A bit more than a week ago, I wrote in this space that the so-called “Cleggomania” in the British elections was not what it seemed, and was likely to wane.
Following the first U.S.-style TV debated between the three major candidates, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg had obviously scored a public relations victory over his better known rivals, and British pollsters indicated that the Liberal Democrats had soared into second place over the ruling Labour Party led by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and just behind David Cameron’s Conservative Party (Tory) which had been leading by double digits for some time. At one point, there were even a poll or two which showed the Liberal Democrats in first place.
I cautioned that this was unlikely to continue as the media and voters took a close look at Clegg, and to their real prospects. It was generally believed that Cameron won the second debate, although not by much, and that Clegg was not quite the “savior” of the kingdom. The Tories’ poll numbers have been climbing back up, (now at about 7% ahead of the Liberal Democrats) while Labour has continued to decline.
The prospects remain for a rare “hung parliament,” but those who calculate what actually happens in the election (there is no “popular” vote; the election is decided by which party wins the most seats) now say that the Tories are now only 10-20 seats away from an absolute majority.
Prime Minister Brown has now made the singular “gaffe” of the campaign by calling one of his own supporters a “bigoted woman” on a live microphone he apparently forgot he was wearing. At this point, all the apologies and rationalizations for this gaffe made by him and his supporters are basically irrelevant. The damage is done. Already unpopular, this would would appear to be the final straw. His party will still come in second, and the Liberal Democrats third, but the real winner from the gaffe is almost certainly Mr. Cameron who now has a chance, not probable only two weeks ago, of either an absolute majority or very close to it.
A third TV debate is an opportunity for Mr. Cameron to show he is “prime ministerial.” His strategy of spending much of the past ten days explaining that the “infatuation” with Mr. Clegg could only produce the result of Mr. Brown and his party being returned to power, was (as I wrote earlier) the right one. Barring still one more “gaffe” by one of the three candidates in the last debate or during the final campaign week, it will be Mr. Cameron who most probably will be invited to Buckingham Palace by the queen to form a government.