by Stacey Moberly
There's an election afoot in the United Kingdom. Tony Blair
and William Hague are duking it out every day (rhetorically)
on their respective swings through crucial constituencies
and on the front pages of every newspaper. A general election
in a country of 60 million people is a real attention-getter,
right? Wrong. Compared to the circus of an American election,
this registers a tiny blip on the radar.
I'm American. I moved to the United Kingdom precisely five
weeks ago. I was in my homeland to witness the 2000 election,
start to finish, in its absurd entirety. From the day that
then-Governor Bush formed his exploratory committee in my
home state to that sad day in December when our President
was selected for us, I was glued to the television, being
inundated with political commentary, political advertisements,
reminders to vote. Wherever I went, I was exposed to small
signs attached to a wooden stake, planted anywhere there was
more than one square foot of grass. The office was brimming
with heated political debate, with the Republicans using the
tactics they learned from their leaders Lott, DeLay, and Armey
(the personal attack) and the Democrats using the tactics
they learned from theirs (crouch down, bend over, and deny
During our elections, it's business as usual. Legislative
bodies, both at state and federal levels, continue to function.
Congressmen and women do their jobs while running re-election
campaigns; an incumbent President running for re-election
performs all of his Presidential duties while stumping; and
political appointees nervously finger their buttons and suck
on cigarettes, waiting to see if they will keep their jobs.
When Tony Blair decided to call an election, he dissolved
Parliament. That's right... dissolved Parliament. The MPs
will have to all run for re-election if they plan to keep
their jobs, and they don't have to worry about doing two jobs
at once. Political appointees aren't breaking a sweat, since
most of the employees of the British government are civil
servants. They're not all sacked the second the opposition
wins, like they are in America. I guess that's why election
fraud isn't as widespread in Britain; the people that count
the votes are also civil servants, not bogus political appointees
During our elections (and every day in-between) money is
given to the two major parties by big business and wealthy
individual donors. This money goes to pay for campaign coordinators,
lawyers, public relations staff, private pilots, caterers,
psychotherapists, and anyone else the candidate will need
during the often year-long national campaigns. It also goes
to pay for transportation, the costs of which are staggering;
most people don't make enough in a year to run a Boeing 757
for more than a day or two. A good portion of this money is
directed to running advertisements, which are completely devoid
of substance and are run ad nauseum on television for days,
weeks, months at a time. Even local elections have ads; in
Austin, we saw ads by county judges for God's sake!
In Britain, by contrast, the campaigns are so short that
there wouldn't be time to pull together ads like that, even
if it were legal to do so. That's right; on TV in Britain,
you will see NO adverts by any political party. The only election-related
ads we've seen have been from the Home Office, letting people
know that they can vote by post so they don't have to knock
off work on June 7th (Election Day). The only advertising
you're exposed to is the occasional Tory or Labour (or even
Lib Dem or Socialist) pamphlet shoved through your mail slot,
and they won't even bother you with those if you put a poster
in your window, showing your support for your chosen party.
There are no campaign planes; in Britain, they have the Battle
Bus. Each party has a gaily decorated bus for stumping around
the country; Britain is so small and so many constituencies
lack airports that it would be pointless to attempt to fly
from place to place; it's actually quicker to drive.
As for public relations staff; I have not seen any. When
John Prescott (Deputy Prime Minster, Labour) punched a protester
in Wales for throwing an egg at him, there were no sterile
statements issued by spokespeople or "campaign coordinators."
Tony Blair and other Labour leaders themselves fielded the
tough questions from reporters about the incident. The buck
stopped with Tony Blair.
During our elections, we're subjected to all four major networks
plus CNN, CSPAN, PBS, Telemundo, et al carrying three pointless
political "debates." You remember the debates - the ones Bush
won because he didn't throw a hissy fit or forget that he
was a Republican? Well, they don't have those here either.
No debates! There is a reason for that... every day in Parliament,
there is a debate, and Blair and Hague often argue head to
head. The highlights (and delicious zingers) are shown on
the evening news; there's no need for a debate. Britons already
know that both are talented debators; they wouldn't be party
leaders if they weren't. Therefore, the country is not subjected
to the debate charade. It's gorgeous.
During our elections, you hear empty promise after empty
promise, stretching into days, weeks, months, and yes, sometimes
years of boring campaign rhetoric that you know you can't
trust. It's B.S., you KNOW it's B.S., you hope everyone ELSE
knows it's B.S., and you know that the candidate won't make
good on any of the promises, or at best, will only make a
half-assed attempt at fulfilling promises crucial to moderate
voters while showering his wealthy supporters with defense
contracts, tax cuts and other financial incentives.
In Britain, each party writes and publishes a manifesto,
practically a dirty word in the U.S. Everything you want to
know is in the manifesto; if you want to read blathering promise
after blathering promise, you can do so at your leisure. The
parties pick several key points from their manifesto (usually
four or five) and make those their pledges. It helps to keep
the campaign focused, I think, when you are focusing on five
issues that you feel are the most important. The general public
can inform themselves about the party if they are curious,
and the party can stay on message throughout the campaign.
If you ignored newspapers and avoided watching the news,
you wouldn't know there was an election going on in this country.
Even if you do read the papers and watch the news, it's easily
avoided, as it is not even the top story every day, as campaigns
are in the United States. The British election is short, comparatively
cheap, and very unintrusive compared to American elections.
British elections are also brutally frank about mudslinging.
It happens, both sides are guilty, and neither one of them
seems to hold back.
From billboards comparing a hypothetical Tory win to a fiery
science fiction doomsday epic called "Economic Disaster II"
to Conservative billboards showing a pregnant Tony Blair,
saying he hasn't yet "delivered" (cute), it seems like the
gloves are off from the second the bell is rung. Those billboards
are the only ads that the British are subjected to, aside
from the occasional pamphlet through the door, and they're
so well-done that they're more amusing than irritating; a
far cry from the stately ads you see in the U.S., showing
a politician with a pinched face with an American flag rippling
majestically somewhere on the ad (this is probably a requirement),
proclaming the same glib, boring slogans in 8 foot-high lettering.
"Compassionate Conservatism?" I'd rather see "Economic Disaster
II," it's much more entertaining. Even though politicians
here are every bit as corrupt, every bit as vapid, and as
full of hot air as any American politican, elections here
are much easier on the voters. American elections are entirely
too long, too expensive, and are practically a theatrical
production compared to the spartan British elections, which,
due to their brevity and the inability to predict precisely
when they will occur, are much less muddled by spokespeople,
coordinators, spin-doctoring, and trashy, boring talk show