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Posted at 11:18 AM ET, 02/ 4/2011

You need action to get a backlash

By Dylan Matthews
Johann Hari is a smart guy, but the idea that liberals should organize into a "progressive Tea Party" which takes cues from British protests against budget cuts is pretty wrong-headed.

For one thing, the British protests are in reaction to cuts that are actually being implemented. I'm currently studying abroad at the University of Cambridge, and while there are frequent, well-attended protests against tuition hikes and other cuts, that's because students are actually having their tuition hiked. Similarly, it's worth noting that the Tea Party only got going after its most hated policies – namely, TARP and the stimulus – had already been passed. The policy effects of the GOP House will be real enough soon, but for the time being, conservatives haven't gotten cuts passed that can upset people enough to spur demonstrations and the like.

What's more, their ability to get them passed hinges on negotiations with the Democratic Senate and White House. So even if unpopular cuts do get passed, it's hard to see the resulting movement won't be a backlash just against policies implemented by conservatives.

cameron.jpgBut the main reason the Britain analogy fails is that the protests in Britain have not worked. Nor will they, in all likelihood. The British system of government has basically no veto points. If the governing coalition in parliament wants to enact a policy, the policy gets enacted. Individual members are expected to vote the party line in all but the rarest of cases, so if David Cameron (pictured)  wants there to be budget cuts, there's very little anyone can do to stop him.

There's obviously a lot more one can do to stop a proposal in the United States. Take the $32 billion in budget cuts proposed by Paul Ryan yesterday. If liberal activists wanted to block them, they could lobby individual GOP House members whose districts would be hard hit, or get the Senate leadership to pledge to block any cuts, or push Obama to pledge to veto a cuts package. There are a number of strategies that could work, but they're all strategies particular to the American system. There's not a lot to be learned from Britain when formulating them.

Dylan Matthews is a student at Harvard and a researcher at The Washington Post.

Photo credit: Associated Press

By Dylan Matthews  | February 4, 2011; 11:18 AM ET
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True progressives don't want to preserve the status quo.

We want the wars to stop, our overseas forces to return home, our overseas bases to diminish in number, and the corruption at home rooted out.

We also want to stop bailling out wallstreet and banks.

The only way to begin doing that is to balance the budget.

Keynesian policies will no longer work in this climate of corruption and waste and inefficiency and where two parties keep sabotaging the other.

Someone else here used a great analogy of how the Dems keep rolling the boulder up the hill (to cut debt) and then the GOP just comes in a year or two later and rolls it back down the hill. We can't progress this way.

Balance the budget.

Posted by: lauren2010 | February 4, 2011 12:31 PM | Report abuse

"If the governing coalition in parliament wants to enact a policy, the policy gets enacted. Individual members are expected to vote the party line in all but the rarest of cases, so if David Cameron (pictured) wants there to be budget cuts, there's very little anyone can do to stop him."

This is non-sense. I think you have no idea how Parliamentary System works. Every major policy has to be won / fully supported by the governing coalition. You feel they are simply backing it because pre-designated PM candidate (in this case David Cameron) fights the election on a platform and wins those members on that platform. This is like as if President winning Congress Majorities as a party leader. To some extend it happened in 2008; but that is more of coattails effect than facing parliamentary election on a platform and party lines.

Remember Thatcher's 'Giant Killer' Michael Heseltine? That is what 'back benchers' are in Parliamentary System - to wait like wolf for a killing. Don't get fooled by 'rubber stamp' votes. They don't mean anything.

If the same protest in UK starts gathering steam, there are things like 'no confidence' motion or budget fail votes where the governing coalition has to resign MidTerm.

People desperately felt the need of Parliamentary System in USA in George Bush time. If it were so we would have had government change in 2006. There is no way in Parliamentary System a leader with 20% approval rating can survive.

Parliamentary System is much more 'liquid' and 'dynamic' than rigidities of American System. Of course, American System is the key ingredient of it's Super Power aura - predictability and total control of one single person on the war machine. But that is a different matter.

Just don't try to link public protest and stability of government in Parliamentary System. That is complex.

Posted by: umesh409 | February 4, 2011 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Umesh is overstating the case, but he is right: Cameron needs the support of his backbenchers. He also needs the support of the Lib-dem backbenches.

Apart from the existence of free votes, party discipline is mostly enforced by the hope that backbenchers will curry favour with their party leaders. The thing keeping them responsive is that they don't want to lose their seats.

In the case of the Tory party, it is pretty easy for the parliamentary party to replace their leader. If the public look like they are going to turn on the party, the leader will be replaced.

In fact, protests rarely produce results, but that is because they are generally not on the bread-and-butter issues that swing voters. In this case, it is more likely that the coalition will pass the cuts, because they are not facing an election for four years, and they can reverse direction if the issue is really live during the election.

Posted by: albamus | February 5, 2011 3:43 PM | Report abuse

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