It was less than a New York minute – defined as the interval between the light going green and the guy behind you honking – from the time the airplane ban from the Icelandic volcano plume was deemed to be over – though no planes had even flown yet – that all the other parties blamed it all on the Labor Party.  You see, they are having an election over here – a six-week circus that happens every 5 years or so.

Living in our teetering American empire, still nominally a democracy, where electioneering is going on year-round at a highly sophisticated media level (which I despise, but participate in with glee), I look on with bemusement as the undemonstrative Brits are dragged kicking and screaming into American style politicking.

For instance, they just had their first American-style television debate ever, where the third party candidate ‘won’ the media spin on the debate, propelling the Lib-Dems into parity with the Tories and Labor, and throwing the election into confusion.  The Brits despise the whole charade, but participate in it with glee.

Gordon Brown, first the hero and then the victim of the banking crisis, is struggling for his political life, and the fact that the airlines ran their own planes with their own chief executives in them up into the skies over England to prove that it was safe, while his CAA was saying it wasn’t is not going to help him.  With a 6-week election period, it takes only one gaffe to put you over the edge. (One unfortunate was walking with his family on Brighton Beach when he was tripped up by a rogue wave.  A camera caught the end of it where he was upended, and much like Howard Dean’s scream, it played endlessly on TV and a moment of appearing uncoordinated lost poor Neil Kinnock the election.)

It’s not that airlines lost so much money (though they did) but that Britons abroad were not able to come home.  No one gives a toss for foreigners like me who wish to leave, but an Englishman has a God-given right to come home any time he wants to from an uncivilised country (defined: anywhere other than England, even Wales).  Passengers stranded in Madrid got more airtime than anything – only a threat to pets would have received more press.

With many years of the quick-stepping and flash Tony Blair and then a few of the plodding and dour Brown, the public is ready for something new, but the Conservatives, a bit like the Republicans, have few ideas besides ‘No!’, and while people like Liberal-Democrat Nick Clegg, they will not, I predict, pull the lever for him in the voting booth, as they distrust the untried, however true.

You cannot lie, lie, lie over here and get away with it (the best you can do is waffle, waffle, waffle) – the reporters are tougher, the public is both more knowledgeable and more cynical, and finally, since this is a parliamentary democracy with a Prime Minister, not a president, he is weekly (and raucously) answerable to the other M.P.’s  -“Will the right honorable gentleman assure this house that there will be no… (fill in the blank)”  Gordon Brown, though he had nothing to do with it and was acting on what information he had, will be called to account for leaving honest English citizens to languish for days – days! – in the wilds of Spain or the far off coast of France.  (There was even a Dunkirk-like attempt to ‘rescue’ stranded Brits in Zodians and bring them back to Dover, foiled by pursed-lipped Frog customs officials.)

The Tea Party folks seem to think our democracy is the only way to run things, but I am impressed by the European socialism which has been much decried over in the States during the recent health care debate.  Not even the Conservatives over here would dare question the National Health Service or the basic social network, which works very well.  There’s the same grumbling about misspent money, corrupt and bungling politicians, and stupid red tape as we have at home, but everyone quite sensibly figures that we are rich enough in the industrial west for children to deserve health care, for old people not to have to decide between food and medicine, and for education to be of such general benefit that everyone should have some for free.  You can pay for extra if you want to and can afford it, but the single-payer system works to the benefit of nearly everyone – keeping administrative costs down, working toward preventive solutions, and providing a cheerful reassurance that keeps everyone beavering away happily.

With all good wishes to America, and with a tremendous respect for our Constitution, a magnificent document to run with, ours is no longer the most representative democracy in the world (Obama’s election giving me pause to consider that it might be), and certainly not even close to the world’s best medical system.  We’ve gone in for so much privatisation – even outsourcing our armed forces; how’s that workin’ out for ya? – that anything that the public wants or does in concert seems like ‘socialism’.  We could do with a little shared purpose.

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