Monday, May 4, 2015

Thoughts on the British Election

I have an inordinate interest in British politics and culture that I still have yet explain except for perhaps having been drawn in by art and style of New Wave music during MTV’s early days.  In any case, I have been closely following the UK election, which is fascinating in its precariousness.  It does not appear that any one party will have a clear majority for the second time in a row, and the emergence of the Scottish National Party and UKIP show some real challenges to the two party system.  Of course, in a first past the post winner take all system, that tends to create a bit of chaos.  At this point the UK might as well have a proportional system.

One thing I have always liked about British elections is that the parties are pretty open about what they are, and that voters don’t pretend they are voting for a person.  Despite this fact, the largely right wing press has tried its hardest to impugn Ed Miliband for his basic appearance and occasional awkwardness.  I guess they saw how well that worked in the US against Al Gore and John Kerry.  Like those two candidates, Miliband has a certain stiffness and over-seriousness about him.  Unlike them, it seems that his style will not deep six his ability to win.

I also think that his approach works in his favor.  I recently saw Miliband’s interview with comedian and political provocateur Russell Brand, something that David Cameron has attacked him over.  Seeing the interview, I think this is a desperate attempt by Cameron to spin the interview, in which Miliband comes off looking rather good.  He takes Brand’s questions about voter apathy and the power of the wealthy seriously, and doesn’t just through out the usual bullshit.  While Miliband may be a littly gawky and awkward, it’s obvious that he actually cares and has a head on his shoulders.  I’ve never seen anything in Cameron other than pure political calculation and toffee-nosed arrogance.  I would love to see American candidates have to go twelve rounds with the likes of Brand, but alas, that is hoping for too much.  

The British election has also been another nail in the coffin of the notion that we are living in an interconnected world where the nation is superfluous.  Despite the fact that the referendum on Scottish independence recently failed, the Scottish National Party is poised to win the vast majority of seats in the region.  The UK is a confederation of four nations (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland), hardly the ideal model for cultivating a strong national identity.  In a world where nationalism is getting more, not less, important, this configuration may not survive.  The growing popularity of UKIP, an explicitly nationalistic party, has also been on the rise.  I think we are poised to see a similar rise in nationalism as a potent force in the upcoming American election.  The Tea Party call of "take our country back" has morphed into a more palatable nationalism, one calling to make America "strong" in the world again, and to define immigrants as undesirable.

Relatedly, the British election has shown that along with nationalism, region matters.  In America one speaks of "red" and "blue" America, but a similar geographic cleavage can be seen in the UK.  As in America, the divide is largely between North and South, with the South trending more conservative (but with plenty of Labour support in London.)  It's a split that's been pretty clear at least since Thatcher, and the reliably Labour regions can basically be defined as "areas damaged by Thatcherism."  

Last, it is interesting to contrast Britain and the United States when it comes to the issue of health care.  Whereas the rather weak half measure of Obamacare has been met with lots of contention and fierce opposition, in Britain both parties pledge to defend and fund the National Health Service.  The fact that the Tories may not intend to actually do so has been a major Labour argument in the election.  This dispute is the Republican Party's worst nightmare, in that they do not want Americans to learn to love state-sponsored health care, as much as they have learned to love Medicare and Social Security.  Deep down, they know that most people appreciate the security and improved quality of life that so-called "entitlements" bring, and are absolutely desperate to avoid reminding the people of that fact, lest they object to the continuing  neo-liberal onslaught/corporate money grab.  


Terry said...

"the reliably Labour regions can basically be defined as "areas damaged by Thatcherism."

Interesting contrasted with the US, where the people most devoted to the Republicans since 1980 have also been among the hardest hit by their policies, such as union-busting, outsourcing, cutbacks in infrastructure, education, social services, etc.

Anonymous said...

Will Russell Brand be the deciding factor in the upcoming UK election?

Anonymous said...

I love how many things you're enthusiastic about. Keep it up. Your students must love you.

I think it's funny, though, how the media, both in the US and in Britain itself (including a lot of dilettantes in the social media realm), had the Conservatives pushing up daisies before any actual voters had a chance to say a word about the matter. It's a good illustration of how conventional wisdom gets to be conventional wisdom. One self-important know-it-all in the blogosphere with a little bit of interest in a topic (but no in-depth knowledge about it) weighs in about what is "clearly" going to happen. He (it's almost always a he) does so in such an authoritative way that his views are picked up by other self-important blogodons,who repeat his assertions in an equally authoritative way. And pretty soon, the Tories are "clearly" headed for their biggest defeat since the American Revolution.

Except they're not. When the actual election is held. And actual voters get to cast actual ballots.

And (who'd've thought it) Russell Brand turns out not to be the deciding factor in UK politics.

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

Thanks for the compliment, but I must acknowledge that I seriously underestimated how animus towards a governing coalition with the Scottish nationalists would damage Labour.