Falling For the Myth of Cleggmania

Why American liberals got the British election so wrong


Wow, some of you Americans really got the British election wrong.

Reading the frequently frenzied pre-election commentary of America's liberal hacks, you could be forgiven for thinking that Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, was about to win over the British public, demolish the old establishment, and institute a new politics that was fresh-faced, people-oriented, and all about creating a shiny, happy, progressive future.

They couldn't have been more wrong. If they had thrown dice to decide the winner of the election, or had consulted some mad tarot reader in Brooklyn to find out what might happen, they wouldn't have been more wrong than they were, and might accidentally have been more right.

The polar opposite of their predictions occurred: Clegg's Liberal Democrats lost seats in the election, and now, far from leading Britain towards a progressive new dawn, Clegg has been holed up in shut-off, secretive, and principle-free deal-making sessions which have made him deputy prime minister in a Conservative administration.

Many of America's journalists achieved schoolgirl levels of overexcitement in relation to Clegg, whose Liberal Democrats are Britain's third-largest party, after the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. In the run-up to the election on May 6 (under a real suck-up of a headline: "Britain is lucky to have Nick Clegg in the race for prime minister") Katrina Vanden Heuvel of The Nation boasted that Clegg had once interned at her magazine (in 1990) and is now being compared to "Winston Churchill, Barack Obama, Princess Diana, Tony Blair, and even Jesus."

Vanden Heuvel claimed that Clegg had "buoyantly axed the political establishment and the status quo" and said "his strong populist message… has made [him] a feisty contender." If a doctor offered such a wrongheaded diagnosis of the future health of a patient, he'd be sacked for gross misconduct. Clegg proved not to be a serious contender, with his party losing four seats on election night, and he has now thrown what electoral weight he has behind a power-sharing deal with what vanden Heuvel describes as "the political establishment." Far from axing it, Clegg is a fully fledged member of it.

Vanden Heuvel should be worried about her magazine's fortunes over here. Pre-election she gleefully claimed that Saint Nick and his party "sometimes seem to be channeling Nation editorials" in their various policy promises. Well, on election night the vast majority of British voters rejected Clegg and his policies—which means we probably wouldn't much enjoy The Nation either.

Over at Slate, Anne Applebaum suffered from a bad bout of premature speculation, arguing on April 26 that Clegg looked set to be "the beneficiary of the biggest British voters' revolution in decades." Oops.

She argued that Clegg represented "an unthinkable, revolutionary change." The use of the word revolution twice in one article is not only unnecessarily breathless—it also shows how cut off many of America's commentators are from real life in Britain, where there wasn't even any electoral enthusiasm, far less revolutionary fervor, for Clegg's party.

Three weeks before the election, The New York Times reproduced the British Guardian's mock-up of Clegg's face on the famous Obama/Hope poster and claimed that Clegg's party represents a "genuine threat" to politics-as-we-know-it in the UK. The paper listed five similarities between Clegg and Obama, bowing to claims in the British media that Clegg is the "new Obama" who could overhaul "the old politics."

We now know that there is one important difference between Obama and Clegg: Obama won a clear mandate from the American people, whereas Clegg got the backing of a measly 15 percent of all eligible British voters.

On April 29, The Los Angeles Times gushed over Clegg as if he were a rock star. Britain has gone "Clegg crazy," it claimed. Clegg was "a comet that no one had predicted would burn so bright" and he might "alter the character of British politics forever." There must be red faces in L.A. today. Clegg turned out to be more of an asteroid than a comet, crashing down to Earth (but not leaving a very big dent.)

It's worth spelling out just how wrong these underpants-wetting reports were. Far from leading a voters' revolution, the Liberal Democrats lost seats under Clegg's tenure. They won 61 in the 2005 election, when Charles Kennedy was their leader, and 57 last week, with Clegg as their leader. The Lib Dems won 23 percent of all votes cast on Thursday, and because of the low voter turnout (which was just 65 percent) this means they won the support of only 15 percent of all British adults eligible to vote. They remain the third party, very much a minority force.

And far from smashing the "old politics," Clegg has now entered into a coalition with the right-wing Conservative Party, which has agreed to make him deputy prime minister. In return for this privilege, Clegg agreed to ditch what The Nation and others hailed as his "progressive" policies, including his plan for a "mansion tax" on properties costing more than £2 million, his opposition to Britain's Trident nuclear-missile system, and his opposition to a cap on immigration from outside the European Union.

It is not Clegg's electoral clout that has elevated him to the position of deputy prime minister in a Conservative administration—rather it is the weakness of the other two parties. Labour lost 91 seats last Thursday, taking them to 258. And while the Conservatives won an extra 97, taking them up to 306, that was not enough to pass the threshold required to form a majority government (which stands at 326 seats.) And so, by default, Clegg, the not-very-popular leader of a minority party, wielded king-making powers. He did the political equivalent of a striptease to try to entice one of the two morally-exhausted big parties to bring him and some of his friends into government, finally managing to win over the Conservatives. Progressive? Yeah, right.

How did American observers get it so wrong? I call it the Richard Curtis Effect—what happens when you allow your view of Britain to be determined by the outpourings of Britain's middle-class liberal elite.

