Michael Barone
The best view of London's Olympic Park is from the picture windows at the top floor of the John Lewis department store in the vast Westfield Stratford mall five miles east of the Tower of London.

It's not the London tourists usually see. Westfield Stratford is an upscale American-style mall, and the sleek Olympic Park structures have nothing of the historic patina of the Tower of London or the Houses of Parliament.

This is a reminder that most Brits, like most Europeans, live not in tourist-thronged historic centers but in far-flung suburbs. They live in freestanding houses, drive cars most places and shop at malls, like most Americans.

Only they aren't shopping quite as they used to. John Lewis, like other London stores, is full of "sale" signs and deep discounts. Britain is at the brink of recession and trembling lest the collapse of the euro plunge its European trading partners into economic chaos.

Its political leaders don't seem to know quite what to do. David Cameron and George Osborne, prime minister and chancellor of the exchequer since the May 2010 election, approached office with assumptions that, like those of Barack Obama, have proved unfounded.

Obama assumed that economic distress would make Americans more supportive of, or amenable to, big government programs like his stimulus package and Obamacare. That proved wrong, and he's struggling to find a plausible re-election theme.

When Cameron and Osborne became leaders of the Conservative Party in 2005, they assumed that Britain's decade-long economic boom would continue to provide government with lots of revenue and that British voters wouldn't stomach serious cuts in public spending.

But recession hit before the election, and the Conservatives fell short of a majority in the House of Commons and in response formed a coalition government with the leftish Liberal Democrats.

The coalition is producing thoughtful reforms in education and welfare, but polls show the Lib Dems losing support because of their alliance with the Tories and the Conservatives running well behind the opposition Labor Party.

The coalition has significantly cut government spending, but has kept in place most of the tax increases pushed through by Labor's Gordon Brown when he was chancellor in Tony Blair's government and then prime minister from 2007 to 2010. It is scaling back only slightly the 50 percent top income tax rate that Brown imposed after the financial crisis of 2008.


Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM