It’s the brand, stupid

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The starter’s gun has sounded and the three main political parties in the United Kingdom are out of the starting blocks. Yesterday (April 6, 2010), Prime Minister Gordon Brown went to Buckingham Palace, “kissed hands” (the Queen’s) and asked Her Majesty for permission to dissolve Parliament in preparation for a May general election.

There is barely a cigarette paper between the three parties (incumbent Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats). All know and acknowledge that the UK economy is in tatters, and that the deficit (the gap between tax receipts and public expenditure) is, at 10 percent of GDP, vast. They differ on how quickly cuts to ‘front-line services’ (the National Health Service, education, welfare, the armed services, policing, etc.) should be made. The Conservatives insist that cuts must be immediate; the Lib Dems agree. Labour insists that sustained investment (also known as ‘borrowing’) must continue to stabilise the economy as it emerges from recession, only then can cuts take place. And because Labour has access to all the grisly details, who is to say they’re wrong?

As far as the public is concerned, such arguments are largely esoteric nuances of policy. We all know that we’re in a hole, and the question is: which party leader do we trust most to get us out?

Is it PM Gordon Brown, who years ago promised “no more boom and bust”? Is it the patrician David Cameron, leader of the Conservatives, briefly a PR man but who has spent most of his working life in politics? Or, is it the Lib Dems’ Nick Clegg, a man who “has risen without trace”?

Although unemployment has increased in the last couple of years, the Great British Public has so far been spared the worst ravages of recession.

They ain’t seen nothing yet.

Labour, during its 13 years in power, has added one million jobs to the public sector, a massive body of civil servants sustained in their extremely competitive salaries and copper-bottomed pensions by the taxpayer. They must hear the tumbrels rattling.

None of the combatants are saying where the axe will fall. They can’t because it would probably cause mass emigration. It is said that we get the government we deserve. All we can do is to trust our judgment in the personalities involved. Voting numbers have dropped in the last few elections and it is the absolute duty of all citizens to pluck up their courage, peel on the rubber glove and unblock the stoppage.

So, it’s down to personalities; will our Brown prevail? Can ‘Dandy Dave’ Cameron snatch it? Could Nick Clegg and his Lib Dems hold the balance of power? Leaving cynicism aside, it will be the party that most clearly and attractively enunciates its principles that will win. If this party can deliver against its promises and the economy turns the corner, then it can virtually guarantee re-election. This time around: it’s the brand, stupid.

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