Just as Richard Curtis's execrable films—from Notting Hill to Love, Actually—have convinced some Americans that Britain is always covered in snow and is packed with posh white people with floppy hair who say "fuck" all the time (and no blacks at all), so the British liberal media's Clegg-obsessed coverage of the election made some Americans think that normal, everyday Brits were enamoured by Clegg, too. But we weren't.

Cleggmania was a pathological condition amongst Britain's leading liberal commentators, who hate the "tribalism" of the old two-party system and who long for someone nice, charming, and polite (like Clegg!) to push forward a new, more agreeable and more sedate form of politics. They anointed Clegg their Messiah—and their colleagues in the U.S. fell into line, drank the Clegg-flavoured Kool Aid, and didn't think to ask ordinary Britons what they actually thought. If they had, they might have discovered that we thought: "Clegg? Whatever."

Brendan O'Neill is editor of spiked in London.

NEXT: Elena Kagan on Free Speech, Executive Power, and Judicial Restraint

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  1. I believe not but two or three weeks ago, NPR was making breathless references to “Cleggmania” sweeping Britain.

    1. What I remember is this horseshit from Moynihan about how Republicans ought to follow Cameron’s example by abandoning social conservatism because that’s the way to win big. Now Cameron’s barely limped across the finishing line and is facing a hung parliament, primarily because everyone else running for his position was even worse.

      Wonderful advice, Moynihan! While you’re at it, why don’t you just perform a testectomy on yourself; according to you, that should really help you win big! Moynihan, you got some ‘splainin to do!

      1. …is facing a hung parliament…

        That’s a feature, not a bug. Alas, if only our Congress was as immobile maybe the horrendous pack of lies that is the “revolutionary” “affordable” “health”-“care” act could have been stillborn.

        1. Did I mention Moynihan’s man-whoring buddies got some ‘splainin to do about their voting records as well? Don’t forget to thank them for preferring revenge on Republicans (for mostly imaginary crimes, I might add) over your liberty. (Maybe we could’ve filibustered it if we’d had a few more votes, eh?)

          Also, you fail history forever, fascist: the proto-losertardians of the 1800s were all in favor of legalized slavery (the “peculiar institution”) for the very same reasons you Hussein-fellating faggots are in favor of legalized and subsidized infanticide (“reproductive rights”) today: because it contributed to the “liberty” of the oppressors (and mass murderers). Whenever it comes down to a clash between the “right” to oppress other people and the right to be free from such oppression, you cruel bastards pick the oppressors’ “rights” every time.

          1. Your argument comes down to calling us racists. Just the modern day equivalent of witch hunting.

            I happen to strongly agree with you about “reproductive rights,” but that doesn’t change the fact that libertarians are correct about economics and civil rights. In any case there are pro-life libertarians.

          2. Actually, classical liberals (the libertarians of the day) were the opponents of slavery. Our intellectual ancestors systematically stamped the scourge of slavery out of the civilized world. The same people presided over the transformation of the United States from a middling, though large in size, nation to one whose massively growing economic power exceeded that of the grandest empires.

            Long live liberty, and long live spontaneous order! No metazoan aware of his origin would oppose it! 🙂

      2. It’s “orchiectomy,” if you’re looking for the procedure of removing testicles.

    2. This is kind of off-topic, but is anybody else as sick as I am the red/blue/purple three color portraits? Andy Warhol obviously hasn’t been dead long enough.

      1. im fine with them, just as long its only used for the likes of Hitler, Stalin, or Pol Pot

        1. Andy fucking Warhol. Don’t get me started.

      2. The first time I saw the red/blue Obama picture I immediately thought of USSR propaganda posters… I actually thought that they were being distributed by republicans with the intent of reminding voters that Obama was basically a smiley-faced communist. I was a bit disappointed when I learned that they were legitimate Obama campaign posters meant to instill a feeling of bi-partisan spirit.

  2. Yep, I knew I wasn’t imagining it.

    Conservative Party’s David Cameron in Britain’s first-ever televised debate on April 15, Clegg and his party have surged in the polls and media attention, creating, as one British reporter described it, “the hysterical condition known as Cleggmania.” But in this case, the mania is backed up by hard facts. According to a YouGov poll for the Sun, the party is leading with, as the newspaper put it, “a staggering 33 per cent.” This is the first time the Lib Dem party has been in the lead in a general-election race in 104 years.

  3. Here’s the one I meant to link.

    Image counting for much in this campaign, it took just two broadcasts ? seen by millions ? to upend all political expectations and make Clegg a credible alternative to the heavyweights. Words like kingmaker, Cleggstacy and Cleggmania surfaced among the chattering classes.

    1. Not to be confused with Robyn Hitchcock and The Egyptians’ still-great Fegmania!

  4. I am failing to see what the hell the difference is between Labor and the Liberal Democrats.

    Of course i am having a nearly equal problem of seeing the difference between the conservatives and labor.

    I guess what i am saying is that what the fuck.

    Note: I would like a good examination of the differences but please no references to some bullshit like the conservatives are like moderate democrats and that England’s political system is to the left of the US. We all know that is bullshit so please do not embarrass yourself.

    1. Labour sucks up to labor unions. Liberal Democrats sucks up to what, in America, is the rest of the Democratic party coalition, in particular well-to-do liberal elites.

      1. Right. Largely due to its support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the war on terror, Labour lost a lot of its backing from the urban media/academic elites and from minorities (particularly the large Muslim minorities), most of which went to the Lib Dems. For instance, the Guardian, the newspaper of record for the left-leaning elites, endorsed the LibDems rather than Labour. Labour has largely been reduced to its white, working class northern England core.

