After working on the Obama campaign, Britain's elections are a little more disappointing. They're the premature ejaculation of politics: you're given four weeks to prepare, a day to vote, and the next day the Prime Minister is rudely ejected from No. 10 and a new one installed. No year of election fever, and primaries, and massive debate, and grassroots campaigning. No dazzling conventions with banners and flags and tears and Hollywood glamour. The people have no say in who the leader of each party will be. And it's a rarity that anyone would actually be involved in the election at a grassroots level. Politics is something the educated classes with too much time seem to do, with input from the general public limited to deferential handshakes and small talk.
Perhaps the only interesting thing about Britain's General Election is its indecisive outcome -- leading to Conservatives winning 306 seats with 36.1% of the popular vote, Labour with 258 seats and 29% of the vote, the Lib Dems with 57 seats and 23% of the vote. As Paddy Ashdown phrased it: "The people have spoken but we don't know what they've said".
I identify myself politically as a Liberal - but in the United Kingdom I would not align myself with either Labour or Conservative. Perhaps the first hung parliament in 32 years means that the people of Britain might feel the same way I do: a bit messed up. I've never voted Labour and this itself confuses me, because as a 'good' Liberal, I'm meant to identify with this political party. When I expressed my disaffection from the party I'm 'supposed' to vote for on facebook, a Labour voting friend of mine responded with:
Its bourgeois idiocy to simply say 'I'm disillusioned with new Labour' - the lesser of two evils is a lot less evil.
Yet the 'lesser of two evils' -- the Labour Party under Blair and then Brown -- managed to align itself with Republican foreign policy, make university only for the elite who can afford it, increase unemployment, massively increase poverty, while letting immigration figures get out of control. They taxed the poor and let the richest get off. They won an election in 1997 on a bunch of promises they consistently reneged on. They carried on the Tory policy of privatization with their sinister Private Funding Initiatives which were garnished to look much more appetizing than they actually were -- leading to public bailouts our government couldn't afford.
Now the Liberal mind works this way: if the 'good' guys are acting like this, the ones I'm meant to support because of my deeply entrenched political views -- what on earth is the right wing gonna do? And if I criticize 'my' party for the decisions they've put into practice -- waging an illegal war in Iraq, increasing immigration to record numbers (which as a good Liberal I agree with in principle) rising unemployment, leading to panic, hysteria and xenophobia, which in turn is fertile ground for the rise of fascist groups such as the BNP (completely against my Liberal ideals) -- does that mean that I'm right wing?
Part of the problem in the last 13 years has been the inability of the liberal public, press and media to hold its leaders accountable, for fear doing so would instantly make them right wing sympathizers. It means that if I publicly criticize the Labour party, or Gordon Brown, then I'm instantly considered some kind of fascist -- despite the fact I have never voted Conservative nor ever will. What was interesting for me, working on the Obama election as a foreigner who couldn't vote, was witnessing the complete dearth of mirth, humor or irony in the Republican party. The Democrats were more self-mocking and vocal in their criticism of themselves and their own party. In Britain the situation has been reversed.
From my purely non-scientific experiment on Facebook, Conservatives seemed to be more willing to face criticism and accept that my political views differed from theirs, without resorting to the profanities I received from my Labour voting friends ('BBC thinks Cameron will be next PM' was met with 'fuck off you idiot'). Is it the passion of defeat and disappointment? I'd argue not. I'd argue it's more blind clinging to the ideals your party should support, even when they don't. And it's at this point that I yearn to see the politics of personality, so integral to presidential primaries -- rear it's massively expensive campaign head so that my poor Labour voting friends actually had a range of choice within their party, rather than being stuck between Labour acting like Conservatives, and Conservatives acting like Conservatives, and the Lib Dems who are more like the rebound chick you go out with because the hot girl you really like is doing something else that night.
My Labour-voting friends consider criticism and an expression of disappointment in their party and leader as a defection to the right-side of the political spectrum -- highly ironic to me, as I consider a vote for Gordon Brown and a vote for Labour to be practically the same as voting for the Conservatives when practice has proven that little seems to separate the two parties. My Liberal friends, who, like myself, hold dear equality, civil partnerships (gay marriage), fair immigration, a national health service, Britain's excellent welfare system -- find that they have to vote for a party which purports to have the ideals of progressive, educated, fair liberalism, but has found these ideals have separated them from their traditional support of the white working class (illustrated by the Duffygate scandal), and to add another layer upon the dilemma -- in practice rule like the Conservatives.
I'm still not very sure how thinking the two evils, Labour and Conservative, are as bad as each other makes me a Tory, or how preferring the American democratic system makes me disloyal to my British nationality, but seeing as I'm sitting 6,000 miles away in Venice Beach blissfully aware that I don't have to suffer the indignity of a hung Parliament, I have to concede that maybe my Labour-voting friends are right.
I'm a really crap closet-Tory, faux Liberal Ex-Pat Brit who has no right to an opinion anyway.
Follow Ruth Fowler on Twitter: www.twitter.com/fowlerruth