Washington Post: From the US to the UK, new political winds, writes Mark Penn

From the US to the UK, new political winds

Published May 6, 2010

Thursday’s elections in Britain could be a harbinger of what is likely to come to America in the not-too-distant future: new movements and even parties that shake up the political system. Cleggmania shows that even the most tradition-bound electoral systems are facing the pressures of rapid change made possible by modern communications. These movements may not win out of the gate, but they will become significant political factors.

While the Constitution established three branches of government, the system of political parties grew up outside of that, securing itself through what were at first formidable local infrastructures and later with skillful redistricting, ballot-access laws and contribution limits that worked to preserve the status quo. In the 1940s, this really was a red or blue country, with about 85 percent of voters identifying as Republican or Democratic. Today, about 40 percent of Americans are political nomads, wandering from party to party in search of a permanent home. They peer at more than 100 varieties of coffee drinks at Starbucks and wonder why they have only two bipolar choices in politics.

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Times Online (UK): Cleggmania could change the world’s elections by Mark Penn

Cleggmania could change the world’s elections
If it can happen in traditional old Britain, consumer power can take root anywhere

Published May 3, 2010

It used to be the case that UK campaigns were thought to follow the US lead closely: Clinton’s War Room in 1992 became Blair’s Millbank in 1997; Bush’s Compassionate Conservatism in 2000 became Hague’s in 2001.

For the rise of Nick Clegg, however, there is no US antecedent. Whatever the hype surrounding Mr Clegg, he is no Obama — but nor is he a maverick like Ross Perot. The growth of a third choice in this election provides an interesting wake-up call for the two establishment parties in the UK, but it also offers a warning to the Democrats and Republicans of what they may face in the future.

On both sides of the Atlantic, in the world outside politics, consumers have become hugely more empowered over the past two decades through greater choice, information and control. Step into a Starbucks today and you can choose from 155 different types of coffee. TV programmes need not be watched when they are broadcast — instead they can be saved to Sky Plus or streamed from iPlayer to be watched when it suits you. Gone are the days when you relied on a salesman’s advice; today it is rare for anyone to buy anything without first reading multiple consumer reviews online and searching the net for the best deal.

Unsurprisingly, consumers who are used to a significant level of choice and control in their everyday lives are increasingly demanding the same in the political realm, where change has been at best ignored and at worst opposed.

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