American politics can get kind of exhausting, can't it? Sometimes it's nice to peer across the pond where the bobbies take the lift up to their flats to use the loo. Did you know that they have politics there, too? In fact, they're getting ready to have their first General Election since 2005. Here's some limey named Rich Johnston to wrap it all up for us.
It's off. The United Kingdom General Election has been announced. This morning Prime Minister of Great Britain And Northern Ireland, Gordon Brown (you know, the bloke who stepped in after Tony Blair decided he wanted to go on holiday) took a cab to Buckingham Palace this morning to see the Queen (she had a bit of a headache after a night partying on meow-meow) and ask her to dissolve Parliament (along with a couple of soluble aspirin) in readiness for a General Election on May 6th.
They say the past is a foreign country, people do things differently over there. Well Britain is a foreign country in the past. A modern democracy, it is tied into a feudal, monarchical system that it does its best to ignore yet never quite managing to. Just as America seems to value the interpreted opinions of the Founding Fathers over all — despite a number of them being racists, paedophiles and downright loons — so Britain looks to the Royal Family for all sorts of guidance, despite them being inbred German idiots.
But rather than the two-year campaign which seems to dominate presidential politics in the US, Britain gets those two years condensed down into a mere one month's notice. As if we were just an employee in a call centre — and that's not far from the truth. The Prime Minister can basically call a General Election any time he or she fancies, up to five years between. In theory, this enables the ruling party to choose the best time to hold an election to ensure their re-election. In practice, it means politicians eek it out, clinging to power until they are forced screaming from office in mad terror.
As it turns out, there hasn't been a good time for Brown and the Labour Party to call an election in the last two years. Aside from the abysmal state of its economy, Britain has of late been racked with political scandal. Nothing major, just funny. No one's been caught shagging their employees or running off with millions for the bank vaults. Instead, we've had a few people fiddling their mortgages and claiming for luxuries, such as having their moat cleaned, claiming on porn rentals or buying their ducks a house and charging the taxpayer. Oh, and some prominent politicians have been selling their influence to lobbyists. The kind of things that have been happening for centuries — but that was before blogs arrived, ripped the politicians apart and kept the stories in the limelight for everyone to laugh at. As a result no one particularly likes any party much, and odds are we'll have no majority come election day. Which means a hung parliament and the chance for minor parties, who never get to have any say in how anything is done, to wield extraordinary power and potentially change the very Constitution for good in return for a vote or two.
But, as always, it comes down to personalities. The Labour Party's and sitting PM Gordon Brown, a dour, depressed dinosaur who nobody likes and who is being bullied by an anti-bullying charity; and the Conservative Party's David Cameron, a failed PR guy with an airbrushed face and an attempt to channel Obama's change message without actually changing anything — who also nobody likes; Oh, and Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg. Who nobody knows.
I'm going to be sharing some of the madder moments and personalities of the upcoming General Election with you over the following weeks. Seriously, it's not going to be hard to write.
Rich Johnston lives in London, works in advertising, writes about comics and draws cartoons for the UK's leading political blog, Guido Fawkes. He'll vote for the first party that promises to legalise the smoking of squirrels for medicinal purposes.
Tags: David Cameron, Gordon Brown, Indecision Internationale, Labour Party (UK), Nick Clegg, Queen Elizabeth, Tony Blair, United Kingdom