Picking a President: The United States' Election 2000
Blair Wins Second Term
British Prime Minister Tony Blair had lunch with the Queen of England Friday, celebrating his victory in Thursday's elections. The win was a historical first: the only time the 100-year-old Labor party has won two full terms in a row.
The win also broke the recent chain of U.S.-British political alignment. In the 1980s, Republican Ronald Reagan and Conservative Margaret Thatcher shared a common conservative philosophy. In the 1990s, Democrat Bill Clinton and Tony Blair shared a moderate liberal perspective.
Prime Minister Blair has promised to improve public services and consider changing the British currency, the pound, for the European Union's Euro.
The campaign was only four weeks long-- much shorter than the election season in the U.S. In fact, elections aren't scheduled on a regular basis -- no one knows when the next one will be held, until the Prime Minister makes an announcement.
Calling an election
The United Kingdom's lawmaking body is the Parliament. Like the U.S. Congress, it's made up of two houses: the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The party with the most seats in the House of Commons is considered the ruling party.
The Prime Minister-- who has been chosen by the party that holds the greatest number of seats-- has the right to ask the queen to dissolve Parliament at any time and call a general election.
Naturally, the Prime Minister normally does so when he thinks his party has the best chance of winning more seats. That's why Tony Blair, the Prime Minister since 1997, called an election a year before he had to.
Since then, candidates running for 'MP' (Member of Parliament) have been waging campaigns across the country.
There are three main political parties in the United Kingdom: The Conservative Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats.
The Conservative Party can claim to be the oldest political party in Europe. In the 17th century, the party's predecessors - known then as Tories - supported a strong monarchy as a check on the powers of parliament. The Conservatives are a bit like the U.S. Republicans - they support business and lower taxes.
They have been one of the most successful parties in the world, holding power for much of the 20th century. The election of Margaret Thatcher as Britain's first female prime minister in 1979 was to be the start of an extraordinary period of electoral success for the Tories.
But by 1997, the Conservatives were tired and divided after 18 years in power and went down in a crushing defeat.
Until Friday, June 8, the party's leader was William Hague. At the relatively young age of 40, he was not popular among young people and trails in the polls.
Mr. Hague sought to overtake Labor with the tactic that proved successful for George W. Bush in the United States: a large tax cut.
But the British public showed more interest in promises of increased spending on hospitals, schools and transportation. Much of the campaign focused on late trains, understaffed hospitals and schools and dangerous streets.
The Labour Party
The Labour Party was born in 1900 with the aim of protecting the rights of trade unions and giving a political voice to the working class.
The party now calls itself "New Labour" and supports a mixed economy. But many in the party still have a traditional approach, with their attachment to socialism and policies that give the state some control over services and industries.
Labour came to power in a sweeping victory in 1997, at a time when the Conservative government appeared to be running out of ideas. Tony Blair was the party's leader and became Prime Minister.
He's the oldest candidate, having just turned 48, but as a new father (baby Leo was born last year) he doesn't seem like an old man. He promises that if he is re-elected, he will move the Labour Party in new directions.
The Liberal Democrats ("Lib Dems" to most Brits) are a significant third party. This party has had its ups and downs, but its core philosophy is based on a belief in the rights of the individual and freedom of choice. Their leader, Charles Kennedy, is thought to be unpretentious and youthful at 41. His speeches are short, and often humorous.
Kennedy says his party will "fight for the people Mr Blair does not want us to see: the poor, old and disabled". Similar to the Green Party in the U.S., Lib Dems believe in government action to promote social justice and greater protection for the environment. They also want to change the election process to give more power to third parties.
The campaign in Britain has focused on an issue that strongly affects teens: class size. Research and teacher testimony suggest that smaller classes offer teachers the chance to devote more time to each pupil, in turn improving their education.
so election pledges on reducing class sizes are thought to be a potential
In 1997, Labour made cutting class size one of its key promises.
In November, a rival party produced figures that suggest that overall pupil/teacher ratios are at their worst level in 25 years even though Labour claims progress has been made reducing class sizes for first and second graders. And now it's a campaign issue.
Despite their criticisms of Labour, no opposition party has committed itself to a target for secondary school (high school) class sizes.
Selection-- who gets in?
A closely related issue-- especially in London-- is whether or not a publicly funded school should be allowed to 'select' the students it will accept.
There's usually a rush for places in the better schools - 10 or 12 applications for every place in a popular high school is not unusual. And in primary schools, reductions in class sizes has increased pressure on places, with no room for "fitting in" a few more pupils.
Many families are involved in this race for places, with complex chains of applications, offers, places held and waiting lists.
Most schools are strictly limited to deciding who gets in based on how close pupils live to the school, whether they have brothers or sisters already at the school or whether there are any special educational reasons for giving a place.
The most radical proposal for changing school admissions policy is from the Conservatives, who under their "free school" plans would allow each school to set its own rules for admission. This would allow schools to select students through test scores, interviews or other methods.
Labour counters that this plan would hurt less privileged students. They would not be able to get into the better schools and schools would no longer be mixed along the lines of race, economic background and ability. It's an argument with many echoes in the U.S.
With education such a hot topic, it's not surprising young people were caught up in the campaign.
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