        1. the lib dems were a combination of the old [classical] Liberal Party, which fell into third place with the emergence of Labour in the turn of the 18th/ 19th century, and the Social Dems. Its an odd coalition. But in theory the lib dems differ from labour in that labour loves the nanny state and the welfare state while the lib dems hate the nanny state but still love the welfare state. The lib dems also like free trade. In my opinion they are a marginal improvment over labour and a torie libdem coalition is about as best as one can hope for in Britain. In political coalitions, as mentioned prior, the libdems largely have sucked up to the urban doucheoisie while labor has your oldschool blue collor socialist types.

          1. “doucheoisie” –
            That is beautiful

    2. UK Political Parties:

      See if this clears anything up:


      1. It helped me realize why the UK is so fucked up…

        1. Take their test for even more evidence of your conclusion.

          The so-called Conservative Party of the UK is to the “left” (i.e., more statist) of the US Democratic Party in almost every area of domestic policy. Yet the “political compass” puts them just two notches from the extreme far right on the economic dimension of political opinion. The Scotish Socialist Party, which is out-and-out Marxist, is three notches right of the extreme far left. The positioning of the dots on the graph need to be moved 3 to 6 places to the left.

          1. Why are so using the term “to the left” as synonymous with more statist? That’s not what it means.

  5. Corporal Clegg has a wooden leg.

    1. Ha! I knew that name sounded familiar.

  6. Liberals remind me of people standing on a beach a day before a cat five hurricane hits admiring the waves off shore. The gig is up. Greece is broke. Spain and the UK and most of the rest of Europe are not far behind. And the US will follow that in short order if nothing is done. The big post world war two European style social welfare state is kaput. The system cannot sustain itself. The system and pretty much everything they hold dear is going to end and be replaced. Yet, they listen to NPR and read their NYT and convince themselves that it is still 1968 and there is reason to think this shit will work.

    Enjoy the pretty waves liberals because they are coming for you.

    1. The big post world war two European style social welfare state is kaput. The system cannot sustain itself. The system and pretty much everything they hold dear is going to end and be replaced.

      France, Germany, and most of the Nordic countries still seem stable enough and I’d hardly call them bastions of capitalism. Perhaps because their welfare state actually controls its spending vs. the US, UK, Greece, Italy, Spain, etc…

      1. The Nordic countries have made serious reforms. See e.g. our very own Reason

        REASON TV: Sweden’s March Towards Capitalism. “Bergh says that despite popular mythology, Sweden is not a socialist success story but instead owes its economic growth to the lowered tax rates and deregulation of the early 1990s, which allowed innovation and investment to flourish. Bergh also discusses how Sweden’s national voucher program revitalized the country’s educational system and warns that Americans who are hoping to emulate Swedish success by growing the public sector are learning the wrong lessons from Sweden.”


        The Nordic countries have done things that current liberal Dems would never stand for. If you follow the big government, big public sector big welfare state model, you go broke. How many times does that have to happen before liberals stop denying reality?

        1. And Germany and France?

          I think the main difference is that somehow their governments have been able to rein in the costs of their welfare and healthcare state whereas we continue to expand the costs without regard to how to pay for it.

          1. Re: Lost_In_Translation,

            And Germany and France?

            They were sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g, until economic reality broke their branch . . .

          2. France is almost constantly having to reform their different social programs due to costs. Germany is better off, but mostly due to it’s treatment of business, most notably the way they tax. Rather than putting the full weight of taxes on business and the high earners, they spread it out more evenly across the population. In other words, they take from all to give to all. While we in the US take from a few and basically toss it in the air and let the wind (read: special interests) do it’s thing.

            P.S. Population and Geography cannot be underestimated. (remember, ‘all roads lead to Paris’)

            1. One might also take into account that both France and Germany fit snuggly under our military umbrella, allowing them to put more money into social programs and less into national defense. If we pulled our troops out of europe and made them defend themselves, their happy-faced-fascism would sink into default quite rapidly.

              1. Exactly.

                The European welfare state model that liberals over here are so fond of is entirely dependent on the existence of some external power (the United States) providing for their defense.

                Not a single one of them would ever be in existence today as an independent nation state if the United States had not been providing them with military protection welfare ever since the end of WW2.

              2. That’s hardly their doing. We’ve taken it upon ourselves to fight in afghanistan and iraq and convinced ourselves that if we don’t fight terrorism, no one will. No reason they have to foot the bill. So maybe that’s a reason, but maybe that’s a lesson we need to learn. Bankrupting ourselves to fight others wars is probably not a good thing to do.

                1. “That’s hardly their doing.”

                  I didn’t say they asked for it, only that they are benefiting from it.

            2. You simply lie about US tax policy. Why are you ignorning payroll, sales and property taxes, all of which are regressive and together eliminate most of the progressivity of the income tax. Our TOTAL tax system is only mildly progessive, with the top 20% giving a little bit to the bottom 40%.

              1. Our TOTAL tax system is only mildly progessive, with the top 20% giving a little bit to the bottom 40%.

                I’m wading into the depth of the intellect in this statement and my toes are not even wet.

              2. How is property tax regressive?

                1. Let’s see. The average schmuck owns as house worth, what, 2-3 times his annual income. How much house does Warren Buffet own? Certainly not several times his annual income’s worth.

