It wasn’t just the polls that had political observers convinced that May 7 would be the last day of David Cameron’s career as the leader of his party and British prime minister. The conventional wisdom held that progressivism, and its appeal to working class voters who have struggled to keep their heads above water since the onset of the global recession in 2008, would be the Conservative Party’s undoing.
Far from embracing definitional progressivism, modern liberalism is consumed with protecting and preserving a status quo largely forged in the 20th Century. Though he framed his as a forward-looking campaign, Labour Party leader David Miliband cast himself as the guarantor of gains won by earlier generations. To the extent that he ran a campaign on substance, Miliband campaigned on safeguarding funding for the national healthcare system, preserving and improving standards of living for working people, and, at one point, “predistribution” – an Orwellian redistributive taxation scheme that would pair spreading the wealth with increased vocational training for the poorest, lowest-skilled workers.
“Of course, redistribution will always remain necessary and I continue to believe that, but we have learned we have got to do more,” Miliband said in 2012. By 2015, not much had changed. “I am still fighting for the big issues in this election and I am still fighting because there is a huge choice between whether the country is run for the most rich and most powerful or a Labour government that puts working people first,” the former Labour leader insisted just days before British voters went to the polls.
But the British voters had a different agenda in mind. Last week, the people of the U.K. delivered a sound rebuke to backwards-looking “progressivism” and handed Cameron’s party an outright majority. He now heads the first Tory-led parliament since 1992.
In the United States, the same conventional wisdom that dominated ahead of the British general election is prevalent. American voters are nervous about the future, are only nominally center-right, and will vote to preserve what they have before gambling on a platform aimed at enlarging the pie. That same conventional wisdom might be founded in quicksand.
“Wall Street has a message for bank-bashing U.S. populist politicians: Put down the pitchforks or you could wind up like Ed Miliband,” Politico columnist Ben White wrote on Monday.
“Seems like there might be some political lessons for the U.S. out of the U.K. election — with Miliband’s Warren style, anti-business, anti-bank rhetoric clearly falling flat with the general public even as the press ate it up,” this executive from another of Wall Street’s largest firms said. “And the Edelman trust barometer actually shows that British voters are more distrustful and wary of the banks than here in the U.S.”
The financial executives cited Miliband’s attacks on Cameron and the Conservatives as the “party of hedge funds” and his calls for higher taxes on the industry as failing to captivate U.K. voters. And they noted that despite polls showing a very tight race, Cameron and his party won 51 percent of the vote and 331 seats in Parliament to just 36 percent and 232 seats for Miliband and his Labour party.
“There are two lessons here,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin of the American Action Forum. “One is the Miliband lesson. The U.S. has now seen that people in the U.K. don’t really like this focus on inequality and redistribution. It’s not where people are. And the second is that conservatives were very effective in saying they were for working people but keeping the focus on work not excessive government intervention and benefits.”
There are already indications that the public is souring on Clinton, and it’s not just because the former secretary of state “came down to Earth” when she started to campaign for the White House. Last week, I noted that the results of a variety of polls indicated that Clinton’s favorability rating was sinking as voters turned against her or revised their long-standing opinion of the former sectary. Today, the respected George Washington University Battleground poll confirms that Clinton’s status as 2016 favorite is possibly in jeopardy.
In that poll, Clinton’s favorability rating is nominally under water at 49 to 48 percent. When asked if they would or would not consider voting for her, a majority – 51 percent – said they would not consider voting for Clinton for the presidency. The only reason to ignore this and other polls that forecast storm clouds on the horizon for Clinton is that this information does not comport with preconceptions about her inevitability.
Political analysts seem disinclined to reconsider the notion that Hillary Clinton is destined for the White House. To challenge the accepted norms of political thought like that is to invite a pushback from the familiar sentinels who enforce Beltway conformity. But it wasn’t a week ago that David Cameron was a dead prime minister walking. It would serve the political opinion community well if more columnists tested their own assumptions as White has. They might find that inevitability isn’t what it used to be.