The UK Leaders’ Debate: bringing the USA to Parliament

2010 DebateIn 2010 Britain’s general election saw something it had never seen before: live, televised debates. The leaders of the three major parties- Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats- were invited to discuss their vision for the United Kingdom at the pinnacle of the election season. It was popular and reflective of party standpoints. 

What it isn’t, however, is British.

There has been an ongoing surge for British politics and politicians to replicate their American counterparts. From absolute Left vs. absolute Right policies and term limits, to public debates every election cycle, the UK is taking another step toward the chaos of the United States’ political system.

Go anywhere in the world and ask them who the President of the United States is, and they’ll tell you. Ask them who the Vice President is, or if they’ve heard of Hillary Clinton, John Boehner, Condoleezza Rice, Sarah Palin or Harry Reid and they’ll no doubt recognize at least some of those names.

Ed Miliband. Nick Clegg. Theresa May. George Osbourne. Even the Prime Minister himself Mr. David Cameron. People are probably a bit more timid to answer when asked about these ones. 

Blame Hollywood (a very American thing to do…)

There seems to be a desire for glamour and sparkle in British politics from a growing populous obsessed with scandal, and politicians desperate to escape the mundane attitude towards European policy. 

What appears to be a contributing factor is too many Hollywood movies, too much of Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing and recently Netflix’s House of Cards; an increased indulgence with global, Americanized branding.

The fact is a Republic-styled system could not work in Britain while the monarchy is present. This need for a pinnacle figure, national leader, a presidential presence, is a position already filled by Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Very few leaders around the world have the same respect, admiration and following she has sustained through her 60-plus year reign. But that’s probably down to her being publicly and politically mute.

Man vs. Party

HoP2015 is a general election year in the UK meaning the entire House of Commons is in contention. This in turn will affect the post of Prime Minister; the leader of each party must strive to have his colleagues win the most seats in Parliament if he is to become the next resident at 10 Downing Street. 

Unlike the President, the prime minister is not independently elected. He or she is the leader of the winning party and is chosen by his or her brothers and sisters in arms. Similarly to how the Speaker of the House or Majority/Minority Leaders are chosen in Congress.

So why is it an issue to watch these candidates debate? At first, back in 2010, it offered a way to represent a party’s platform to the people. As a one-off, it worked. On some levels anyway. The since vilified Deputy Prime Minister Clegg came across as the most reasonable thinker of all the candidates which saw the Liberal Democrats win more seats than many projected. It’s been a downward trajectory for Clegg and his followers ever since.

All about that veto

Cameron ObamaIn the US, Congress puts legislation together across the House of Representatives and the Senate. Bills are then passed to the White House where the President decides whether he will sign it into law or veto and send it back. In the UK the Prime Minister has no such power. He can put forward legislation but Parliament debates and amends it thoroughly before agreeing or not. The Prime Minister doesn’t get to veto if he doesn’t agree with the final document.

Americans vote for a president based upon his views on domestic and foreign policies as well as the candidate as a person. Britons have little say in who the national leader is. The Prime Minister represents his party but his personal viewpoint cannot be the endgame. He can direct the course but he cannot enforce in the same way the president’s veto can.

What happens if the PM steps aside by choice or by a vote of no confidence? A new leader is chosen. What if successor and predecessor have alternative plans? Out of an election cycle the voter, whose vote was cast in favour of the party’s leader over the party, may not agree with the new regime. At least in the US the Vice President is chosen in tandem with the President.

Keep it British

British politics works best when it remains British. Traditions and structures in place are not perfect but they work. The system is created on the basis that a party is chosen and not an individual. And the debate could, either this year or in time, focus more on who’s at the podium on the night of the debate rather than the party’s manifesto. A greater emphasis on individuals being the embodiment of their political class has already occurred in recent decades.

If the system needs adjusting then change is often refreshing. But to merge two contrasting systems into a singular, existing operation would be calamitous, breeding further corruption.

Keep it British. No man or woman is bigger than their political party. It’s worked for many centuries and it will, even if a little hopeful, continue to work for the best of the people. 

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