Britain votes

April 06, 1992

The British electorate must decide on Thursday whether to throw the long-ruling Conservative rascals out and, if so, for what combination of other rascals. At least they will do it after a campaign of just under one month, which is long enough for any informed voter to make up his or her mind.

The Conservative government has been in power since 1979. Under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, it changed the bloated and inefficient welfare state of Britain into a lean and sometimes mean capitalist engine that pays its way. After she went too far and wore out her welcome, a desperate party replaced her with her protege, John Major, a more namby-pamby figure who has brought the party to the center and dropped its most controversial nostrums.

The Labor Party, which went wildly to the left in the 1980s, has come back to the center under Neil Kinnock. Out of power since 1979, it has few active members left who have served in ministerial office.

The pundits have been forecasting a hung Parliament. Neither party would have a majority. The centrist Liberal Democratic Party might be in the catbird seat. Or the Scottish Nationalists might. Northern Ireland is in for more trouble if the Ulster Unionists are.

It looks like the British are leaning toward Labor. But are they leaning far enough to give Labor a majority, or do they want to tie it in coalitions?

From the American perspective, the outcome isn't crucial. Whatever they were in the past, both major parties are now European and both are now Atlantic. Both want to remain in the European Community and allied to the United States. Beyond that, Mr. Major looks more trustworthy and Mr. Kinnock more interesting. But then, we don't get to vote.

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