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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Four Reasons I Love British Politics

They say you should never discuss politics (or religion, sometimes the same thing) when you travel abroad, but politics was one of the top reasons I enjoyed living in Britain for nearly ten years in total. I mean, politics in the U.S. can become kind of a bore--who's up for another round of discussing big vs. small government, as David Brooks pointed out in a recent New York Times column: "The stale, old debate is back with a fury." As a Canadian, he must know the feeling!

Or maybe it's a case of familiarity breeding contempt: one always finds the politics of one's own country a bit tedious?

In any event, here are the four main reasons the grass was definitely greener for me during my decade of living under the Queen's government:

1) I discovered that I really like parliamentary systems. Even though I had to endure Margaret Thatcher's majority for many years, I still think it's better if governments can accomplish their agendas rather than spending years and years in gridlock. (I'm not sure why the British public has gone for a coalition government this time around--does their U.S. envy really extend that far?)

2) I also discovered the appeal of uncharismatic, unslick politicians. (Sorry, David Cameron!) Gordon Brown was of course the epitome; less recent examples include Michael Foot and John Major ("that nice Mr. Major!"). And let's not forget Shirley Williams. I saw her on BBC America the other night in the sort of flowery jacket that in America would qualify as dowdy leisure ware, but let's face it, she has a formidable intellect and political gift.

3) I took to discussing politics in pubs like a duck to water. Of all the things about Britain I miss the most, it's spending the evening with friends in a pub talking about the news of the day under the influence of a pint or two. I feel sorry for anyone whose main experience with political exchange comes from FB and Twitter. (Something is gained from new technology, but something is also lost!)

4) I adored living in a place not afraid to take the mickey out of its own politics. This video clip, suggested by Roger Ebert during the British elections last week, says it all:

Japanese politics is another matter--and will have to be the subject of a post at a later date. Suffice it to say, I find it a stretch to understand how PM Hatoyama can get himself into such a pickle in such a short time. I guess being in the opposition for that many years fosters rank amateurism? Otherwise, how to explain it? (But I must say, I do feel sorry for the Okinawans...)

Question: Are there any other endearing features of the British political scene that I've missed? Speak out, Anglophiles!


Marshall said...

Great video! One of the b est.

I agree with your views on the UK govt. It's basically an elected dictatorship. I think it works great:
a) Each party says what it's going to do if it gets elected
b) One party gets elected
c) That party does what it said it was going to do.

In the US, step A never really happens, and so no one is at all surprised when step C doesn't happen either. In fact, I remember reading an article once making fun of the Economist reporter for diligently analysing the platform of one of the US political parties after their national convention. As if that had anything do to with what they were likely to do if elected! On the other hand, I remember Mrs. Thatcher just basically going down the list and enacting each item, even the distinctly unpopular ones, with the justification that "this is what we were elected to do." This is one reason why I don't like the proportional representation idea, although I do think something has to be done about the parliamentary districts, which clearly are gerrymandered to ensure either a Cons or Lab majority.

ML Awanohara said...

Yes, the thought of Thatcher going down her list gives me chills, even now. You have a good point, though I still don't think it's a justification for gridlock. It will be interesting to see if the Tory-Lib Dem alliance can beat the odds and find some kind of happy medium between dictatorialism (as I like to call it) and gridlock. We can live and hope!

Joy Richards said...

As a Brit, my sense is that we find all the bright enthusiasm and arguing during electioneering just a bit...well, embarrassing.

This year's event was made even more uncomfortable by the sight of the three main boys, all shiny faced and new suited (except dear crumpled Gordon of course) standing together on a stage and well, quite frankly, showing off. The situation was somewhat redeemed by the fact that they actually looked jolly embarrassed themselves. I mean no one likes a know-it-all, do they?

You are quite right in pointing out that we Brits do a jolly good line in (and I am paraphrasing here) political nutters. Take dear Boris Johnson for example. he gained the esteemeed position of Mayor of London not despite looking and behaving for all the world like a poorly trained English Sheepdog, but because of it. One cannot possibly mistrust someone who does not even attempt to hide his inability to brush his own hair. Our great baddie political nutter is of course Mr Griffin, leader of the BNP. Although he may express views that are not so very far away from those of the much more tidily presented Mr Hitler, even Adolf might have thought better than to excuse a particularly racist comment, as Mr Griffin did on Radio 4 during his election campaign, on the basis that he said it when he was 'very drunk'. Even we binge drinking Brits tend to find that an unacceptable response from the leader of a political party.

Fortunately, it has all settled down now. David and Nick make a delightful couple (such a pity they are not gay as their wedding photos would be fab....although both public school boys...?). They had a little laugh about the insults they had hurled at one another during the campaign (such scamps!) and are now the very best of chums. They have promised that they will make everything in the rose garden lovely if only they can find a very large pile of cash. I wonder if you Yanks might have any spare? Don't forget our special relationship.

Now let me return my focus to the cold spring weather and that darned volcanic ash...

Kathryn Allison said...

The protest vote -- where else would you find a political party called The Monster Raving Loony Party?

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