HAYES IN THE HOUSE: By local MP John Hayes
The recent Republican and Democrat party conventions in the United States are a reminder of just how different American politics is from our own. Viewed from afar, elections in the United States have always been curiously compelling. Some here are fascinated by the cross-country, road tripping campaigns, others by the showbiz-like glamour of enormous rallies attended by thousands. But, whilst a casual observer might enjoy the soaring rhetoric and quadrennial theme of national renewal, those with a more sceptical eye note much else.
The vast sums of money involved – the 2016 Presidential election is expected to be the first billion dollar campaign – dwarf the cost of polls here, or anywhere else in the free world for that matter. That much of this money benefits only lobbyists and entrenches corporate power rightly angers many of us. Worse still, huge sums are spent on negative television advertising, which exaggerates the focus on personalities and polarises politics more each year. Furthermore, these “attack ads” create a culture of vitriol and a cynicism that feeds an anger which is hard for any President or Government, once elected, to sooth.
Those starry eyed about American politics sometimes fail to acknowledge the nature of its spite – the likes of which we have rarely seen in British election campaigns, thank goodness. Many in Westminster seem enthralled by what happens in Presidential campaigns; British political parties hire American election gurus, and fictional television shows like The West Wing or House of Cards are regarded with awe.
Perhaps American politics attracts disproportionate interest in the UK precisely because it feels more like Hollywood fiction than fact. The increasingly vulgar reality-television style debates have amplified the superficiality of political discourse in recent years, and will probably sink further still with a clash between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. How many Britons must be thankful they don’t have to choose between those two!
Neither can we gain comfort from continental Europe, where many countries are governed by unstable coalitions of splintered political factions. Most dangerous of all, extremists of all types are gaining ground and sometimes even office. Complicated proportional electoral systems and the pernicious influence of the EU makes matters still worse.
Surely then, we should be thankful for our British Parliamentary democracy, which delivers strong governments with the proper checks and balances on their power, and without the crass focus on immense wealth seen elsewhere. Our system stops demagogues from rising quickly, keeps out wild populist movements, and retains a strong, clear constituency link between electors and those they choose to speak for them. Our parliamentary democracy and political culture is too rarely championed. After all, who would want to trade our politics for those of the US or Europe?