21 June 2011

Political Climates

Posted by Happy Homemaker UK

The other night I was asked the difference between American and British politics. And honestly, although I've been here a year, I don't know much about the national politics in the UK. But here's my long answer...

Milk or sugar for our little convo?

Words stuck in my head from an expat Brit blogger living in the US (From Sheep To Alligators): 

You don’t often find me quoting Margaret Thatcher, but she said that Europe is founded on history and America is founded on philosophy and that is absolutely true....in some ways, the constitution *is* America [whereas] the Brits...don’t have a constitution 
(emphasis added by me)
To me, this is a profound observation. Let me try to put my finger on it...

I find in the US, people are passionate or at least opinionated about politics - therefore it is a fueled conversation you steer clear of with most folks. In general, Americans don't trust their government (some say this began with President Nixon). Politics (and politicians) are always in the news. Sadly, scandals are frequent, and the two parties often spar.

I agree the United States Constitution is the heart of America. I memorized it in school. Founded on philosophical ideals, Americans have a strong feeling of their 'unalienable rights'. We find comfort in having a piece of paper with those rights spelled out. 

'Hey look kids, there's Big Ben, and there's Parliament'
-Clark Griswold (repeatedly), 'National Lampoon's European Vacation'

On the flip-side, England has an 'unwritten' constitution, meaning it consists of many documents written over 800 years (incl Magna Carta [1215], Great Reform Bill [1832], Parliament Act [1911]). Guided by tradition and history, change is gradual. The position of Prime Minister was not simply created but evolved slowly and erratically over three hundred years. I doubt the US health care reform bill would have passed so quickly here. 

In England, there is little chatter about politics in the news or in social settings. One Brit suggested this could be due to apathy or that the political parties in the UK are not as different or polarizing as in the US.

The UK government provides many more services than the US government, including life & travel insurance (not free) and medical care (mostly free). Although taxes are higher, the government really does take care of many needs, and people feel it does a decent job in doing so. In fact, I'd say the trust and 'approval rating' of government services is much higher in most European countries than in the US.

On a final note, I find it fascinating that election for Prime Minister can occur at varying times. Within 5 years of the previous election, a particular party will call an election when they believe they are popular enough to win. A vote of no confidence by the party can also result in a general election. 

And so there's my report on current UK politics...
no report at all :)

- photos by me -
Sources: Helium and Wikipedia


Miss Sandra said...

Dear Laura,
Thank you for this! I've often been curious about the politics in Britain and now I have an idea! :)
I still dream of one day living there. *sigh*
Blissful tidings!

Missy said...

Hahah!! I live in UK and I still don't really get politics. I do however know that pensions are getting hit big time- I am a teacher so I am gradually getting the understanding of that one!!

Robynne's Nest said...

Laura, after reading your rather interesting post I had to go over and visit Paul...and left him a rather long winded comment...I'm not really in to politics but couldn't help myself. You know what they say...never discuss politics at a dinner party...and I've seen a near punch up as a result of such a conversation!...it definitely gets people's juices flowing. Robx
p.s. could we go back to more 'fluffy' topics...might see you at Sarah's kitchen party on Thursday...

Sarah @ Modern Country Style said...

Hello gorgeous,

Growing up in a family where politics were discussed freely over Sunday lunch (*what? That's not normal?*), it was rather a shock to come out into the big wide world and find other people had different views to me!!

Can you believe it was less than 100 years ago that women were able to vote here. Grrr. That makes me so mad....

When did women get the vote in America, I wonder?

Anyway, I thought this was a great post, Laura. You don't shy away from any topic at all!!! ;-)


Sarah @ Modern Country Style said...

Oooh, just sar Robynne's comment. Fluffy? Are you callin' my kitchen party fluffy??? Oh, all right, I guess it is!! But who doesn't need a bit of fluff every now and then!!



Interesting posting, thank you. Happy summer

Paul said...

Here’s my take, as a Brit in the US, I kind of 80% agree with you! :-)

Britain and America go through periods where at times, they are in sync, like with Reagan and Thatcher, or Clinton and Blair, and other times when they are out of sync, like now. In the 80s, British politics were really contentious with strikes, riots, political battles all over the place. After that, however, the parties drifted towards the centre and there has been far less friction between them (this might change, though). There is a massive difference between left and right in the USA at the moment, however, and it can get really unpleasant (like Britain did in the 80s).

