06 May 2010

Sense and Sensibility

The DEB exercising his democratic right, this morning, at Barford Village Hall

Today, Britons go to the polls to vote in what is being heralded as the most significant General Election in the nation's history. As an active thinker, and concerned recent resident, I am saddened by that fact that I cannot contribute to the outcome. 

I have always been a firm believer in voting, even though, as a French friend once advised me: 

"No matter who you vote for, the Government always wins." 

That may be true, but I still think that it is important that one offers input into the process, especially in close contests, every vote matters truly.

I have had the fortune of observing the current electoral season in Britain as an engaged observer; not entirely objective, or outside the frame, as I will also have to live with the result.

In the process I have discovered some fascinating points about Britain, and myself.

First: How people vote

I have always admired the way in which British politics is more focussed on local needs and interests. In other words, a Briton living in Lichfield may hate Gordon Brown as Prime Minister, but love his/her local MP, who has done a great deal for the local community and their concerns -- and who happens to be a member of Labour.

So, while that person may prefer another party's leader, they may chose to stick with the great representative they have had. The vote, as I perceived it, means in theory each person is voting for the best MP for their area, regardless of party ties, and not the party itself, or the party's leader. 

It does seem to work this way in practice as well. For example, no one living outside the constituencies that Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg represent will be voting for them directly. 

This is very different from American politics where everything is driven by the front runners of each party, and the vote that is cast for or against them exclusively. 

Second: Time frame

It's funny to hear people here complaining about the length of the campaign season. 

"Golly, I'll be so glad when this is all over, no matter who wins, I'm just so sick of it all," a friend said recently. 

I was gobsmacked. She should try living in the USA where we are bombarded and overwhelmed by TV ads, posters, telethons, speeches, debates, delegates, door-to-door campaigners, appearances, jangling and gutter-sniping for months and months on end. 

By comparison, the British process is so much more civil, less "insane" and more, well, ...calm.

I remember how frightening it was to watch the meteoric rise of Sarah Palin and some of the "Hate Fest" antics that surrounded her vice-presidential campaigning. Perhaps, if the US Presidential electoral process was more akin to the British, 4 week, 'short, sharp and shocked' approach, there would be less time for such negative theatrics. Less of a need to do something, anything to sustain the momentum.

Another "calming" factor in British elections is what seems to be an overall lack of a need for the competing parties to appear utterly diametrically opposed. 

It was quite refreshing to witness actual points of agreement among the parties during the leaders' debates. With Gordon Brown unwittingly delivering the Liberal Democrats their new mantra: "I agree with Nick."

In America, this would never happen. 

In our unrelenting two-party system, things are black and white, with no shades of gray. It's Left or Right, Right or Wrong. It always has to be a cat fight.

This has spawned a sort of electoral short-hand, wherein people think they can surmise your ethics and morals by the party you support. e.g., Republican? Then you must be a illiterate, gun-totting, evangelical, homo-phobe. Democrat? You must be an over-educated, baby-killing, feminist, homosexual. 


Perhaps, it is a need for simplicity, or a rather a disdain for political and/or philosophical complexity that has led to this impasse in American politics, where we get caught up in the fervour of "issue" based voting and campaigning.

What a reprieve, then, not to find this in Britain; and to hear politicians debate and discuss the real challenges and situations that will face this nation for years to come.

Another thing...Nick Clegg is an Atheist. That, too, would never, ever happen in the United States. 

He'd be eaten alive.

One sad development in the British electoral process: this election season has heralded a new-found emphasis on the party leaders as individuals and their "performance skills" in televised debating. Nick Clegg's sudden spark changed everything, and I'm not sure it is for the best.

To be sure, I am a firm believer that a national leader should be well-spoken, articulate, well-groomed, polished, etc. & etc. However, I am also a believer in style with substance. Comparisons between Mr. Clegg and Mr. Obama, I think, are somewhat premature...

As for me, and observing myself during this process, I have discovered that I am far more Conservative than I once thought. They say that with age, ones views become more and more conservative. And while I would never, ever, in a million years vote Republican in the United States, I hear nothing but sense when I listen to Mr. Cameron.

This, too, I think belies a fundamental difference between the British and American political systems. Years ago, when trying to explain the British political system to me, a savvy, student economist friend of mine clarified it thus: 

"You see. We have two parties in Britain. The Tories (Conservatives) who are fundamentally moderate and centrist, akin to your Democratic Party in the States. And, we have the Labour Party, who are fundamentally moderate and centrist, akin to your Democratic Party in the States." 

That, I feel, is the rub. One could argue that the two main parties in Britain are not entirely dissimilar philosophically, but rather differ significantly in pragmatics and practice. In other words, they want the same things, but have different views on how those ends are achieved.

Very exciting times, indeed, then, on this side of the Atlantic. 

Watch this space!

p.s. Spotted an interesting image on the cover of The Sun (not a paper I normally follow, but very intriguing all the same...) - "David Cameron is our only hope"


SWC said...

Funny, I always though that when we age, we only become more like "true" ourselves.

I guess that would explain your NRA membership ;)!

In short, yes, I am eager to learn of the out come of this election. Was going to ask you and the DEB for your predictions. Let's chat sometime soon. It has been too long.

midwesttomidlands said...

Hello, I just found your blog recently and it looks like you are a fellow Midlander. I agree with you it is difficult to be here and not be able to vote. Also the length of the campaign vs. US. we shall see what the voting process brings.

Expat mum said...

Pop over to Pond Parleys. We're duscussing what it's like in election times when you're an expat.

Vicky said...

re the sun comment.... the owner of 90% of the media in the UK decides which way he will vote, and his papers plug that party... who then usually get an upswing. They are very proud of this and have previously run headlines after an election taking the credit (or should that be undue influence). Its interesting to see our system through the eyes of another nation... (i especially liked the Daily shows coverage)

Sadly, whilst in theory we vote for our local mp, in practice if someone hated Gordon Brown, they did not vote for their local Labour MP. And I'm not keen on a system where % share of votes has nothing in common with % share of seats. Its left us with something that may as well be a 2 party state.

I can only hope that the hung parliament does provoke real change.