                  1. How do you change that? Make houses priced according to the buyers net worth or do you tax on a exponential scale and risk people in the future being caught in a AMT type trap

                  2. So in order to be “progressive,” property taxes would be based on the income of the owner, not on the value of the property? Nonsense. You’re just showing how the pursuit of “progressiveness” results in absurdities. (Or would you advocate ending all sales and property taxes and replacing them with state and local income taxes?)

                    A truly regressive form of property tax would be to have a flat (say) $5000/year tax for any property. That would shaft small homeowners and benefit the rich. Then you’d have a legit gripe. But a tax based on the value of the property is a huge step away from that, yet is in practice relatively simple to administer and widely considered fair. (The basic principle, not the particular property tax rate.) Same with sales taxes: by nature it’s already moderately progressive: rich people buy more stuff and pay more tax.

                    1. Papaya: ever heard of homestead tax credits? Many states have them. They are rebates in your state income tax for part of your property tax on your primary residence. They are income based, and the top 10-40% typically do not qualify. These effectively reduce the regressivity of property taxes.

                      The data is a bit old, but it hasn’t really changed since this chart was made.


                      States which do not have income taxes (which are almost always progressive) usually have terribly regressive overall tax structures. Washington state at one point had an estimated 17% net tax rate for the poorest quintile and a 3% net tax rate for the very rich!

                    2. Yeah, property taxes are fair. Paying rent to stay on your own land is morally acceptable

              3. Do you expect me to believe that the rich don’t pay more in all three of the taxes you mentioned? Payroll taxes are business taxes and not many (if any) poor people pay that tax. Sales and property taxes vary state to state and, sorry to burst your bubble, but the rich do buy more products (pay more sales taxes) and own more property (pay more more in property taxes) Furthermore i made no claim that the rich’s money goes to the poor (though in some cases it is undeniable) i made the claim that special interests receive the money. and these interests range from agriculture to wall street to unions to academia to Pharma to insurance to banks to real-estate to arms-manufacturers, community organizations and oh yea poor people.

                Seriously Chad…WTF?

                1. You seem to be confused. Regressive does not mean that the rich pay less, it means they pay a smaller fraction of their income. Yes, Bill Gates pays more sales tax than me. But despite making 1000 times what I do, he does not pay 1000 times the sales tax. The same is true for housing. Bill Gates, for example, pays about $1 million in property tax each year, while the average person pays perhaps $2500. Yet BG makes far more than 400 times what the average person does.

                  1. I think your definition of regressive is faulty. Everyone paying the same is not regressive. It is flat. A head tax would be a flat tax, not a regressive tax. (everyone pays $100, regardless)

                    A simple income or sales tax would be progressive. Say, 10% income tax. This is not regressive. This is an evenly progressive tax. Everyone pays the same percentage. Warren Buffet makes 1,000 times what you make, he pays 1,000 times what you pay. That is perfectly progressive. Sales tax works the same way, excepting that once you have passed your minimum living requirements you don’t have to buy anything else, so you don’t have to pay the tax. It is still progressive – If I spend more than you, I pay more.

                    A mixed progressive tax would be the Social Security payroll tax. It is progressive up to about $100k, then you don’t have to pay any more. After that it is flat, not regressive.

                    A regressive tax would be one that impacts the poor more than the wealthy, such as taxing the first 100k of income at 10%, but reducing the rate on that first 100k as you begin to make over $150k.

                    There really isn’t such a thing as a truly regressive tax. Sales/VAT taxes are the closest thing we are going to get, as compared to an income tax.

                    Our current system is triple-progressive (and inherently unstable). Not only does each successive income bracket pay more, they pay more as a percentage, and then the lower brackets get more write-offs that sunset as income increases. This is inherently unstable because as the percentage in the lower bracket approaches zero (and in our case goes significantly below zero), and as the size of that bracket grows – all restraints on spending and taxation are removed. With half of all eligible voters in the US paying little or no income taxes, the tipping point is now. You can see the result in our willingness to accept government officials talking about nationalizing healthcare, national databases of various sorts, increasing govt. pensions… all of this is related to the disconnect between the voter and the person cutting the checks.

                    1. No, Beavis. My definition is the one everyone but you uses.

                      If Buffet makes a thousand times and pays a thousand times what I do, that is a flat tax. If he pays more than that, it is progressive. Less, regressive. If he pays the SAME as I do, it is a head tax.

                      You can’t simply re-write definitions whenever you want to.

                      From the first link that comes up when you type “progressive tax definition” into google:

                      “A tax system in which those who earn higher incomes pay a higher percentage of their income than those with lower incomes”

                      Our current system is barely progressive at all.

        2. I support vouchers. Always have and probably always will.

          What were you saying about us liberal Democrats?

          1. You’re a rare breed Chad…

            1. You’re a rare breed Chad…


              He may as well be saying that he supports drug legalization. Meaningless in its intent.

              1. You are right, I support drug legalization too.

                Man, it is fun not being held to a childish ideology, and rather simply choosing whatever works.

                1. You are right, I support drug legalization too.

                  And you showed your support by voting for Obama who has done nothing for drug legalization.

                  simply choosing whatever works.

                  How are those bail outs, car manufacture nationalization, and Keynesian economic policies that have produced over 9% unemployment a lengthened recession and looming inflation working for you?

