British Elections

Gordon Brown

Brown succeeded his predecessor as prime minister, Tony Blair, in the summer of 2007, without a general election. As a longtime member of the Labor Party and as chancellor of the exchequer, the equivalent of the Treasury secretary, Brown long coveted Britain’s top job. Once in office, he enjoyed strong public support, but grew increasingly unpopular as the economy tanked and infighting grew within his own party. He struggled to communicate his priorities to the electorate and weathered a scandal over parliamentary expenses. As The Economist noted, Brown, a 59-year-old Scot, has “tottered from one calamity or cock-up to the next, often flirting with farce.” That said, Brown has made a comeback in recent polls, in part by improving his public image – he has shown a new openness in media appearances – and in part by positioning himself as a known steward for Britain in a time of economic crisis.

David Cameron

The 43-year-old leader of the opposition Conservative Party is in some ways the polar opposite of Brown. Cameron, eloquent and fresh-faced, has a “fluent television manner and easy way with a sound bite,” as the BBC put it. It is a style that, perhaps, comes naturally for a man who has spent his career in politics. After serving as an adviser to various ministers in the government of Prime Minister John Major, Cameron won a seat in Parliament in 2001 and became head of the party in 2005. Since then, he has sought to position the Tories as the party for health care and for the environment. He has also sought to leverage his youth to claim the mantle of agent of change. That strategy has helped make the Conservatives the front-runners in the race, and given them a good shot at breaking Labor’s 13-year grip on power.

Nicholas Clegg

The Liberal Democrats are Britain's also-ran party, but under the leadership of Clegg, they are threatening to make their strongest showing in years. Clegg, a 43-year-old former bureaucrat for the European Commission, might not have the political bona fides of Brown or Cameron. He has, however, captured the imagination of many Britons with his enthusiasm and conviction. As the Daily Telegraph described him, Clegg is “at his best when he is at his boldest.” (The Telegraph added that he is at his worst when “he conforms to the Lib Dem stereotype, one buttock planted each side of the fence.”) A self-proclaimed atheist, Clegg wants Britain to end its “slavish” devotion to Washington and consider trading in the revered British pound for the euro. He has also argued that Britain’s “special relationship” with the United States is outmoded, a stance that would surely complicate matters for Washington should he gain influence in Britain’s next government.

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