Of Debates and Diametric Opposition

The hazard of living in a fast-paced urban environment is that sometimes you become a casualty of your surroundings. In this case, I was struck down with gastroenteritis for most of the week. Amidst my fevered napping on the couch, I was able to watch the first televised party leaders’ debates. It’s strange to witness all the conversations, reports and articles that have appeared in its wake only because presidential debates have always existed in my lifetime. I couldn’t imagine the McCain-Obama debate being the first of its kind. It was also interesting (along with humorous and aggravating) to witness three parties instead of two, being represented, especially knowing that there are three or four other known parties lurking in the fringes. Watching the moderator constantly cut off candidates in mid-sentence with a thunderous ”Gordon Brown!”, or a ”Nick Clegg! David Cameron!” made me feel as though I was watching strange version of University Challenge where all the candidates were trying to squeeze in as many answers as they could to show the audience that they were best.

I was in London for the 2005 elections, but it didn’t take centre-stage back then, not like now. You can feel the frustration and anger at the choices that people are left with, another Brown-led government with the disastrous policies and views leftover from the Blair years, or Cameron, who could bring in a reign of Thatcher-lite. Then there is Clegg, he of the perpetually ignored LibDems (the house favourite). During the debates, the party leaders were all as relaxed as could be expected; the PMQs have long since taken away any camera shyness that might have existed. With shades of the Kennedy-Nixon debate (which has been showing constantly in a documentary on the BBC), it has been agreed upon that Clegg won the visual aspect of the debate, while those that heard it thought that Brown or Cameron won. I’ve had a fondness for the LibDems since seeing the confusingly named Sir Menzies (that’s Mingus to you) Campbell on the PMQs, so it was good to see Clegg bring up or refute issues that the other candidates ignored/repeated in order to toe the party line, such as the horrible ID Cards, Trident, immigration policies, or the atrocious new Digital Economy Act. It’s also been good watching all the subsequent news reports and person on the street interviews because they give me a much better understanding of how people think about the election. Note: In case you didn’t know, the British don’t care about personal stories that illustrate broader points. That’s an American thing.

The actual electoral process is nothing short of insane to me. National politics are made small through the election. Citizens vote for Prime Minister by voting for their party locally instead of the individual, so instead of voting for Brown specifically, they vote for the Labour MP. It would be like me voting for Obama by choosing my Senator. It’s a huge disconnect for me because my national votes are usually miles away from my local votes when possible. But it’s also kind of logical in a way because it forces the voter and the parties to consolidate their views in a way. So much to process! The problems (and privileges) that come with being an international citizen!

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