                  1. Saying I support something doesn’t imply that I consider it important to pursue at the moment. Health care, financial reform and climate are the three issues that need attention first.

                    The fact that we are not in the midst of the second depression shows how well everything your list worked. The economy started improving almost exactly the moment Obama came in and your ideology was pushed aside. Go figure that you, in your infinite cognative dissonance, can see that as proof of the exact opposite.

                    1. “The economy started improving almost exactly the moment Obama came in and your ideology was pushed aside.”


                      Is this the real Chad or a spoofer?

                      That one was over the top.

            2. You’re a rare Don’t breed Chad…


          2. Re: Chad,

            I support vouchers. Always have and probably always will.

            I support coupons – always have and always will, because they exist out of voluntarism, unlike vouchers, which are funded by stolen money.

            What were you saying about us liberal Democrats?

            Poeple that advocate for the forcefull taking of at least 33% of our productive efforts to give “back” to “society” are NOT liberal democrats; they are Statists. Use the proper terms, please.

            1. I regard vouchers as the least evil of all politically feasible options.

            2. I finally figured out your political philosophy, OM. Your plan seems to be that all the feral, uneducated children will kill and eat all starving, sick old people, after you eliminate both public education and social security.

              Hell, good libertarian entrepreneurs will probably sell tickets to the slaughters!

              1. Ah, nothing like calm, rational debates!

                1. There is nothing rational about throwing millions of people to the wolves, and pretending it just won’t be a problem.

                  1. It’s not a problem for the people not getting eaten by wolves. So there’s no pretending.

                  2. What pisses me off is that the Chads of the world have created a situation which has resulted in millions of people being vunerable and dependent. So in addition to the other loathesome results of these entitlements (i.e., a ruination of the work ethic, a disincentive to be a self-determinate person, broken families, demographic and class strife and eventual national financial armageddon) these assholes present us with the the absolute dependence of so many and say “if you reform our mess, you will be killing these poor souls.” Fuck you Chad and all your fellow travelers!

                    1. considering we have had a welfare state for a good 80 years now and we spend multitudes more per capita on inflation adjusted basis that we had before, if would be nice if the chads of the world would show us all the progress once in while. Even if you still dotn agree with the philosphy behind a welfare state, wouldnt it be nice to have its proponents explain to us exactly how it has imporved things so greatly over the years? Has education improved so much over the last decades as we spend 4 times more than we used to? What about poverty? Any less of it? Is healthcare mroe accessable than it was?

                    2. its amazing that lefties can get away with simultaneously telling us that the poor are getting poorer and the middle class is getting squeezed while at the same we keep spending mroe and more on social programs. either 1. the first claim is incorrect or 2. the welfare state has either made it worse or at the very least failed to prevent it from getting worse.

                    3. Everything is better, just look at all those happy check recipients! We have 10 times as many people getting checks from the government – that’s progress! Everyone is for progress, right?!? Get with the program, the progressive movement has the wind at its back!

        3. When the shit hits the fan, they’ll try a new flavor of collectivism.

          The way socialism replaced communism, and then democratic socialism replaced ordinary socialism.

          3,447 different flavors of collectivism to go before they all get discredited.

          1. But they’ll never get discredited, that’s the whole point of the continual rebranding. 1) “This isn’t that discredited socialism stuff, it’s ‘liberalism’!” 2) “This isn’t that discredited liberalism stuff, it’s “progressivism’!” Rinse and repeat.

            1. They were “progressives” before they were liberals.

              When ordinary folks discovered that “progressive” really meant obnoxiously meddling socialist, they changed their name to “liberal”, thereby usurping the good name of liberalism. Eventually Rush Limbaugh and the Republicans started using “liberal” as an invective and folks learned that liberal meant obnoxious meddling socialist. So now “liberals” call themselves progressive. But they are still the same obnoxious, meddling socialists.

      2. “Perhaps because their welfare state actually controls its spending”

        And good luck controlling a welfare state’s spending. You will need it.

        1. All I’m saying is that what’s appeared to have occurred. Maybe their citizens demand less free shit and accept less than no expense spared healthcare, I don’t know, but it appears to be working. Everywhere else, people seem to be demanding their cake and wanting to eat it too.

          1. You are right, LoT. Europe is largely run by grown-ups who have serious discussions about trade-offs.

            Our government is controlled by corporations and children who want everything for nothing, and pretend that it will all work out.

            1. Our government is controlled by corporations and children who want everything for nothing, and pretend that it will all work out.

              And the European governments are not?

              1. No, they are not.

                If you do not realize this, it is only because their adult discussions go right over your head.

                1. Like Greece, right?

                  1. Like Germany, France, and all of Scandanavia.

                    1. Of course, their “adult” nanny-states have turned them into spineless, non-reproducing Eloi, which means their language and cultures will disappear in a few generations, to be replaced by Muslims and Sharia law, but other than that they’re in great shape!

                    2. All of whom have spent the last several decades with lower employment, lower productivity and lower freedom than the US. Plus, a nation the size of Vermont cannot be compared to a nation the size of the US. We could cherry-pick a few select areas here that are more (or less) successful than those countries in the best of times. It is no coincedence that following the Bush massive expansion of government and with the Obama double-down on expansion we are seeing the brakes thrown on growth and opportunity. That’s how you strangle the golden goose.

