British Politics Through the London Eye

I have to admit that after shutting out British politics from my life for about two years, and living in blissful oblivion, the ongoing election has finally managed to capture my interest.

A big reason for this shift is the obvious fact that the Leaders’ Debate was broadcast on television and like the rest of the entertainment starved (and I say entertainment, because this debate has been called the X Factor of politics) population of the UK, I happened to have sat and watched the whole thing through. Well, at least the first two parts of this exciting three part series. Now, not only did I watch these debates, but I also tweeted about them with utmost authority and conviction- which is a bit audacious, given that it was the first time that I was actually understanding the reality of the different policies that the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems have been preaching to the electorate.

After having spent the last seven odd years or so in the US, where politics are ruled either by the Democrats or the Republicans, and where the word conservative is synonymous with being anti gay, xenophobic, anti middle class (kind of), and anti abortion, I came in with certain preconceived notions about the Labour and Conservative parties.

I assumed that the Tories were the British counterparts of the Republicans, and the Labour party was the equivalent of the Democrats. There is no third party in the US, and therefore, the Lib Dems didn’t really ever feature into this equation as far as I was concerned- and up until the televised debate, they didn’t feature that much in British politics either.

I don’t think that I was that far off the mark in my thinking, but I have to admit that the Leaders’ Debate did make me realize a few things. Firstly, I found that the Tories are not really like the Republicans. They are certainly not as hateful and do have some sensible policies. They are anti immigration, yes, and perhaps do favour the upper strata of society in their policies, BUT, they aren’t closed to the world and are not as bigoted as their American friends. