Nick Clegg

Britain’s retreat from military intervention in Syria has no proud author. The parliamentary vote that apparently settled the matter was a humiliation for the Prime Minister but also a shock to those who humiliated him.

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At home, Barack Obama is waging a battle against Republicans who want to slash the budget. Why has his campaign manager gone to Britain to work for a pol who's doing the same thing?

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For Bismarck, politics was the art of the possible, while Napoleon would always ask of any general, “But is he lucky?” Put the two together and we can see politics as a game somewhere between chess and poker. Any politician has to gamble and take risks. He needs judgment, he needs nerve, but he also needs luck. Over the first weekend of May last year, Nick Clegg showed considerable skill in playing a poor hand. The voters had just delivered a somewhat oracular verdict in the British general election.

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Tory Story

On Friday, May 7, for the first time since 1974, we woke up the morning after the British election and didn’t know who our prime minister would be. No party had won an absolute majority, and so, for a period that a BBC-TV documentary has dubbed the "Five Days that Changed Britain," Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, held the balance of power and negotiated with Gordon Brown, who was still entrenched as prime minister, and the Conservative leader, David Cameron. Finally, the Tories cut a deal with Clegg.

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Oh Brother

Two days after the British general election, Alan Watkins died. He was the doyen of London political columnists, after nearly half a century of writing weekly, wisely, and wittily about Parliament, and the Tories (his book, A Conservative Coup, is the best account of the fall of Margaret Thatcher), but, above all, the Labour Party, which he knew intimately.

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WASHINGTON—Britain produced an electoral earthquake all right, but not the one so many expected. The real lessons have less to do with two-party systems than with how economic change has challenged old strategies on both the right and the left. The Conservatives under David Cameron came in first with the most votes and the most seats.

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So what happens now? That's the question Britain asks itself this morning. It would have been easier to answer if the country had managed to make its mind up yesterday. but for the first time since 1974, a British general election has produced no winner, only multiple losers. Gordon Brown remains prime minister for now but his credibility is destroyed and it seems most unlikely that the country would wear any coalition deal he cobbled together.

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Oh, one more thing about that Mark Penn: In noting all the wrong things about his op-ed, I left out this part: Thursday's elections in Britain could be a harbinger of what is likely to come to America in the not-too-distant future: new movements and even parties that shake up the political system. Cleggmania shows that even the most tradition-bound electoral systems are facing the pressures of rapid change made possible by modern communications. ... In Britain, the scandal over parliamentary expenses and frustration with the economy produced great demand for new choices.

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Unequivocally, the British public has voted for equivocation.

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So what has the British election been about anyway? The answer isn’t flattering to Brits.

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