      3. France, Germany, and most of the Nordic countries still seem stable enough and I’d hardly call them bastions of capitalism.

        No, this is stable enough:


        Germany and France have to contend with the fact that the Euro is now toilet paper . . . pretty toilet paper, but toilet paper nonetheless.


        1. it is still above the dollar ya know

          1. For now, and only because our wonderful Fed chief tripled M0 in the space of a year.

            I’m rooting for a quick crash in the Euro. The folks are going to France in June…

          2. it is still above the dollar ya know

            It is completely irrelevant what the value of a unit of one currency is in relation to a unit of another currentcy. What matters is the relative value compared to what the value was at some point in the past. Is it value going up or down. The absolute value is meaningless. What was the value of the Euro compared to the dollar 5 or 10 years ago?

      4. I live in Germany. It’s anything but stable, well, unless you mean absolute stagnation and a flood of skilled workers out of the country to Switzerland and the US. Everyone is pissed about Greece b/c Germany has no money, either. There is no economic growth b/c of oppressive taxation. Even the French here complain about it, and that’s saying something. But, yes, Germany is in deep trouble economically, especially with this euro crisis and printing money like crazy to pay off the German banks that were subsidizing Greece’s debt.

        1. As I understand it, you also have a younger generation that pines for the romance of the GDR.

          1. Some German contractors recently installed a new system for me at our power plant. The guys were from the former GDR, and they told me a little bit about the wage discrepancies between East and West Germany. Basically they get paid at a steep discount below the former West Germans. Evidently, the phased merging and equalization of pay rates etc. is not going well and is a source of much strife. The Easterners feel like they’re under the thumb of the Westerners and they don’t hold much hope of escaping it. Of course, this is exactly a result of this process being managed by the German government rather than free market competition for labor and capital within the country.

    2. I listen to NPR and read the NYT. Strangely, I haven’t read or heard anything to make me think it’s 1968. Actually, lately I’ve mostly heard about Greece, Spain and the UK being broke.

  7. Right after Obama was elected, I talked to even some pro-freedom/limited government British friends who were enthusiastic about Obama, as they were sick of Bush era antics.

    But now that we’ve had a couple of years of it, everyone is much more back to earth.

    The results of the British elections show that no one was really enthused about anyone.

    1. I have some friends like that. And they had no illusions about Obama. They looked at Obama as an American Tony Blair. And thought it nice revenge on Americans for liking Tony Blair while Blair did everything he could to turn the UK into a leftist police state. They had no good hopes for Obama and have been proven right I think.

      1. “a leftist police state” – really?!

        It’s certainly become a virtual police state (soon to be rectified by the new coalition govt.), but Tony Blair was definitely not leftist considering his embracing of many free-market aspects of Thatcherism.

  8. I am failing to see what the hell the difference is between Labor and the Liberal Democrats.

    Labour has a few vestigial working-class brutes who came up through, uh, labour (the organization of it, not the doing of it), and the Lib-Dems are all posh twats with glowing teeth.

    It’s about like the difference between the Clinton administration and Obama’s: Jocelyn Elders types aren’t allowed anymore. LibDem does whatever the British version of the “paper bag test” is.

    1. “Lib-Dems are all posh twats with glowing teeth.”



      1. As an American, I wish I could get these jokes.

      2. As an American into awesome television I salute you

    3. the Lib-Dems are all posh twats with glowing teeth.

      LibDem does whatever the British version of the “paper bag test” is.

      Wow they actually have a political party for that?

      I always wondered why dems who have so many conflicting groups in their ranks ever get along…and assumed it was a bad thing created by our two party system. But if the libdem labor split is the expected result perhaps i need to reevaluate my assumptions.

      1. Wait–Dems get along? When did that happen?

    4. Until the 1920s, the Liberals were actually classical liberals. Once they were eclipsed as a major party by Labour after World War I, they executed a me-too move to the left, where they’ve been ever since. They merged with the Social Democrats in 1988.

      The main difference between Labour and the Lib Dems is that the latter is much stronger on civil liberties, while Labour seems to want to cover the entire country with surveillance cameras.

    5. What’s the paper bag test? Is that like the Serfs breath test from SCTV, where you put the bag over your head?

  9. Hey dude, I know it’s cool to be snotty about Americans and all but this American watched your coverage of the election as well as ours, and your pundits all overestimated Lib Dem support just as much as we did.

    Find me one person in Britain who successfully predicted that the Lib Dems would LOSE seats after Clegg’s debate bumps. Go ahead, I’ll be right here in my cowboy boots.

    1. Yeah, second that emotion. You say in your article that the BRITISH press was all up in “Cleggmania” and cite a poll showing them in the lead, but somehow the American press were at fault for getting all this wrong? Seems to me that some swing voters in Britain got all excited about Clegg after the first debate but changed their mind by the time the election rolled around.

  10. Let me say I think this analysis is rather poor. To make his point the author notes the Lib Dems lost seats. True, but their percentage of the vote went up?something he neglected to mention entirely. They gained 1% at the polls, Labour lost over 6% and the Tories gained almost 4 %.

    In addition the American left was silly to get too excited for Clegg. He is one of the more free market types in the party and one of the authors of the famed Orange Book promoting market solutions. Clegg is more libertarian than any Lib Dem leader in recent memory.

