Britain's fresh-faced parliament

With about 150 MPs leaving parliament, British politics is looking to change shape.

    Brown and Cameron are facing the fallout from last year's expenses scandal [GALLO/GETTY]

    It became known in the end as the "Rotten Parliament".

    Mired in scandal, exposed as money grubbers and expenses abusers, there will be few tears shed in Britain for many of the departing members of parliament.

    At a recent gathering in parliament, 40 of them bade farewell to John Bercow, the speaker of the house.

    Indeed, even Bercow himself has become embroiled in the expenses scandal, despite pledging to restore trust in parliament as he took up his position.

    So about 150 MPs, a record number, will be going – not all of whom have abused an admittedly lax system.

    Many will be household names in Britain, but few, if any, have really made their mark on the international stage. 

    In depth

    Veteran, departing MP and former defence minister, Peter Kilfoyle is withering about the Labour government's record.

    "We have failed to be a voice for peace in the world, while failing in our duty as a critical friend of the United States," he says. 

    Kilfoyle, a member of parliament for a deprived area in Liverpool goes on in damning frame: "Most of all we have failed to keep faith with our own party members and supporters."


    Media bubble

    So what will the new parliament in Britain look like?

    Well, so much depends quite obviously on the outcome on May 6.

    Presently, the aggregate of polls is close for both main parties, the Labour government and the Conservative opposition, while the third party, the Liberal Democrats, is also making a strong showing.

    But increasingly British pollsters seem to feel obliged to skew their polls to whoever is their paymaster, which may explain why in recent days one poll put the Conservatives 10 per cent ahead – nearly enough to have an overall majority, and another had them at just three per cent.

    And so far the election campaign seems largely to have been fought in a Westminster media bubble, on established political lines, with remarkably little to seriously differentiate one party from another.

    A recent, probably more accurate indication of actual voting intentions revealed that not only have a majority of voters not made up their minds, but 38 per cent say that the MPs expenses scandal will decide their vote.

    So, with at least 140 MPs who are standing again, and who were caught up in the scandal, that leaves a great deal of room for highly unpredictable results – and the emergence of independent candidates.

    The speaker of parliament falls into this category and faces a fight on two fronts from two determined independents – one of whose websites, in this increasingly acrimonious, viral election, can be seen here.

    The candidate behind this website, John Stevens says: "Many people want to register a protest against Mr Bercow's outrageous expenses claims."

    Far-right hopes

    The far-right British National Party (BNP), which won two seats in the European Parliament, is honing in on traditional white working class, Labour supporting areas, where unemployment remains stubbornly high, and where there has been a large influx of migrants over the past decade.

    Because of Britain's "first-past-the-post" electoral system, the far-right has never gained a foothold in parliament, but this time the BNP has high hopes of winning in the depressed Midlands city of Stoke and in east London. 

    This election may become defined by regional disparities, quirky results, and if the Conservatives emerge as the largest party in England and Wales but score poorly in Scotland, a major boost will have been give to the nationalists, even now preparing for a referendum on independence for Scotland.

    The Liberal Democrats believe that they will do particularly well as voters weary of the two main parties.

    In their finance spokesman, Vincent Cable, the Liberal Democrats have a rare voice in British politics, as someone the public actually quite likes and respects.

    Their leader, Nick Clegg, has not had the same degree of visibility, but will be hoping that, along with the Labour leader, Gordon Brown, and Conservative leader, David Cameron, Britain’s first US-style television debates will bring dividends.

    'Parachuting candidates'

    Despite the record number of retirees, and the record number of new MPs set to take their place, it is only possible to form a rough idea of the type of people the new MPs actually are.

    Both main parties, with a rapidly declining membership have increasingly taken to "parachuting" candidates into safe seats over the heads of local activists.

    These individuals are, more often than not, professorial young politicians whose preferment is based on their commitment to supporting the official party position at any given time.

    Interestingly, the Conservatives have managed to select – or appoint – more black and Asian candidates than Labour, traditionally the party that receives the bulk of the ethnic vote.

    They also have a fairly high preponderance of businesspeople and ex-military personnel.

    Labour, on the other hand, has a high proportion of candidates who have been local councillors, a few who have been trade union officials, and more still who have worked for the government machine as advisers.

    Underlying all of this however is a remarkable nationwide mood of apathy and cynicism.

    Large sections of the population seem to believe that all of the main parties "are the same", and when it comes to abuses of parliamentary expenses "they are all at it".

    If this mood continues until polling day, the turnout of voters could hit a record low.


    But I am beginning to wonder if this will be the case.

    Apathy can turn to anger.

    While apathy could deliver a "hung parliament", with no party with an overall majority, anger could deliver some really hard hits for the main parties.

    Mark Seddon, Al Jazeera’s former UN correspondent is a political commentator and former editor of Tribune magazine.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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