Tuesday, 15 January 2008

A View Across the Pond

Keen readers of The Poliblogs will know that every Tuesday I write the Politics Decoded column at The Wardman Wire. This is rather like a longer version of my daily Late Lunch Briefing post that I write here at the Poliblogs. As a result, there seems little point me doing a Late Lunch Briefing on a Tuesday as you can read all I have to say on British politics on the Wardman Wire.

However, do not be alarmed! Starting today I will be writing my weekly Tuesday column – “A View Across the Pond”. This will be my take on the American election from the safe distance of the UK. I hope you enjoy...

There are two things that have struck me most about the US presidential election:

Firstly, it takes them a year to actually get to the polls proper. While in the UK we are usually absolutely fed up with elections after the month of high energy, high profile campaigning, in America it appears to be treated more like a national sport. The media, the public, the candidates love it. They whoop and holler when their preferred candidate enters the room, usually accompanied by some patriotic soundtrack like Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”. In the UK the closest we got to that was Prescott dancing to D:Ream’s “Things can only get better” or the embarrassing scene of the South coast’s finest granny parade waving Tory and British flags at their annual conference. Like most things, the Americans just like to do things bigger and better than the Brits. Imagine one of prospective PMs got up on stage and started crying like Hilary Clinton did a couple of weeks ago? We’d have laughed them off stage and the thought of voting for them ever again just would not be an option. Yet when an American does it, it just somehow seems ok.

Secondly, it is the candidates themselves. We have Cameron, Brown and Clegg. A public school boy career politician, a Presbyterian economist and another public school boy career politician. The most exciting these three get is that one of them may or may not have dabbled in drugs as a teenager. Big deal. The US on the other hand can boast a Vietnam War veteran who turned down release from a prisoner of war camp for the sake of his men only to be tortured for five years; they have the Brooklyn boy who took on the Mafia and won then went on to become a national hero at 9/11. They have one of the most charismatic men in politics who wants to defy the odds to become the first black president. They have the ordained Southern Baptist minister who is in a rock band called Capitol Offense – and yes, he does support the death penalty. The list goes on. Some are brilliant; some, quite frankly, scare the hell out of me. But as a set of politicians, you have a range of characters all vying to be the most powerful man in the world. It is fascinating to watch, which is probably why it is getting so much coverage in the UK – more so than in previous years.

The question is, while it is great to watch would we really want UK politics to head down the same route? I suspect not. As with Clinton’s tears, the Americans can pull this sort of thing off. We Brits just end up looking like your dad when he’s had a few too many and starts dancing. Kinnock tried it at the Sheffield rally back in 1992 and he was last person to try it for a reason. It was one of the main factors in him losing the election. Can you imagine Brown holding a rally like the Republicans or Democrats have done in Iowa or New Hampshire? His fake smile is creepy enough for me thanks. I am not criticising the American way of doing things – in fact I love the way the Americans do it - I just don’t think it is what we want in the UK.

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