    Also it wasn’t the US press that got it wrong. They reported precisely what the UK press reported as well. After the first debate Clegg rose substantially in the polls. But people retreated when faced with the reality of the UKs voting system that hurts smaller parties, making it hard for them to win seats. We see the same effect in the US for third party candidates?support declines when it comes to voting day.

    The system is so skewed the Lib Dems got one seat in parliament for each 140,000 votes they received. For Labour it was closer to one seat per every 33,000 votes. The system hurts third parties, as it does in the US, though not as much so.This libertarian would have voted for Clegg before Cameron given the choice.

    I never took spiked seriously when I read it, and don’t take the editor seriously now. Really dude, most Americans don’t think of Brits as posh people who say fuck. And I’ve seen plenty of British films with real live black people in them, contrary to your assumption. Secrets & Lies comes to mind immediately as does Beautiful Thing, two of my favorite British films.

    The author was not very informative mainly because he was trying to be snide. He succeeded in his goal but failed to inform.


    1. I noticed he repeated himself over and over. Almost as if he was trying to convince us by volume rather then substance.

    2. cls has a much more rational take on the Brit election than Brendan O’Neill.

      The Lib Dems did get more votes than last time, but lost seats because the math in a three way election is more complicated.

      The vote totals for the Liberal Democrats did not reflect the high polling after the debate because people were afraid of wasting their vote on a third party. But the Liberal Democrats have elected at least 54 Members of Parliament for three elections in a row in a country without proportional representation.

      No American third party since the Civil War has elected more than 22 members of the House of Representatives, so clearly the Liberal Democrats are stronger than any third party in post civil war America.

      And of course, American liberals of the Nation variety, as well as antiwar libertarians, were excited about the Liberal Democrats because of their opposition to the Iraq War, to national ID and to the other attacks on civil liberties under Tony Blair.

    3. British movies/TV with black people: Red Dwarf, 28 Days (and 28 Weeks) Later, Love Actually, there’s a few, you know.

      1. And Doctor Who, of course.

        1. Children of Men

          1. Zebrahead. Of course, there wouldn’t have been much point to the movie otherwise. But was he saying British movies, or Richard Curtis movies?

      2. Right, but O’Neill specifically said that Love, Actually has no black people. O’Neill comes off as full of shit in this article. As noted above, he repeated the phrase “they LOST seats” about four or five times. He also says that 65% was a low turnout, when it was higher than the last election, which in turn was higher than the previous one.

        O’Neill just comes off as a partisan hack who is anti-Clegg/Lib-Dem. Personally, I would’ve voted Lib Dem; as others here have said, they’re far better on foreign policy and civil liberties than the other parties. Clegg wants to get out of Iraq and also hold Israel accountable for settlement and blockading Gaza. In a lot of ways he sounds like Ron Paul on these issues (also on Iran, etc.).

        Reason shouldn’t have published this piece, a piece that is ironically just as broad and partisan as the discourse it criticizes!

  11. I don’t understand O’Neill’s point beyond “libruls yuk yuk yuk”. Clegg got a huge boost after the first debate – almost everyone agreed he won handily – and his party briefly shot into the polling lead for the first time in god knows how long. Why this wouldn’t be a story is anyone’s guess.

    Indeed, if Clegg had blamed the UK’s problems on those filthy Poles instead of addressing the issues like a grown-up, he might have retained a few percentage points and won even more seats. As it is, his party gained both votes and percentage but lost seats due to the bizarre vote distribution in the UK.

  12. To the author:

    We now know that there is one important difference between Obama and Clegg: Obama won a clear mandate from the American people, whereas Clegg got the backing of a measly 15 percent of all eligible British voters.

    Before you begin telling us about horribly wrong Americans got the British election, you should focus on how mistaken you are about the results of the 2008 American election…

    Had Obama gotten a mandate from the People, his approval rate wouldn’t be in the shitter and there wouldn’t be rough 60-66% opposition to everything he’s tried to do since Jan. 2009.

    Doesn’t sound like much of a mandate for Obama, it sounds more like a mandate against Bush.

  13. “Why American liberals got the British election so wrong”


    Has there ever been ANYTHING that Amercian liberals haven’t gotten wrong?

    1. “Has there ever been ANYTHING that American liberals haven’t gotten wrong?”


      1. “Has there ever been ANYTHING that leftists haven’t gotten wrong?”


      2. I hear some are pretty good spellers.

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  15. “Why American liberals got the British election so wrong”

    prolly should have put this article on a liberal website eh?

    The only thing I’ve seen about the Brit election on Reason is the observation that Cameron is a pussy compared to Thatcher,

  16. You simply lie about US tax policy. Why are you ignorning payroll, sales and property taxes, all of which are regressive and together eliminate most of the progressivity of the income tax. Our TOTAL tax system is only mildly progessive, with the top 20% giving a little bit to the bottom 40%.

    Just a note: The top 25% of Americans paid 60% of 2007’s income taxes, with an average tax rate of 20.5%. The bottom 50% threw 3% into the pot, with an average tax rate of 3%.

