- - Sunday, May 10, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Nothing is more fun for voters than confounding pollsters, and not just here in America. Britain, too, and they gave Prime Minister David Cameron the majority he needs to preside over the government as he thinks fit. While they were at it, they told the pollsters to beat it, and take their computer models, intrusive questions and smug self-confidence with them.

The pundits took a sock in the eye, too. All the hand-wringing about an indecisive electorate and the perils to come in a deadlocked government have been “rendered obsolete,” as one London pundit put it. Or “inoperative,” as a spokesman for an American president once said of the lies of his boss.

Mr. Cameron took a page from an American playbook for his last days on the hustings, and he looked more like an American politician, with his sleeves rolled up like Bill Clinton’s, than a proper Englishman in a well-cut shirt from Turnbull & Asser. He sounded like one, too, warning that a victory for Labor would have dreadful consequences for a struggling economy.

If the Conservative victory was stunning, it was not actually smashing, nothing like the landslides earned by Margaret Thatcher a generation ago. The 37 percent of the vote won by the Conservatives, or Tories as they are often called, was only 2 percentage points more than the pollsters predicted, but it will be easier for Mr. Cameron to keep his own party satisfied if not always happy than to keep a creaking coalition together.

But his majority government will give him the strength he will need to restore the economy and Britain’s place in the world. Modern Britain is not the Old Blighty of American imagination. Churchill and Thatcher are gone, and the welfare state has drained much of the doughty attitude and flinty resolve of the British character that shaped the world for 300 years.



Britain’s is now only the ninth-largest economy in the world, and might not even retain a place in the top 10 if present trends continue. A quarter of a century ago, it spent nearly 4 percent of its gross domestic product on defense, and now spends 2 percent, testimony to the nation’s declining place in the world. The British army has been cut nearly 20 percent since 2007, and another 8 percent will be cut by 2020. Soon, the British army could be the smallest since it lost the American Colonies. The navy that ruled the waves for centuries is down to 18 warships.

Britain’s reduced role in the world — indeed, Germany and even France dominate Europe — may be what Britons want, satisfied to be “Little England” that projects economic power through trade and commerce instead of dominion of the seas. Old Blighty is smaller in the British imagination, too.

The London government may also become smaller. Mr. Cameron, trying to defuse Scots nationalism, promised that Britain would grant more power to Scotland to manage certain affairs. This will probably strengthen demands of nationalists in Wales and even England, too.

The most far-ranging promise of all was Mr. Cameron’s pledge, ratified by the election results last week, to hold a referendum in 2017 on whether Britain remains in the European Union. The U.K. Independence Party, or UKIP, won 13 percent of the vote last week, and this number is considerably bigger than it looks. Big changes are coming, and the good news for David Cameron is that he is finally in a position to better manage the changes.

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