News

Residents Demand Answers at Council Meeting on Police Killing of Sayed Faisal

News

Bob Odenkirk Named Hasty Pudding Man of the Year

News

Harvard Kennedy School Dean Reverses Course, Will Name Ken Roth Fellow

News

Ex-Provost, Harvard Corporation Member Will Investigate Stanford President’s Scientific Misconduct Allegations

News

Harvard Medical School Drops Out of U.S. News Rankings

Will Clinton Be America's Neil Kinnock?

By Kenneth A. Katz

ON THE Big issues, the Brits always seem to be a step ahead of us.

They were the ones, after all, who invented English and, with the Magna Carta in 1215, took the West's first small steps toward democracy.

They outlawed slavery in 1833, 30 years before Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. They took on Hitler in 1939, two years before Pearl Harbor woke this country up.

That's heady stuff. But it's also old stuff. Of more recent interest is the Brits' behavior at the voting booth since 1979.

That's when they catapulted Maggie Thatcher and her Conservative Party to a parliamentary majority in 1979, one year before Americans elected Ronald Reagan president. And while the Brits went for Thatcher twice-more over the next decade, we Americans followed them by re-electing Reagan in 1984 and then Bush in 1988.

And just last Thursday, they went for the Conservatives for the fourth straight election, keeping 10 Downing Street the home of Prime Minister John Major, Thatcher's successor as the Conservative Party leader.

By George, Bill Clinton should be shitting in his britches.

WITH BRITAIN mired in its biggest recession since the 1930s, the big election debate in 1992 centered on taxes and health care.

Neil Kinnock, leader of the Labor party, promised to increase public services by raising tax rates on the wealthy and to undo the Conservatives small market-oriented reforms in the National Health service. Major, on the other hand, told voters that Labor's proposed tax increase would inflict further damage on the economy and defended his government's health policies.

And while Britain's position on European integration had been the focus of much debate in recent years, foreign policy issues were hardly discussed in this year's campaign at all.

There was also the personal factor in the election. While personality was probably not as important as substantive economic issues, voters found Major dull though inoffensive, compared to the flamboyant Thatcher who had led the Conservatives to their past three election victories.

More importantly, though, voters were somewhat uncomfortable with Kinnock, who had in the 1980s led a party that advocated more radical left-wing positions--like hefty tax increases, nationalization of industries and unilateral nuclear disarmament--than it did this year.

And when the fat lady finally sang, the Conservatives got 336 seats and Labor 271 in the 651-member parliament. A handful of smaller parties took 25 seats between them.

In a post-election New York Times editorial, Anthony Lewis called Kinnock's record "historical baggage," writing that "perhaps it will just take time, and a new party leader to giver Labor the modern look of a European social democratic party."

The only other party that has a significant delegation in Parliament is the Liberal Democrats, who have 18 Members of Parliament. They actually received 18 percent of the popular vote, but Britain's electoral system, like America's, is not proportional. The top vote-getter in each district gets the seat in parliament.

The bottom line, of course, is that the Conservatives got another 5-year mandate from British voters.

SOUND FAMILIAR?

There's no question that the U.S. is in a recession. And there's precious little talk about foreign policy in this year's primary season, despite historic changes in the world and America's role in it over the last several years.

In terms of policy, Bill Clinton, who calls for a more active government than Reagan and Bush have, sounds at least a little like Kinnock (though not as much as Joe Biden did in 1988).

George Bush, meanwhile, is playing Major's role, trying to convince the public that the economy is recovering and defending the status quo legacy of his more charismatic predecessor.

In terms of personality, Clinton has a flowering reputation as the "scandal-a-week" candidate. Bush, like Major, is dull but inoffensive.

And let's not forget that billionaire H. Ross Perot could play the third-party foil in November, perhaps skimming votes from Clinton and preventing him from winning majorities in key states.

THE CASE, of course, should not be overstated. At least not too much. There are important differences.

While Kinnock would have raised taxes on the middle class, Clinton offers tax cuts. And where Kinnock calls for expanding a nationalized health system, Clinton favors a much more conservative plan which would broaden employers' burdens for providing employee health care.

And while questions of Kinnock's judgement stemmed form past political blunders, Clinton's come from largely unsubstantiated allegations about improper personal behavior. (The British aren't as puritan as we are. When it came out last month that Paddy Ashdown, the liberal Democratic leader, had committed adultery, his popularity ratings actually swelled.)

But the similarities between the two 1992 elections are striking. That's unfortunate for American.

Because while the British have sent a lot of good things to this side of the Atlantic over the past 500 years, we should remember that they've sent some bad ones, too--like the Redcoats at Lexington, the war of 1812 and Canada, among other things.

And a precedent that calls for four more years of George Bush would certainly be one of the worst.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Tags