Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The UK Election

I'm still trying to recover from the Obama election in 2008 when lo and behold, it's election time in the UK. A week ago today, Gordon Brown announced that he was going to drive to Buckingham Palace (I suspect a helicopter might have filmed the motorcade) and asked for the Queen's permission to dissolve Parliament so they can go on campaign. The election is scheduled for May 6th and therefore it's the only topic of conversation on the news every morning, noon, and night. There are so many differences between the US and the UK in terms of elections that it's difficult to know where to start explaining, but it's also safe to say that from my untrained eye the whole thing is shifting to a much more American style of doing things.

First of all, hilarious that British politicians can't multi-task and do the job they are elected to do (govern) and simultaneously seek re-election. So they literally shut down the government for four weeks and hit the campaign trail. Going to the people on their doorsteps is a really strong sentiment here; every single candidate talks about hearing from people and speaking to them at their homes, so perhaps they need the time to drive around the country and find the most far-flung country cottages. Or not. When I mentioned this oddity at work, someone did point out that okay fair enough they shut down government for a month, but at least the election doesn't drag out for 2 years and cost $500 million in advertising like it does in America. Fair enough.

While in the US the elections are about the personalities - the people who are running - the election here seems to be much more about the parties. Yes Gordon Brown is the face of Labour while David Cameron is the face of the Tories, but it doesn't feel nearly as much as of a popularity contest here, where people are voting for the man and less of the party as does in the US. Here, each party releases a printed manifesto explaining what they will do for (to) the country if elected. Reporters are actually digging out the Labour manifesto from 2005 or whenever the last election is and judging whether the party has achieved them! No one really holds parties to tasks in the US, as the goal posts always seem to be shifting.

Yet, as I mentioned before, there are changes afoot. For the first time ever, there will be live televised debates between the Prime Minister candidates in the UK. References are being made to the first US presidential debate between Nixon and JFK, as the similarities in style and appearance between Brown and Cameron are shockingly close. Some are deriding the fact that American-style Hollywood-type politics are encroaching on the UK, while others welcome the fact that all three candidates will be in one place discussing their opinions together. Personally, I want to see just how different they all are - because they all seem pretty much the same.

And, of course, there are many of "them." They being parties. The UK, while a democracy, runs in the Parliamentary multi-party system, and there are no less than 5 political parties with seats in Parliament. The major parties are the Conservatives and Labour, but there are also regional parties like the Scottish National Party, the Welsh National Party, the UKIP, the BNP (neo-conservatives that are not nice) and then there is an alternative-sort-of-major-party called the Liberal-Democrats. I don't know who they are. Or what they stand for. Or why I should (if I could) vote for them. The most interesting part of this multi-party system is that if, after May 6th, there isn't one party with a majority of votes (or seats in Parliament), then there is a hung Parliament! And there might be a coalition government! I learned about all of this during my freshman year of college... and promptly forgot. I'll deal with it if it happens... stay tuned.

And the worst difference? Annoyingly, to be different, just like driving on the opposite side of the road from the rest of the world, in the UK blue = conservative, red = liberal. WTF. For a visual person like me, it really makes things difficult when looking at the poll maps. Oh Britain... always have to be different.

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