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Center for American Progress Backs Progressive Third Party
With national elections approaching on May 6, the United Kingdom hosted its first-ever prime ministerial TV debate last week, featuring Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the Labour Party, David Cameron of the Conservative Party, and Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats. Heading into the debate, the election was "considered too close to call" and "likely to be a two-horse race between Labour and the Conservatives." But Clegg, who offered himself "up as the fresh and honest alternative to two tired old parties," was the clear winner in the post-debate polls, instantly altering the dynamics of the race. Clegg's debate performance and the subsequent surge in the polls for the Liberal Democrats has led some observers to compare him to President Obama and his rise in the 2008 campaign. The three leaders engaged in a second debate yesterday, in which Cameron and Brown both engaged Clegg more aggressively in an effort to stop what some have dubbed "Cleggmania." Though the Liberal Democrats are often labeled the "centrist party" in Britain, much of Clegg's surge has been attributed to his steadfast advocacy for progressive policy positions.
STANDING FOR PROGRESS: Staking his claim to the mantle of progressive leadership, Clegg declared last night, "We shouldn't be facing allegations of complicity in torture. We shouldn't have invaded Iraq. ... I want us to lead in creating a world free of nuclear weapons and I want us to lead on the biggest challenge of all – climate change." Brown and Clegg stressed their policy differences. Clegg proudly declared his support for the legalization of undocumented immigrants, arguing, "If they want to play by the rules, pay their taxes, speak English: that is a smart, fair effective way of dealing with immigration." Brown and Cameron responded by accusing Clegg of supporting "amnesty." They also attacked Clegg from the right over his proposal to include Britain's Trident nuclear deterrent in the strategic defense review after the election, which Clegg says could lead to a "cheaper and better" alternative. In defending his position on Trident, Clegg cited Obama: "President Obama said last week, I think quite rightly, that now the greatest threat to us is not the Cold War threat of old. It's terrorists getting hold of dirty bombs." Both Cameron and Brown have tried to use Clegg's Trident position to portray him as weak on Iran. "I say to you, Nick, get real, get real, because Iran, you're saying, might be able to have a nuclear weapon, and you wouldn't take action against them, but you're saying that we have got to give up our Trident submarines and our nuclear weapon now," said Brown. "To say, get real, what is dangerous is to commit to spend" up to £100 billion "that we might not have on a system which almost certainly won't help, when the world is changing, when we're facing new threats," replied Clegg strongly. Among Brits who watched yesterday's debate, Clegg was viewed as the narrow winner.
EUROPE MATTERS: In last night's debate, Brown attempted to paint both of his rivals as outside the mainstream when it comes to foreign relations. "I am afraid David is anti-European, Nick is anti- American. Both of them are out of touch with reality," said Brown. Brown's claim that Clegg is anti-American is unfair, as Clegg says he is "an Atlanticist" who wants "a positive, strong and even uniquely warm relationship with the United States." But he is right to raise concerns about Cameron's Euro-skepticism. In a column released yesterday, Center for American Progress President and CEO John Podesta wrote that "worryingly, under David Cameron's leadership, the Conservative Party's traditional Euro-skepticism has become more extreme." Pointing to Cameron's decision to have the Conservative Party leave the European People's Party -- the main center-right grouping in the European Parliament -- "to form a new parliamentary group with a maverick collection of racist, homophobic, and xenophobic members of the European Parliament," Podesta noted that "Cameron's willingness to forgo political influence to placate extreme elements of his own party" would hurt U.S. interests if he were to become Prime Minister. "American hopes for a more dynamic and equal European partner are still much less likely to be realized if Britain is on the fringes of the debate about the future of the union," wrote Podesta. Both Brown and Clegg criticized Cameron yesterday for aligning himself with "right-wing extremists," in Brown's words, or as Clegg called them, "nutters, anti-Semites, people who deny climate change exists, [and] homophobes."
CAMERON'S PROBLEMS: Cameron's willingness to make common cause with Europe's far-right parties has caused him to stumble in his efforts to appear mainstream on a number of issues. Though Cameron has made an effort to reach out to the LGBT community in the past year, the change in conservative attitudes towards gay rights appear to be more rhetorical than substantive. Last summer, "Cameron offered a public apology for section 28, the controversial Tory legislation introduced in the 1980s that banned the 'promotion' of homosexuality in schools" even though he voted "against the repeal of section 28 as recently as 2003." Last month, Cameron sat for an interview with an LGBT magazine to promote the party's alleged move to the left on social and equality issues, but paused the interview after he fumbled an answer about the Tories' voting record on gay equality. Then, a Tory Member of Parliament was secretly recorded as saying that "people who ran bed and breakfasts in their homes should 'have the right' to turn away homosexual couples." Last week, Cameron's shadow defense minister said that gay sex should be illegal for 16 and 17 year olds and compared it to preventing "service personnel aged under 18 from fighting on frontlines." Though Cameron's political coalition is home to Britain's climate deniers, he says he believes that "we need a greater sense of urgency on climate change." Cameron has made some positive efforts on this front, even sending his shadow minister on the environment and climate change to America in order to lobby Republican lawmakers to support clean energy legislation. But at the same time, Cameron has described himself as a "Lawsonian," referring to Lord Nigel Lawson, who has written that he has "no idea whether the majority scientific view" on climate change "(and it is far from a consensus) is correct." Lawson has also said that "there is a strong moral argument [to keep emitting]" and that "a warmer climate brings benefits as well as disadvantages."