MyDD has been one of the best American blogs in terms of its coverage of the UK election. Today they have an essential post for any American readers wishing to understand the current UL election:
One of the things I have noticed in discussing British politics in these parts is the trouble people have understading the ideological configuration of the three major parties. Suffice it to say, do not try to jam Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the Conservatives into an American political model. Labour is not like the DLC, a kind of centrist party in between the Conservatives on the right and the Lib Dems on the left.
To understand the difference, you have to recognize that British politics (and indeed, the politics of many other “developed” nations) evolved along class lines in a way American politics never has. Broadly speaking, every major political party in American history has been, in terms of post French/industrial revolution European politics, a liberal party. In essence, both the Democrats and Republicans find their ideological centers in differing segments of the middle class (something that is especially true today, but I would argue has been generally true throughout all of American history). In Britain, by contrast, while the Liberal Democrats, and before them, the Liberals, (always) and the Conservatives since the beginning of the 20th century have both been institutionally and ideologically centered in the middle class, the Labour Party has not. It is, and in many ways still is, a party that governs for the benefit of the working class and the poor. It is concerned with improving the lot of the lives of these groups primarily, and only secondarily with the kind of post-1960s civil liberties/lifestyle/quality of life questions that have defined and still define American politics.
It’s interesting that some Americans seem to percieve of Labour, rather then the Lib Dems, as the natural centrist party. That’s quite a shift from the traditional description of British party structure.
I’m also not so sure about New Labour governing for the benefit of the working class, but the comparison to the Hartzian understanding of American parties as two factions of the 18th century liberal tradition is an important point to make.
Another historical point that might be added is that the current configuration of both left-leaning parties in Britain derives from two separate projects to shift the Labour Party to the centre — the 1980s SDP breakaway from Labour that lead to the merger with the old Liberals to form the Lib Dems and then the New Labour project of the late 1990s.
While Labour probably looks most familiar to American Democrats in terms of policy priorities, the tension between social democratic and civil libertarian ideologies that dominates the left in America is probably best seen in the Liberal Democrats — precisely because of that party’s history as a fusion of liberals and the right-wing faction of a (then) socialist party.
Also on MyDD, Jerome Armstrong notes Charles Kennedy’s “baby bounce” in the polls and Chris Bowers apologises to UK readers for saying that the Vatican conclave is “biggest election of the year”.
Update: Thanks to Nosemonkey for alerting me to my HTML screwup this morning.