Theresa May speaks at her first Prime Minister’s Questions system last year. She may not get another one. UK Parliament Photo
When a UK general election comes around, you can normally expect me to be blogging about it. British politics is, in certain ways, far more compelling than its American counterpart. The scale is smaller, but it feels so darn Shakespearean, I cannot help but be fascinated. However, when Prime Minister Theresa May (only the second female in British history to hold that position) called for an early election a few weeks back, I let the news pass me by for the most part.
There were three reasons for this. First, I have been dealing with illness for almost the entirely of this year that has rendered me only partially functional. Second, the constant stream of stories related to the Trump administration and the presidential election in France grabbed more of my attention, rightly or wrongly. Third, none of the party leaders in this British election inspire anything like confidence or even grudging admiration in me. I long for the bad old days of the Blair/Brown feud, coalition politics, and the like. Things were so much more fun back then, even if they were falling to pieces.
Nevertheless, this British election was important. Ever since the UK voted to leave the European Union last year, there has been significant disagreement over how that process should take place. The party that leads the country going forward will have enormous influence over that transition, which is surely important not only for British citizens, but also Europeans in general. Second, the rise in terrorist actions in the UK is a major source of concern, and the country needs a government that will be effective in countering the hydra-like threat of ISIS and all its ilk. Third, there is the eternal question of whether the government should spend more on social programs, as favored by the liberal parties, or continue on with austerity. Continue reading
The leaders of Britain’s major political parties (including a seventh not pictured) participated in a TV debate last month prior to the 2015 UK general election. Screenshot of ITV’s coverage of the debate taken from YouTube channel of Sky News
As I settle in for a year and a half of non-stop coverage of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, I find myself bracing for blistering attack ads, billions of dollars in campaign spending, partisanship capable of offending even the Montagues & Capulets, and the inevitability of a conclusion that is unlikely to satisfy me in any tangible way. It’s enough to make me want to avoid watching the news for the next 18 months, but why should that be?
After all, elections used to be fun, or so I thought. I would take to them much as Benedict Cumberbatch’s version of Sherlock Holmes reacts to news of a gruesome murder with a gleeful, “The game is on!” Political elections are, after all, both the highest and lowest form of competitive sport. If only it were possible to cut down on all the TV commercials, reign in campaign spending, and force leading politicians to debate with many points of view rather than just one other! If only there was a way to enjoy watching all those glorious campaign gaffes and still know that none of my tax dollars would be negatively affected by the incompetence of said politicians!
Ladies and gentlemen, there is a way, but not in America. Instead, we need to go to a far older country – a kingdom, in fact. Yes, I’m talking about the United Kingdom, where the official campaign period is less than two months long, TV advertising is subject to strict regulations, and voters have some legitimate third (or fourth, or fifth) parties to choose from. Politics here plays out like Shakespearean drama about a mile from the location where Shakespearean drama was first performed. Continue reading