04 May 2005

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UK foreign policy hinges on electoral outcome

James Debono
British High Commissioner Vincent Fean told The Malta Financial and Business Times that the UK’s foreign policy could very well change depending on which party clinches victory in tomorrow’s election.
“In case of a Labour victory, the government will be in favour of the EU’s Constitutional Treaty. The Conservatives are against. Both parties would put the treaty for the approval of British voters in a referendum but the Conservatives will hold this referendum within six months of gaining power,” Fean told this newspaper.
Another difference between the two major parties is euro adoption.
“While Labour favours the adoption of the euro as soon as Britain fulfils the five economic criteria outlined by Gordon Brown, the Conservatives will not approve the Euro,” the High Commissioner said
Yet we can all rest assured that any change in government in the UK would not alter friendly relations between Britain and Malta.
“In November 25th the British Prime Minister will visit Malta while attending the meeting for Commonwealth Heads of State which will be chaired by Prime Minister Gonzi,” said Fean.
Asked about voter turnout the British High Commissioner remarked that interest in the election was growing.
“All three parties are working to increase the turnout, which in the last election had dropped to a historic low of 59 per cent,” Fean said.
The British High Commissioner will be voting by proxy. “Our daughter will be voting for me and my wife.” He also adds: “more people will be using the postal vote in these elections than ever before.”
The High Commissioner acknowledges that voter turnout in the UK is modest when compared to Maltese standards. Having witnessed the referendum and 2003-election campaign in Malta, Fean notes that “politics is a way of life in Malta, in a way which is not so marked in the UK. It is in the lifeblood on the Maltese.”

Latest on UK elections
The Iraq war has come back to haunt Blair on the eve of the elections.
The wife of the latest British soldier to be killed in Iraq has blamed Tony Blair for his death. Guardsman Anthony Wakefield was killed by a bomb on Monday. His widow, Ann Toward, said Mr Blair should not have sent him to war.
This has bolstered the campaign of the Liberal Democrats, the only main party opposed to the war.
Former Maltese ambassador to the UK George Bonello Dupuis is anticipating a Labour victory with a reduced seat majority. He is also expecting a surprise from the Liberal Democrats. “They are expected to win 70 seats.”
For the past weeks Tony Blair has made an unsuccessful effort to direct voter’s attention from the war to economic issues.
According to Dupuis the economy is Labour’s strongest point. “They can now pose as guardians of the economy. Although the Conservative have a good fiscal policy Gordon Brown has outflanked them. In more than one way, the Labour Party has dressed itself in conservative attire, leaving the Tories naked. Labour have not increased income tax for the rich and have introduced a number of invisible taxes. They have even paid homage to Thatcher”
BBC political correspondent Nick Assinder, Labour’s message was that everything, particularly spending on the public services, hangs on the stable economy provided by Chancellor Gordon Brown.
On Monday, accompanied by the chancellor, Gordon Brown, the prime minister unveiled a “mortgage wheel” in Gloucester, to illustrate how mortgage rates have almost halved since Labour came to power. “What is at stake and at risk in this election?" Mr Blair asked. “Your mortgage is at risk. Your job is at risk. The stable economy is at risk. The investment in schools and hospitals, they are at risk if the Conservatives are returned to government.”
Fears that the conservatives will enter Downing Street from the backdoor have prompted Labour to released its latest election poster, which claims that “if one in ten Labour voters don't vote the Tories win.”
Previously Tony Blair has also said that “if people end up opting out by drifting off to the Lib Dems then it only takes one in ten of our voters to drift off to the Lib Dems (and) you end up with a Tory government.”
The Labour Party explains its claim by saying there were 10.7 million Labour voters at the last election. For Howard to become Prime Minister Labour has to lose 158 seats to the Conservatives. If one adds the Labour majority in those 158 seats one gets a total of 581,000 i.e. one tenth of all Labour voters. But experts have described this campaign as deceitful.
Pollsters have pointed out that Labour is assuming the stay-at-home Labour voters are all concentrated in the 158 key marginals, and that the Labour vote is unchanged in all other seats. This is deemed unrealistic.
The Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, dismissed Mr Blair's suggestion that a vote for the Lib Dems would inevitably result in a Tory government.
"If it was me in Tony Blair's shoes with 48 hours to go before polling day, if I had been prime minister of the country for eight years, had a three-figure parliamentary majority behind me for that period, I think I would like to say something a bit more positive and persuasive," he said.
Yet Blair seems to have taken the Lib Dem challenge very seriously. Blair has also written in the Sun to attack the liberal drug policies of the Lib Dems.

The latest Polls
Most opinion polls, assuming a uniform swing across the country as a whole, seem to be showing that despite the fall in Labour's share of the vote compared to 2001, it is still set for a substantial majority. The latest Mori poll puts Labour ten points ahead of the Conservatives at 39 per cent with the Conservatives trailing at 29 per cent and the Lib Dems at 22 per cent.
Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University, in an analysis in the Independent newspaper, argues that “there is no uniform swing from Labour to the Liberal Democrats that produces a majority Conservative government.”
Yet a Guardian/ICM show that in marginal seats the Conservatives are closing the gap on Labour.

The Final Countdown
All three big parties have entered the closing days of the election campaign by focusing on their core themes.
Labour has continued emphasising its positive record on the economy.
The Liberal Democrats have continued focusing on the Iraq war and the issue of trust in Tony Blair.
Towards the end of the campaign Michael Howard changed tack. Instead of urging voters to “send a message” to the Prime Minister, he repeated his pledges for the first days of a Tory government.
In so doing Howard is moving away from the suggestion the Tories are out to maximise the anti-Labour protest vote instead of offering their own alternative programme for government.


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