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Britain by Itself

LONDON – The United Kingdom’s general election is a little more than a month away, but already the campaign seems to have been with us forever, rolling implacably forward, but with little evidence of any genuine excitement – or even significant movement in the polls. Support for the two main contenders – the Labour Party and the ruling Conservative Party – seems stuck in the low-to-mid 30s.

The Conservatives hope that the government’s record on the economy will convince undecided voters to break in their favor late in the campaign. Maybe they are right; they deserve to be. In the meantime, Labour seems to be hoping for who-knows-what to turn the tide, while keeping their collective fingers crossed that they will not be eviscerated in Scotland, where the Scottish National Party is threatening to sweep the board.

One surprise is the election campaign’s insularity. A dark cloud, in the form of a possible referendum on whether the UK will remain in the European Union hangs over the outcome, but no one talks about it much. Prime Minister David Cameron has said that a referendum is needed in order to prevent the country from sleepwalking toward an accidental and disastrous EU exit. And so it must come as a surprise to some of Britain’s EU partners that none of the country’s politicians seems to be making any effort to wake a somnambulant public.

More broadly, while much of the world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket, there has been little talk about Britain’s international role and responsibilities. The UK was once famous for punching above its weight in global affairs, but perhaps the country no longer really matters much – if only because it does not want to matter.