15 April 2010


I am a bit of politics junkie, so I have been glued to the television tonight. Many people are worried (rightly, in my opinion) about the creeping Americanisation of British politics but, having watched both the chancellor's debate and tonight's Prime Ministerial debate, I don't think one need worry much.

The set up and form of the debate was quite similar to that of the American debates. The content and style were hardly anything like. In America, our major debate points the last time around were Joe the plumber, 'drill, baby, drill', and assorted personal remarks about the past lives of each of the candidates. We are also still debating the legality of abortion, whether same sex couples should be recognised in any way by local, state and federal authorities and whether everyone should have access to healthcare. In Britain, the major debate points were the relative validity of Keynesian economics and the contents of actual policies relevant to actual issues that actually exist, rather than ideological point-scoring.

However, I was disappointed in the quality of the oratory. On the whole, I would say that Britain's politicians are the better speakers. I love to watch parliament, especially question time while C-Span coverage of the House and Senate bore me to tears. It's not that any of them was particularly bad, more that none of them was particularly good. It would be good, before the next election, to consider finding a debate format that would better reflect the oratorical praxis of Great Britain. Then again, I've been a bit spoiled by watching this man speak*:

* I filmed this myself when Obama came to speak in Asheville. The shaky camera work comes courtesy of lithium.


  1. I'm a politics geek too, but i couldn't face watching the debate. I don't really see the point, given that i already know what all of the parties think, and i already know the points of difference between them.

    I also do worry about the 'Prime Ministerial Debates', not because of the format or content, but because of the principle. The UK is a parliamentary system, not a presidential one, and when people cast their vote they are endorsing their local candidate (technically, the manifesto published by their preferred local candidate), not one of the contenders for PM. A good case in point - DC has been bending over backwards to demonstrate how socially liberal the Conservatives are, but a great many of the party's MPs and candidates are anything but liberal, and will vote accordingly if they sit in the Commons, so for an elector to whom social policy matters, the leadership debates are actively misleading.

    I am, needless to say, profoundly envious that you got to see Obama speak in the flesh. :o)

  2. Agreed on the importance of the difference between presidential and parliamentary. I really personally prefer parliamentary government - I think it works better. The system itself is much, much more flexible than what we have in the US and it is both theoretically and practically easier to introduce new parties and new political ideas - not that that's particularly easy, but it's not next door to impossible. Anything that undermines that is, to my mind, a misfortune.

    Perhaps that's the other thing that ought to be taken into consideration if changes in format are being considered. How could one conduct a debate that would reflect the parliamentary structure and not over-emphasise the prime ministers while simultaneously stopping it from turning into a bunch of people sat round a table shouting at one another?

    The whole Obama rally had a dreamlike air: it was unannounced and so close to the election. I found out during the interval of an opera performance Thursday night from someone I know who knew someone and it was confirmed later by a friend who works at the hotel where he stayed and then Friday morning one of the local bookshops had "Welcome to Asheville President Obama" - a great statement of confidence 3 weeks before he was actually elected - on their sign outside and my rector saw him out walking from afar. The rally was announced on the Saturday and Sunday morning we went and stood in an enormous line for six hours and there he was. It was fantastic.