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Britain’s Cameron Promises Reforms, EU Referendum After Election Win

By Bill Smith, dpa (TNS)

LONDON — Prime Minister David Cameron promised Friday to deliver all the economic and political reforms in his manifesto after his Conservative Party won an outright parliamentary majority in the general election.

“We will deliver that in-out referendum on our future in Europe,” Cameron said, referring to his promise to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s EU membership and hold a referendum by the end of 2017.

He said five years of the Conservatives’ coalition government with the Liberal Democrats had “laid the foundations for a better future.”

“As I said in the small hours of this morning, we will govern as a party of one nation, one United Kingdom,” he said outside his residence in London’s Downing Street after visiting Queen Elizabeth to inform her of his plan to form a new government.

“That means ensuring this recovery reaches all parts of our country, from north to south, from east to west,” Cameron said, adding that he plans to expand devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland “as fast as I can.”

Cameron earlier hailed the “sweetest victory” of his political career, with the win giving the Conservatives around 330 seats and a clear mandate for another five years in office.

The Conservative majority in the 650-seat parliament surprised most political analysts.

The Conservatives’ main rivals, Labour, won some 230 seats, meaning it had lost about two dozen of those they had held since 2010. Their leader, Ed Miliband, resigned the party leadership after calling Cameron to congratulate him on the election result. Of his own position, he said it was “time for someone else.”

“The responsibility for the result is mine alone,” he said.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg also resigned his party’s leadership, after accepting responsibility for the “catastrophic” loss of seats in the election.

The Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives’ coalition partners for the last five years, lost 48 of the 57 seats they held in 2010, with several seats still to be counted.

“It is now painfully clear that this has been a cruel and punishing night for the Liberal Democrats,” says Clegg, who served as deputy prime minister in the coalition.

He is one of only eight members of his party to have won a seat in Thursday’s election.

The London stock exchange was up around 2 percent during mid-day trading while sterling was gaining on the dollar and the euro.

“Clearly we have a mandate to get on with the work that we started five years ago,” Chancellor George Osborne said.

Most pre-election polls had forecast no more than 285 seats for Osborne’s party.

There was a rise in support for the right-wing UK Independence Party, although it won only one seat and party leader Nigel Farage failed to get one. He later resigned the party leadership.

In his resignation speech, Farage blamed his defeat on prospective UKIP voters choosing the Conservatives because they “were so scared” of a possible coalition government between Labour and the Scottish National Party, which right-wing tabloid newspapers had presented as a “nightmare” scenario.

Farage lost out to Conservative candidate Craig Craig Mackinlay, a former UKIP deputy leader, in the South Thanet constituency.

The Scottish National Party won 56 of the 59 seats in Scotland, wiping out all but one of Labour’s seats in what party leader Nicola Sturgeon hailed as a “historic watershed.”

The election shapes Britain’s economic future and could have major implications for the country’s welfare services, its relationship with the European Union — and even the future integrity of the country.
Cameron said the country “must hold” a promised referendum on EU membership and allow greater devolution for Scotland and Wales “as fast as we can.”

Turnout in the election was about 66 percent, a similar level to the last election in 2010.

In Brussels, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker congratulated Cameron on his victory.

The commission “stands ready to work constructively with the new British government,” said spokesman Margaritis Schinas, adding that it will examine any requests for a change in Britain’s relations with the European Union in a “polite, friendly and objective way.”

The 28-member bloc’s governments must decide on any EU treaty changes, Schinas said, warning that freedom of movement — an issue challenged by many eurosceptics in Britain — is a “non-negotiable” right that is essential to the bloc.

(c)2015 Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: The Prime Minister David Cameron delivers his victory speech at the Witney Constituency Parliamentary Count, Witney, Oxfordshire, on May 8, 2015 after winning his seat in Witney the previous night. (Andrew Parsons/i-Images/Zuma Press/TNS)

Is Democracy Unraveling?

WASHINGTON — The world’s democracies, perhaps especially our own, face a peculiar set of contradictions that are undermining faith in public endeavor and unraveling old loyalties.

There is a decline of trust in traditional political parties but also a rise in partisanship. A broad desire for governments to reduce the levels of economic insecurity and expand opportunity is constrained by a loss of confidence in the capacity of government to succeed. Intense demands for change are accompanied by fears that much of the change that is occurring will make life worse for individuals and families.

These crosscurrents are undercutting political leaders and decimating political parties with long histories. In Europe, movements on the far right and left (along with new regional parties) gain traction with disaffected citizens. Concerns about immigration reflect uneasiness among some over the social and cultural tremors in their nations. At the same time, discontent about the economic decline that afflicts regions not sharing in the global economy’s bounty calls forth protest against the privileged and the well-connected. In both cases, anger is the dominant emotion.

The convergence of these forces is especially powerful in Britain, which holds a national election on May 7 and where neither of the long-dominant Conservative and Labour Parties is likely to win a parliamentary majority. In 1951, the two parties together secured 96.8 percent of all the votes cast. This year, they are struggling to reach a combined 70 percent.

In Scotland, long a Labour stronghold, the pro-independence Scottish National Party could take as many as 50 of the region’s 59 seats, which would block British Labour leader Ed Miliband from securing a majority. But Miliband, who has run a better campaign than his foes expected, could still end up in power, partly because Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives are hemorrhaging votes to the UK Independence Party, which is critical of both immigration and the European Union.

In Greece, the traditional social democratic Pasok party was nearly destroyed after the country’s economic collapse. The left-wing Syriza party took power this year because of deep frustration with economic austerity and anger over the terms being set by the European Union for a financial rescue. Far-right parties have gained ground in France and even in usually moderate Scandinavia.

In the United States, partisan splits have rarely been so deep and acrimony across party lines so intense. But these feelings don’t come from wildly positive views about the parties voters embrace. In a widely discussed paper released earlier this month, Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster, Emory University political scientists, noted that “one of the most important trends in American politics over the past several decades has been the rise of negative partisanship in the electorate.”

It occurs, they write, when “supporters of each party perceive supporters of the opposing party as very different from themselves in terms of their social characteristics and fundamental values.” Yes, our current form of partisanship leads us to dislike not only the other side’s politicians but even each other.

And the frustrations voters feel provide each camp with ideological rocks to throw at their adversaries. In a PRRI/Brookings survey I was involved with in 2013, two findings locked horns: 63 percent of Americans said government should be doing more to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, but 59 percent also believed government had grown bigger because it had become involved in things people should do for themselves. We want government to do more about injustice, but we also seem to want it smaller.

Stanley Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, argues in the current issue of The American Prospect that this tension is partly explained by a widespread view that “special interests” have too much of a hold on government. He argues that voters “are ready for government to help — if the stables are cleaned.”

This makes good sense, but in the United States, as elsewhere, little of what’s happening in politics is reweaving frayed social bonds. The title of Princeton University historian Daniel T. Rodgers’ revelatory 2011 book, Age of Fracture, captured what’s happening to us. In our era, he wrote, “Identities become fluid and elective,” and if the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were a time of political and social “consolidation,” the dominant tendency now is toward “disaggregation.”

This is a big problem for self-government, since aggregating sustainable majorities is the first task of politicians in democratic countries. They are not doing a very good job, and the unfolding 2016 campaign doesn’t inspire much confidence that they’ll do better.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne@washpost.com. Twitter: @EJDionne. 

Photo: Keith Ivey via Flickr