There have been movements campaigning for a constitution on and off for hundreds of years in Britain, and of course, radical Brits such as Tom Paine went over to the US and played a part in shaping the foundations of the American political system (or, at the very least, the revolution!). The pro-constitution campaigners in the UK have largely been silenced by Britain adopting the European Convention on Human Rights, which is the nearest thing that Britain has to a constitution, in that it guarantees certain human rights and takes precedent over British law. (You mentioned the magna Carta which is the other big one in terms of basic rights)

Britain is largely a traditional country, resistant to change, as you say, but they can be very radical in bursts. The radical Labour government of 1945 was voted in at the expense of the war leader, Winston Churchill and introduced the National Health Service, state pensions, and other welfare benefits. The introduction of the NHS and the welfare state after WWII was far more radical than Obama’s health care plan and happened very quickly (within a few years from conception to implementation).

The Thatcher period also was a very radical and turbulent time in British politics.

I have never heard of the UK government offering life and travel insurance, so I don’t know what to say on that.

Other big differences in government are that the UK government is a collective system. So, in theory at least, you vote for a political party and they pick who effectively runs the country, ie the prime minister. Whereas in the US, you get to vote for the individual who’s going to lead the country, ie the president.

Also in the UK, the political leader of the country and head of state are separate entities, whereas in the USA, they are combined in one role.


Please Do Not Feed The Animals. said...

I wonder about your health care reform bill comment. I'm kind of thinking your reform is waaayy overdue and not nearly enough! We have had our NHS here for about 60 years and it is something I am so proud of in our country.
And what news are you watching????? The news here has endless politics on it.
I think the difference is that our politics is not so much based on personality as in the US but more and more it is becoming that way.
I would LOVE to have Obama as our Prime Minister instead of the eejit we have!
Ha ha - great post! I am very impressed with your knowledge of another country's politics. I only became interested very recently in the politics in the US - that was because I absolutely LOVED watching West Wing! Does that make me very shallow and ignorant? Yes, probably - sorry.
Your next post could follow on from your one explaining that Scotland is a different country from England and you could try to explain the Scottish parliament and Scottish government. Ha ha - good luck!

Victoria said...

This was really interesting to read. I find America archaic in some ways, like they've never had a female leader yet. I think politics will always be different in the U.S. because of the whole melting pot thing...so many different backgrounds and different religions whereas many European countries have a shared culture that they've had for so many years.

BTW, I love European Vacation! I've seen it about 100 times!

Happy Homemaker UK said...

@PDNFA: You are my point - you are proud of your health care system because you believe your government does a good job. In the US, people do not believe their government does much right and don't trust the government to do a good job with health care :) You trust your government; we don't.

@Paul: You are so right about the US & UK governments being in sync. That's an excellent point. BTW, the Post Office sells life & travel insurance. And just to sound simple, I love The Smith & The Cure that came out of the 80s.

Please Do Not Feed The Animals. said...

Hmmm - I don't trust the current UK government with our healthcare system AT ALL! However, I do think the Scottish government is doing a reasonably good job of trying to protect the Scottish system from the Tories.
I would trust Obama - he's lovely. ;-)

Privet and Holly said...

US Government has
gotten way too big,
with way too many
"career" politicians,
looking out for themselves
and not for those that
they serve. It's really
quite maddening. And
the media is very biased
and has too much power,
as well. I say, throw
them all out and start
xx Suzanne

Butterbean Row said...

Thanks for your pov. It makes a lot of sense.

all the best,


Emily said...

Thank you so much for this thoughtful post, Laura! I'm one of those who relishes a lively discussion of politics.

Louise said...

Having spent many years here in the US, I'd say the political climate is much more right-wing in America.

The US Democrats are really not that much different from Cameron's Tories in terms of their views, whereas the American Republican party as it is today, has no equivalent in the UK. Nor is there an equivalent to Labor in America.

There are political debates that happen here that just couldn't happen in the UK. For example, the cries of death panels over Obama's very modest healthcare reforms, or the constant evocation of God in political debates or the accusations of socialism over the smallest tax increase or the loudly expressed fears about gay people. It feels like the volume is always turned up to 11 here. I'm looking forward to the more moderate political climate when I get home to the UK.