It's Time For Brits To Stop Fawning Over US Politics & Set Our House In Order
, November 7th, 2012 09:17
From the reaction to this just-completed American election, you'd think that Britain was the 51st State. Luke Turner argues that it's time for us to stop looking over the Atlantic, and prepare for 2015 in our own back yard
To we British, America remains an exotic place. In the world of noise and perplexing art in which the Quietus operates, American musical turns will always get an easier time in the press. No matter that many peddle second-rate anodyne infantilism evoking a return to teenage days - the overarching countercultural narrative over the past decade has been America good, Britain bad.
This is an imperialism of excitement from across the Atlantic that extends from anything from music to film to cars to fast food into, far more troublingly, politics. Over the course of this election it has been a source of worrying fascination to me just how much more engaged many of my peers (seen through the prism of social media) seemed to be with the US election.
Of course, all global citizens need to take an interest in what happens on the other side for the Atlantic. Though arguably a nation in decline, America is still top dog, and a Romney presidency would have had implications for us all, just as Obama's second term will. Yet it was hard not to find distasteful the constant stream of British citizens urging their American friends to 'do the right thing' and back Obama, as if one .gif graphic of how skewed to the wealthy or against minorities Republican policies are would actually change anything. Was it not, as Sam Spokony argued in his excellent piece on the elections and Storm Sandy yesterday, merely symptomatic of social media's role in making us feel better about ourselves. I certainly have not noticed in my list of Facebook friends any Guns N'God-loving homophobe lunatics who might need a patronising post of encouragement to do their duty for the rest of the world. It's a longer, different debate, but one of the great dangers for political discourse online is how we are all presented with the illusion of being able to communicate to the world, yet never reach outside a limited, actually very physical, realm.
Yet this morning, after the pips on Radio 4's news bulletin seemed to go on for an age, I certainly felt an enormous sense of relief at the news that Barack Obama had been elected for a second term. Turn on the laptop and peruse Facebook and Twitter and whoop, there we are again, hundreds of Brits pontificating as if they'd been on the campaign trail in Ohio, bringing home the bacon for Barack.
I do not recall such an enormous outpouring of disgust, worry, outrage, anxiety on the morning of Friday, May 7th 2010 when I awoke to find the strong likelihood of a Conservative government. Partly this was perhaps a sense of resignation after the New Labour administration finally wheezed its last. There was certainly the much-expressed sense of 'ah well, it doesn't matter who's in charge, they're all the same anyway', a blatant nonsense proved by the wrecking ball policies and lethal incompetence of the Tory and Liberal Coalition.
Destruction of public healthcare systems, climate change denial, tax breaks for the rich, environmental destruction, warmongering foreign policy, sexist language in the very seat of power, cuts to arts and culture, welfare provision stripped back for those who need it most, endemic corruption among an out-of-touch elite... these are not only the things that America has escaped by voting in Obama over Romney, but what is going on in Britain right now.
And what of this portrayal of Romney and the Republicans as somehow so extreme and alien they become bogeymen, slavering red white and blue blood as they scream a perversion of Christianity, and rob the food from the hands of the poor? Let's all laugh at Romney not knowing where Syria is, while ignoring the dunderheads in our own Parliament. Where is the outrage directed against the current Conservative leadership and potential next leader, Boris Johnson? They are all cut from exactly the same cloth as Romney and Ryan. David Cameron's skill before the last election was in presenting the big lie that he and his party were different from what had gone before - it took just months in power for that illusion to be stripped away.
It's part of our British character to assume that everything is crap and always will be. It's our national sensibility to be in decline, to carp and moan, to think that things will never get better (which is why the joy expressed at Labour's '97 victory was such an aberration). This is why we look to America to provide the excitement, the quick fix, the euphoria, the sense of, well, yes we can. It's just another part of the American Dream, really, like Coca-Cola, the myth of the West, shopping on Fifth Avenue, the glamour of Hollywood, signs for diners by the freeway, sunshine, and another Best Coast download. Indeed, it's also the case that in Barack Obama, hanging out with Jay-Z and Bruce Springsteen, even doing the odd turn himself at the American songbook, they have a figure who is the final emergence of American concepts of stardom into the stuffy world of politics... whereas our opposition leader is Ed Miliband, a man I respect but whom I fear will struggle to communicate in this climate.
America has been lucky to escape what would surely have been socially divisive Romney Republican administration. Check your optimism before it gets carried away, too - we have to hope that Obama has a more fruitful second term, and actually starts to get to grips with issues like climate change that were so ignored during his first, and indeed during the election campaign until Sandy delivered a pertinent reminder. Rather than now feeling smug that those terrifying blue rinsers in another country have to spend four years licking their wounds, the aftermath of the American election ought to be a wake-up call for the British electorate. Our politicians are not all the same. 2015 gives us the opportunity to undo the butchering of the NHS, the arts, our libraries, and support for the disabled, the sick and those failed by our education system.
A glance at the current Labour front bench team shows that there won't be any fizz in the next British general election - our non-presidential system ensures that, and this is arguably a good thing. As Blair, now Cameron and unfortunately imminently Boris (oh look, he's just put up public transport fares) prove only too well, personality politics are best avoided. It's huge mistake for British voters, as many are this morning, to hanker after a homegrown Obama. But we will be faced with a very important choice in 2015. Just look at the destruction the Conservatives have wrought without a full mandate this time around, and be very afraid of what they might do with one. The excitement will be in the small details, the work that we can all put in to change Britain. Are you registered to vote come 2015? Are you actually going to engage with the politicians and manifestos of the different parties, rather than trot out the line that they're all the same? There can be no change without participation - and that means going beyond the easy clicks and platitudes of your tiny social media bubbles and networks of the like-minded. It's time to let the Americans get on with their business, and focus on what is happening within our own 7,773 miles of coastline. After all, there is no such thing as a boring place.