From the ghost of the Iraq war to a bloody military engagement in Afghanistan and the global recession, the British general election had much to do with the world outside — bruising events that may have contributed to a feeling of helplessness among voters.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown, addressing the US Congress in March last year, spoke glowingly of America’s global role to “rebuild prosperity and security in a wholly different economic world, where competition is no longer local but global and banks are no longer just national but international”.
A seasoned politician and deep reader, Brown was being canny in subtly deflecting the blame for Britain’s longest-running post-War recession to across the Atlantic.
But just over a year later the legacy of unregulated international banks was tearing into his leadership. In the three weeks of campaigning to polling day on Thursday, the global recession was the elephant in the room — a monster of an issue that the leaders of Britain’s three main political parties danced clumsily around.
“It’s background music,” said Prof Michael Cox of the London School of Economics. “No one has a clear message (on recession). People are looking at Greece and thinking, ‘What are we going to have next? Riots on the streets?’”
While each of the three parties — Labour, David Cameron-led Conservatives and Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats — offered broad ideas on how they would deal with the economic impact of the recession, all refused to list the specific public sector cuts they would make in order to balance a crippling £163 billion budget deficit.
Although foreign policy did not find a strong mention in the poll campaign, there is a view that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan played on the minds of voters who have watched an inquiry into the Iraq war televised live from November 2009 to March this year. Brown as well as his predecessor Tony Blair appeared before it.