    So after-tax wealth per dollar of the top 25% is $0.795, and for the bottom half it’s $0.97. Assume zee rich have a marginal tax rate after income taxes of t%, and the bottom half pays that plus an additional r% (cuz non-income taxes are regressive).
    0.795 * (1 – t%) = 0.97 * (1 – t% – r%)
    Solved: r% = .18 * (1 – t%)

    In other words, if the “rich” pay 10% in taxes after income taxes, the poor would have to pay 26% (or 18% for your example). Even if the rich paid 20%, the poor would have to put up 34% (27% for yours). The only way around this is for the wealthy to invest but absolutely never spend their money. Oh, and the tax spending must be weighted equally toward people in proportion to their contributions. Those results should be obviously ridiculous if we had a truly regressive system post-income tax.

    Also, the taxes you mentioned are only regressive from an extremely narrow sense. The bottom half receives proportionately more from their payment of payroll taxes, and the fact that it’s delayed a few decades should be irrelevant. And regardless of whether the wealthy consume less as a percentage of income, if they ever want to utilize their wealth they pay the same tax rate on goods, services and property. Besides that, the rich tend to spend more on goods that have a “luxury tax” embedded, whereas some proportionately higher consumption from the bottom half has very low taxes (groceries, medical care, schooling).


    Seriously, you have to be really, really, really whacked-out or allergic to numbers to believe the US has anything but a very obvious progressive tax system.

    1. The chief misunderstanding regarding progressivity/regressivity of income taxation arises from the ambiguous nature of payroll taxes. This is by design of the geniuses that set upon Social Security and Medicare. Are they taxes or “contributions”? The Supreme Court has said they are taxes, but your paystub says they are contributions (FICA as in Federal Insurance Contributions Act.) Who bears the burden for the employer “contribution”? If not burdened with this tax, the funds would be split in some way between employer, employee, and customers. One could argue that the employers’ share of FICA doubles the effective rate paid by the “poor”. With equal validity, one could argue that rich effectively pay well over one-half of all FICA taxes since they pay virtually all of the employers’ share plus the FICA tax on the first $106,800 of their own compensation.

      Complicating matters even more is the fact that the old age, disability, and Medicare benefits have some value. The poor may have very high time-preferences, but even with a large discount value and the dubious nature of SS and Medicare, these benefits have some present value.

      Further complicating the matter is the earned income tax credit. This is essentially a negative income tax that offsets some or all of the FICA tax on the poor.

      Social Security was intentionally structured this way. As FDR himself said, “We put those payroll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and unemployment benefits. With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.”

  17. First of all, Clegg’s backing wasn’t “measly 15 %”, but 22 %. You can call it measly, if you absolutely want to, but Labour got 29 %.

    The problem is the fucked up election system, almost as bad as in the US. LibDem got 6.8 milion votes and 57 seat. Labour got 8.6 milion votes and 258 seats. Not that I’m a fan of LibDems, much less their voter, but how more unjust can a system be?

    1. I believe the 15% which the author referred to was based upon those elibible to vote, rather than those who actually bothered to on the day; a neat trick which can be used in respect of any party to make their support to read as minuscule. Clear deception to make the figures best fit the authors argument.

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  19. Not a single damned reference to a poll in that shitty Anne Applebaum Slate piece. That is, it is all navel-gazing.

  20. You could have noted that the libertarian UKIP gained a point and got 3% of the popular vote, but no seats. Those voters would normally go conservative, resulting in Cameron’s majority.

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  22. This was not restricted to liberals. The drudge report was full of articles about “Cleggmania.”

  23. Although the US is not a parliamentary system, I think the LP or some bigger-tent new libertarian third party in the US should learn from the Liberal Democrats’ example, though. The goal should be in being the kingmaker, not in expecting to dominate and beat the major parties in every election.

    They should stop wasting resources running Presidential and Senatorial candidates, and focus all their resources on winnable state legislature and House elections. Once a coalition of elected officials builds and the party proves that they can win elections, then they can start running credible Senatorial and Presidential candidates, and attempt to convince the most palatable of the major party politicians to switch parties. It is also important that the party criticize both parties equally, in order to be difficult to pinpoint as the “spoiler” and to appeal to moderates turned off by both the economic/governmental left wing and the social/militaristic right wing. At the same time, they can be to the left of the Left (by arguing that statist policies are regressive and corporate abuse is a function of the artificial government shield for corporate criminals) and right of the Right (by arguing that aggressive militarism, immigration enforcement bureaucracies, the WOD and militarized law enforcement are as much if not more so abusive to Constitutionally protected liberties as the forced redistribution of wealth).

    IMHO, the LP is dead on arrival, but a new party based in true free market economics and social freedom has a lot of potential, especially in this current environment with a very open minded younger generation looking for fresh ideas.

  24. Drawing parallels between Clegg and America’s own Marxist Messiah?

    Hm. Well, both were born as subjects of Her Majesty.

    But did Clegg first see the light of day in a Mombasa maternity ward, too?

  25. Well, sort of… but despite losing seats the Lib Dems got their biggest actual share of votes cast ever. And why should a low turn out be indicative of voter apathy towards the Liberal Democrats? The fact is that the Lib Dems have emerged as a force in British politics as those who are still bothered to vote show their distaste for the traditional two party system; for the first time, there was even a Green MP elected. What Clegg is doing, at this stage, is using the existing constitutional framework to bring about real change which will ultimately lead to a smashing of the old British political system. In the first week, we have had pledges for fixed term parliaments, reform of the House of Lords and a referendum on changing the voting system. Given Clegg’s position as leader of the third party, this seems to me even more radical than what Obama, with his whooping majority, has so far achieved.

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