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What UK politics can learn from Hungary— Budapest

Preface

As Gordon Brown blunders his way across Britain, party spin-doctors have called in Stephen Hopkins, director of the nail-biting television series 24, to take charge of election videos. But Labour should be looking to Hungary, not Hollywood, for advice on how to win an election and govern with confidence.

24, Gordon Brown, Viktor Orbán, Branding, Campaign

2 May 2010

As Gordon Brown blunders his way across Britain, party spin-doctors have called in Stephen Hopkins, director of the nail-biting television series 24, to take charge of election videos. But Labour should be looking to Hungary, not Hollywood, for advice on how to win an election and govern with confidence. There Viktor Orbán, the leader of the centre-right Fidesz party, has just led his party to an unprecedented victory.

After years of coalition government, one party has finally managed to win enough votes to govern alone. While Britain will likely be ruled by a multi-party government after the 6 May vote, Hungarian voters gave Orbán a two-thirds mandate for constitutional change – something most European politicians can only dream of. Fidesz won 263 of 386 seats, while the Socialists took 59 seats – just 12 more than the far-right Jobbik party. LMP, a new green-liberal grouping, won 16 seats.

So can Britain’s would-be prime ministers borrow a few tricks from Budapest?

Fidesz’s victory has lessons for Britain, says Gergely Böszörményi-Nagy, of Perspective Institute, a renowned Budapest think-tank. “Fidesz won because the left collapsed but also because it stuck to its core message. It was simple, very pragmatic and with no real ideology, because this is a country where ideology has led to terrible failures.”

Fidesz promised tax cuts, a simplified bureaucracy and a crackdown on corruption and criminality. David Cameron is now making the same mistake as Fidesz did in the past, says Böszörményi-Nagy, when Fidesz tried to steal the Socialists’ clothes by promising extra pension and welfare payments and then lost the election. “Cameron is trying to be Tony Blair, with all this talk of ‘Progressive Conservatism’. It sounds exciting and may lead to something in the long-term but it does not engage the party hard-core as much.”

For many in Hungary, Orbán, who served as prime minister from 1998 to 2002, is a deeply polarising figure, whose talk of “national unity” is unsettling. He has already declared that Hungary will not be subordinate to the IMF or European Union when it renegotiates its credit line later this year. The forint wobbled, but even many liberals are applauding his pugnaciousness in standing up to international institutions. The clarity of his position in the end is what helped him win such a decisive victory. He did not try to be all things to all men. Perhaps it’s time for Britain’s political leaders to try the same.

Monocle 24

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