number two party by the Scottish Nationalists, who could gain–well, maybe it’s too strong to say almost certainly. But no one will be surprised if the Scottish Nationalists end up with more seats than the Liberal Democrats who are partners of the Conservative party in government now. And the important thing about the Scottish Nationalists is it is probably the most social democratic party in the British Isles. The most left-wing party of any size in the British Isles.

PERIES: And in terms of the candidates and the platforms that they are going, they’re representing? Give us a sense of what that is like.

WEEKS: Yes. I mean, you can sum it up that the most important single issue that divides the parties is a question of austerity. And I regret to say that Labour party is not particularly good on this. I don’t want to exaggerate it. Conservative party and Liberal Democrats is going to have a sit down, that’s the most important thing. We’re going to get it down, we have to do it quickly. Labour party might be described, the leadership at any rate, as taking a austerity-light position. Oh yes, the deficit is a terrible problem, but we can solve it little by little and we don’t have to make as many cuts.

This is in contrast to the Scottish Nationalists, whose leader said, Ms. Sturgeon said, we are against austerity, period. We are against budget cuts, we will not support any budget by any party which brings forth cuts for Scotland, Wales, England or Northern Ireland. And the Welsh Nationalist party, which is much, much smaller. Scottish Nationalist party could have over 30 MPs. The Welsh Nationalist party is unlikely to have more than three or four, but they are solidly against austerity. And the Greens are solidly against it, though I regret to say the Greens are unlikely to have more than two seats.

So it means, however, that you could very likely, and I think you will have, a decidedly left of center government coming in.

I should–it hasn’t come up yet, but I should mention another issue, which I suspect gets a lot of play in the United States, and that’s immigration. Because there is basically an anti-immigrant party running. The United Kingdom Independence party. It is a right-wing party. It is a [lateny] and in some cases explicitly racist party. And for a while it looked like it was doing extremely well back about October or November. But now it seems to, it seems to be waning. And while it may pick up a few seats, it’s unlikely to be more than two or three. And that is very good news for people throughout Britain.

PERIES: And John, you were going to make a prediction.

WEEKS: I think that there will be a coalition formed between Labour and the Scottish Nationalists, and I think as a result of that, the Scottish Nationalists will drag the Labour leadership to a more progressive position. And then Labour leadership will be able to say that it’s not, you know, taken a U-turn on the deficit, it’s got this coalition partner, and has to shift to the left. I hope I’m not being too optimistic. But that’s what I think will happen.

PERIES: John, as always, thank you so much for joining us today.

WEEKS: Well, thank you for having me.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

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