British society is a three-party system stuffed into a two-party duopoly

Christopher Hitchens in Slate:

ScreenHunter_01 May. 05 12.02 An officer candidate being interviewed for a posting on the British general staff was once asked to define the role of cavalry in modern warfare. He replied that it was to lend some color and dash to what would otherwise be a somewhat dreary and sordid occasion. Nick Clegg, the leader of Britain's Liberal Democrats, is the equivalent of the cavalry in the case of Thursday's British general election. Until his eruption onto the scene, the muddy battlefield was a dull trench war between two heavily armored divisions, each of them wearily familiar with the tactics and strategy of the other.

Years ago, when I toiled as a columnist for The Nation, Nick Clegg was my intern. (So, for that matter, was Edward Miliband, Gordon Brown's minister for energy and climate change and brother of Brown's most likely replacement, Foreign Secretary David Miliband.) I have done my best to trade on this mentoring relationship with power, to little avail. Clegg worked for me in the magazine's New York offices while I was writing from Washington, so our direct contact was limited. What I chiefly remember, apart from his now-famous personal charm, was how “European” he was. His parentage was partly Dutch and partly Russian. He has since married a Spanish woman and has three children with Spanish names. And, of course, his party is the one most closely identified with the British aspiration to full British engagement in the European Union. This is the strength and the weakness of his position, and of his party.

More here.