What did Twitter make of the leaders’ debate?

April 16, 2010

History was made last night with Britain’s first televised political leaders’ debate, which was seen as an opportunity for Labour’s Gordon Brown, The Conservatives’ David Cameron and the Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg to stamp their authority on an election campaign that has so far failed to generate much excitement.

Briton contests election seat after winning competition

April 15, 2010

parliamentA drugs campaigner could arguably claim to be the most unusual prospective parliamentary candidate in the general election next month — he is running after winning a competition.

Will a Hung Parliament create a serious hangover for British business?

April 14, 2010

ParliamentElection day is fast approaching and with the poll gap narrowing between the Conservatives and Labour, there is a very real probability that the UK will end up with a hung parliament. For the first time since 1974, the UK may be left without clear political leadership.

Apathy in the UK – why Arabs take elections more seriously

April 9, 2010
By Mohammed Abbas Blood, bombs and sweat defined my time reporting on elections in the Middle East in recent years, so the shoulder shrugs and general apathy I’ve seen covering the build up to Britain’s national ballot next month has been quite a contrast. I’ve just returned from Iraq’s March parliamentary vote, where people braved bombs to cast their ballot, and I also remember Egypt’s 2005 national vote, where opposition voters faced down armed police blocking polling centres in their area. Reports emerged of some resourceful Egyptians even using ladders to climb in, avoiding a beating at the door. In Britain, “Don’t know, don’t care,” was a surprisingly common response to my questions on UK politics, as I trudged streets gauging public sentiment on what is supposed to be the most hotly contested UK ballot in more than a decade. In the Middle East, it’s hard to get people to stop talking. From road sweepers to housewives, everyone seems to have strong political views, many quite sophisticated and well informed. The murmur emanating from clouds of hookah pipe smoke at coffee shops is usually politics, and Arab political cartoons are mostly sharp and hilarious, and are widely traded via email. While many Britons are taught to avoid politics at the dinner table, for Arabs it’s the main course, and often dessert. If anyone should be sceptical and indifferent about elections, it should be people in the Middle East. Even if you don’t run the risk of being blown up or beaten for voting, then the ballot itself is often of questionable transparency and fairness, at least by Western standards. Middle Eastern elections have in many cases been brought in begrudgingly under Western pressure, and in a region rife with autocratic and dynastic rule, are designed to alter the status quo as little as possible. Yet in Egypt, I remember the sweat and nervous energy of a packed and raucous rally for presidential candidate Ayman Nour, his supporters hoping — in vain it turned out — to end President Hosni Mubarak’s decades-long iron grip on power. Nour came a distant second to Mubarak and was later jailed on forgery charges. Mubarak, 81, has been in power since 1981. In Bahrain, the Shi’ite Muslim majority flocked to election tents for polls that would barely dent the ruling Sunni royal family’s grip on the tiny Gulf island. So why this difference in attitude? Why in Britain, where a free media can indulge in lively and frank debate, does politics elicit a yawn, but more often scorn, and in the Middle East, where censors often quash political debate, is it a hot topic? A full and proper answer would probably require some sort of academic study. But I’ll take a guess at some reasons anyway. Firstly, for many Arab voters, the election issues are more profound. In Britain, you’re asked to choose between parties for and against raising a payroll tax by a penny in the pound. But in Iraq, for example, you could be mulling which party is least likely to revive the sectarian bloodshed that resulted in the murder of several relatives a few years ago. Another reason, possibly, is that people in the Middle East have a stronger stomach for dirty politics. British scandals over politicians’ expense claims — for a bath plug, television, or at most, housing worth tens of thousands of pounds — have disgusted the UK electorate and turned many off politics. But in the Middle East, citizens are used to leaders spending millions on palaces, luxury cars, personal islands and planes. In a region where the rise to the top is likely to have been bloody or involved opaque and less than savoury back room deals, spending habits aren’t really that big of a deal. Or it could simply be that elections are still relatively novel in the Arab world, and subsequent ballots will see diminishing enthusiasm and participation. In Iraq, the buzz last month for the country’s second full national vote since the fall of Saddam seven years ago was noticeably more subdued than in the first ballot in 2005. Disillusioned Iraqis told me they would not vote because after voting in 2005, they found that politicians lied, were corrupt and were more interested in power and battling each other than fixing Iraq’s myriad problems. Maybe Iraqi and British voters aren’t so different after all?

ballotBlood, bombs and sweat defined my time reporting on elections in the Middle East in recent years, so the shoulder shrugs and general apathy I’ve seen covering the build up to Britain’s national ballot next month have been quite a contrast.

Once a prince of darkness, now loving the limelight

By Estelle Shirbon
April 7, 2010

BRITAIN-ELECTION/“Enjoy it!” That was the message from Peter Mandelson to Labour supporters this morning as he launched a vitriolic attack on the Conservatives during a speech in central London, clearly relishing every minute of it. Once nicknamed the “prince of darkness” for his ability to mastermind Labour’s strategy from behind the scenes, Mandelson has transformed into the party’s best public performer.

Taking Twitter’s political temperature

April 6, 2010

Britain’s first live television debates between the leaders of the three mainstream political parties are not the only new feature to add spice to the upcoming general election, which Prime Minister Gordon Brown today announced will be held on May 6.

Political theatre unfolds according to script

By Estelle Shirbon
April 6, 2010

BRITAIN-ELECTION/There was a big fuss but no suspense this morning outside Number 10 Downing Street. In what has become a typical pattern in the world of 24-hour news, media organisations had been briefed in advance on the content and the choreography of Gordon Brown’s election announcement. This was the ultimate scripted, pre-packaged news event.

Budget for votes riskily delays UK debt pain

March 25, 2010

BRITAIN-BUDGET/– The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

from The Great Debate UK:

Tariq Ali on how unions fare under Labour rule

March 22, 2010

Amid a stand-off between British Airways and the Unite union, the Labour Party's main financial supporter, Prime Minister Gordon Brown called a planned strike by BA cabin crew workers "unjustified and deplorable" last week and said both sides should return to talks.

Brown takes a different tack on Iraq

March 5, 2010

BrownInquiryTony Blair said he had no regrets about removing Saddam Hussein when he ended his session before the Chilcot inquiry in January. Gordon Brown, not surprisingly, took a different approach.