Hung Out to Dry -- Britain's Limp Result

Nothing could quite be so dreary -- when at a time of recession, with troops in various countries and unemployment high and freedoms being curtailed -- as the lackluster and limp UK General Election.

It has become entirely clear that there is a huge chasm between what the political elite, bereft of ideas or inspiration of any kind, has become increasingly separated and distanced from the public. Some in the media were even trying to compare Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg with Obama! The fact that Clegg represented a sense of "fresh air" was largely, as we have now seen, a figment of the imagination of the media and elite in Britain who speak only to themselves. The British public were not particularly impressed with "change" through Clegg.

Similarly, Gordon Brown's "bigotgate" blunder demonstrated just how insular and patronising UK politicians have become. Brown's encounter with Gillian Duffy, the 66 year old woman he encountered while canvassing spoke to him about her concerns with immigration and eastern Europeans in the UK. Immigration is a concern that many British (and of course Americans have) - which has been duly amplified and fanned by successive Labour leaders and governments as indeed have the Conservatives. Indeed, the continual droning on about "scarce resources" (they are not, they are socially arranged) such as jobs, houses, health care and education by our elite and by environmentalists illustrates that this woman was actually echoing a broad consensus. However, to Brown "that woman" was off-point and off-cue and not scheduled by his "people". Rather than having an open honest debate about immigration, whether we should have open borders for all or not and why -- Brown let off demonstrating his patronising attitude.

Meanwhile, the Tony Blair-esque David Cameron, leader of the Tories, did not manage to win either. In his vacuous attempts to present himself as the person of "change" what we saw was more of the same -- a bureaucrat, desperate to get elected, but with little to convince voters what was particularly different or important or pressing about their position.

Ironically, there is an appetite in Britain among the public for something better. While the turnout was low (65.1%, slightly up from the last two elections although historically still low) particularly as we kept being told that this was such an important election with so much at stake, people in Britain are acutely aware of the problems they are facing. What they are also aware of it, as we have seen, is that there is little to distinguish any of the Parties today. Contrary to the frenzied media reports and obsessing political oligarchs, the majority of British people have demonstrated that in spite of the huge issues being faced, there is little on offer.

It is hardly surprising though that when there are no inspiring and compelling ideas that citizens do not get inspired. We will see no doubt, as we did in the USA when GW Bush was re-elected, a lot of blaming "stupid" people (always easier to blame the people than so-called leaders). However, while politicians try to work out what to do next -- and Cameron has already reached out to Clegg as has Gordon Brown -- what we can be sure of is that left up to them, we are only going to have more of the same.

When the "Obama Phenomenon" hit America, it was exciting to witness so many young people become passionate about their involvement in making some kind of difference. Unfortunately, Obama used US electors as a stage army (in a way that his British counterparts could only dream about) -- and therein lies the rub. For real change takes real involvement and shaping by citizens. Whether the American Revolution, Civil Rights or any number of historically important transformations -- all have come from the participation of ordinary people.

The British elite are far more exhausted and disorientated than their more dynamic and powerful American counterparts. Ultimately however, what is missing on both sides of the pond is powerful ideas, that dare to pose a different agenda and have the tough debates about immigration, freedom, war and the economy that do not fit in to easy soundbites.

As a counterpoint to the drab mainstream show, I was rather inspired by the 21 Pledges for Progress that the Institute of Ideas put forward that offered a range of commitments to discuss and organize around. There are other groups too that seized the initiative to engage with people around the big issues that count, such as the campaigning group Manifesto Club. Ultimately people in Britain -- as well as internationally -- will not need "reconciliation" and a race to consensus ruling, but to come together and tussle intellectually over the major issues of our time. Ideas have consequences as do a lack of them, which today in Britain we bear witness to. That is why we have such a good opportunity to make some real change -- the first step though is through a battle of ideas that go to the heart of what kind of world we want to live in.