Reflections on the UK political system after Obama elected

As a Brit there are two Western political systems of democracy that affect me: the UK style and the US style.

Up until now I’ve had a natural preference for the UK flavour of party politics as opposed to presidential; my reasoning that party politics allows leadership by consensus not character, and lends itself to the long-term development and continuity of political ideals. A party governs a country, and the leader of the party serves the party, rather than the party serving the leader. The consequent of consensus government is the requirement to stick to a party line; the word ‘Maverick’ doesn’t sell back in the UK. I have always believed that party politics is more progressive than presidential for these reasons.

Our two major political parties have worked themselves into an ideological deadlock. When New Labour moved into the centre, I was most pleased; finally there was a party I could potentially bring myself to vote for who were in with a chance. But how does an opposition party defeat a governing party that has led from the centre? How does it gain political capital over a party that has positioned itself to appeal to all?

Here’s how: they take the centre ground too, and pick pick pick away at the governing party. They pick to show they are better at running the centre ground, even if they aren’t. They pick away incessantly to the point where the real issues affecting the electorate are ignored, instead of fulfilling their duty to balance power and challenge the governing party. They pick and pick and pick until the political bubble so obscures their view of reality that the whole concept of party politics is ruined.

Does anybody remember when David Cameron was elected leader of the opposition party?

He called for an end to “Punch and Judy politics”.

“People in this country are crying out for a Conservative Party that is decent, reasonable, sensible, common sense and in it for the long term…”

Any human being to have witnessed PMQs in the House of Commons on a Wednesday afternoon knows that, three years on, that hasn’t happened.

(Click here for a very good, topical example. It depresses me beyond reason.)

Anyone who thinks our country isn’t run by a terrible bunch of rowdy smugsters clearly hasn’t seen our politics in action. Whilst it’s true to say we Brits don’t go in for the emotional, patriotic style of government, their jeers and sneers are enough to put any sane human with a soul off politics.

Cameron promised to “switch on a whole new generation”. He preceded by appointing three Old Etonians to his shadow cabinet. And fifteen on the front bench. I don’t think I’d like my 21st Century Britain to be run by a bunch of chaps who all went to the same school, thanks.

No wonder this country doesn’t vote.

Once this deadlock is achieved, how can it be broken? The greatest aspect of party politics, that replaceable individuals conform to the will of the continuous group, is also its flaw.

US politics, however, can reinvent itself.

Why should this be necessary? I can see two reasons.

1. When a President with centrist political leanings, or non-partisanship, governs a country, he can do so effectively or ineffectively – however the electorate decide who is to govern at the beginning of each term. If the electorate still want a politically central government, but they are unhappy with the effectiveness of the current leader, this problem can be solved by the election of another. A party, however, elects its own leader.

2. Every new era requires a new politic. A new politic allows a country’s government to live up to the needs of its electorate without the need for revolution. When the governing party moves to the centre, they are inadvertently setting the political agenda for the opposition party, however by definition, to appeal to the majority of the electorate, the opposition must take-on the centrist politics of the governing power. The core values of the two parties become increasingly similar (or at least, they purport to be similar). The only way forward is then political point-scoring, a form of political battle that is at its heart completely out of touch with the electorate.

Whilst I am not against the domestic policies of ex Prime Minister Tony Blair, or against his style of leadership, it does seem that his leadership has indirectly diluted the core values of both political parties – and because of the sedative effect of party politics, there seems to be no way out of the deadlock.

Witnessing the US Presidential election in all its technicolour excitement brings the above point home – but even more depressing were the UK leaders’ childish responses, each wanting to align themselves with President-elect Obama to bolster his own political position.

The personal upshot? I shall vote for the Liberal Democrats, as I can’t bring myself to vote for either main parties now – but I do so regretfully; they are the party who will never gain power in this country. I regret that our politics cannot morph such that one of the major parties can become politically libertarian, fiscally conservative, socially liberal, and with a firm but peace-loving foreign policy. I would happily vote for any Labour or Conservative party with such values.

Either that, or I’ll move to the land of the free.

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3 comments

  1. Mat,
    its fab to hear your perspective. i think its really hard to explain the why’s and where fores of american politics if you have not witnessed it yourself. its like comparing apples to oranges. the platform of our nation is simply that different. while its not without its flaws, i love it all the same.

  2. Ruthie,
    Thanks for the comment. Hope you have a safe flight back, it’s soon no? I agree it’s like comparing apples to oranges and maybe by calling them different ‘flavours’ of politics I am underestimating the differences. But still, we both technically live under democracies (the extreme liberals or lefties may disagree) and I think the two are worthy of comparison…

  3. I couldn’t agree more with your sentiments over PMQs. Steve likes to watch it in the office but he has to do it while I’m not there as it drives me to frustration with how juvenile and counter-productive it is.

    I too will be voting LibDem at the next election, but not simply out of a lack of choice. The LibDem candidate in Reading is one of my local councillors whom I know quite well, and from his work in our ward I genuinely think would be an excellent MP for the area regardless of whether he is in the ruling party. That, and our current Conservative MP crucially voted against the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations, which makes him a bigot in my book.

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