Thursday, November 09, 2006

Vox Populi

This morning, I had the theme for my spiel all set in my mind. It was to be about Christmas but, in view of the mid-term elections in the United States, you’re just going to have to wait. It may also put paid to the complaint that I never write about any serious matters!

I doubt whether anything excites the human mind more than religion or politics, and I’m all in favour of keeping one’s personal counsel in such matters. But, even if you have never lived in America, it’s difficult to ignore the razzmatazz of an election over there. For, in contrast to the way Europe goes about such matters, it looks to most outside observers more like bare-knuckle boxing or all-in wrestling with no holds barred. And yesterday’s example of the political art was no exception.

It’s fair to say that, if you happen to be a sensitive soul, US politics would best be avoided. The citizens of that country are, in general, peaceful, friendly and tolerant – tolerant, that is, until it comes to election time.

Character assassination becomes a national sport and appalling amounts of money are frittered away in the worthy cause of trying blacken a candidate’s image. It is easy to be sniffy about this, but it is a sign that democracy is thriving, unlike in many other countries where the populace now show little spirit and supinely go along with whatever policies are spoon fed to them.

It was not always so in Britain. Charles Dickens, that lively observer of the Victorian social scene, has given us an entertaining, and, I suspect, accurate, description of a minor bye-election in the borough of Eatanswill in his Pickwick Papers. There, you will recall, the honourable Samuel Slumkey triumphed over Horatio Fizkin, Esquire, in a spirited contest, not always conducted under the rules of the Marquis of Queensbury, one of the ploys being to put laudanum in the opposition voter’s drinks, putting them to sleep until after polling was over. Now that’s the way to run an election!

The convolutions of American politics are baffling to many. With its obsession with checks and balances, it’s a wonder anything gets accomplished. I once spent time with a former speaker of the house, the late Tip O’Neill, who tried to explain matters to me, finally admitting that there had to be a better way – but he didn’t know what it was.

And these latest elections have proved his point, I think. It’s imperfect, expensive but, in the end, does express the voice and wishes of the people, and is probably the only way in which such a large and diverse nation could manage its affairs, other than under a dictatorship.

The checking of the powers of its present incumbent will be generally welcomed, the leadership of someone who believes they have been empowered by God is hardly the sort of thing a democracy needs. Moreover, his statement that he intends to follow his course, even if he is supported by only his wife and his dog, makes a mockery of any democratic principles he might espouse. But, in truth, is probably no more valid than many other of his statements, just another Weapon of Mass Destruction.

On the global scene, the concern is that America’s stature in the world has been diminished and it will be up to the party now in power to re-establish its credibility in the foreign policy arena and to heal some wounds.

This would be a good time for Britain to re-assess its relationship with a former ally. By a mere coincidence, and it was nothing more, this week sees the publishing of my book on the parallel histories of Britain and the United States, which argues that it is time for the British government to forsake their subservience to the wishes of their trans-Atlantic cousins, remaining in friendly cooperation but forging alliances elsewhere.

The results in America should be a reminder to other administrations that they are there to serve the people, not to secure themselves a place in history.

“Grounds for Divorce,” a Four Leaf Clover Book, 394 pages, soft cover, (Quote: ISBN 0-9548883-5-9), is available from your bookseller, or on-line from Amazon etc. within the next few days.

Normal programming will be resumed tomorrow, you'll be glad to hear.


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