It’s been a happy time for comedians in Britain during this recruitment exercise we call a general election.
As in America 2008, all the politicians this time are trying to “pull an Obama” and shout that they are the ones who will bring change. “Change, change, change,” is their refrain as though they were suddenly all homeless men pleading for charity. Of course, ever since a scandal broke last year about the indulgent ways members of Parliament (MPs) spend their expense money, many of them now can’t even charge for having their moats cleaned.
Unlike Americans, we Britons tend not to get too excitable about the whole election process. Even political rallies usually elicit no more than an extra-strong cup of tea and maybe a ripple of applause if things get really heated.
But a fair proportion of the populace might actually stay up late on election night this Thursday. That kind of behavior is usually reserved for devotees of the Eurovision Song Contest, an event in which eager performers in eccentric clothing try to jazz up tired old lyrics to get a few more votes. Hmm, actually I can see the similarity...
Still, many voters clearly see this as a negative election. More important than what the candidates say is what they don’t say. So most people will be voting to keep a party out, not to welcome one in. It’s rather like staying married to someone you hate just to stop them from going off and finding happiness with someone else.
The main political parties have come to so resemble one another, at least on the outside, that the political battle has increasingly been one of personalities. Or it would be, if the top contenders had one.
Tory leader David Cameron, who is a distant cousin of the queen, is viewed as one who was born with not just a silver spoon but the entire cutlery drawer in his mouth.
And the beleaguered prime minister, Gordon Brown, who was recently picked by GQ magazine as the “worst-dressed man in the world,” is charismatically challenged. British Idol he most definitely is not. In a talent contest he would lose to the synchronized burping twins.
The only positive voting is likely to be for the fringe parties – or “the nutters” as most of us like to call them. There is a real possibility this time around that one or two seats could be won by either the neofascist British National Party (BNP) or the right-wing UK Independence party (UKIP), known mainly for its hatred of all things European and also for its occasional inability to spell the word “Independence” in its own literature.
And of course there are always those who grab the whole event as an excuse to drum up business for themselves. One of the more inventive is a restaurant in Northern Ireland that recently sent an e-mail to its customers with the following promise:
“Whoever wins, you win for the rest of May
•Conservative win – 25 percent off food and drink
•Labour win – 30 percent off food and drink
•Liberal Democrat win – 40 percent off food and drink
•UKIP/Green Party/Other win – 50 percent off food and drink
•A hung Parliament – 33 percent off food and drink
•BNP win – 100 percent discount. You own the restaurant. We’re outta here!”
Whoever wins on Thursday (if anyone actually does), he will wish very quickly that he hadn’t. It’s a poisoned chalice. With our broken economy, broken society, and the MPs’ broken reputation, any new leader will have to use some kind of political superglue to start to mend it all – and where can you get that on a Thursday night?
The good news is that, if we do get a winner, he will no longer be burdened by trying to please Eurovision Song Contest voters, so he can afford to make the hard choices that will put Britain back on track.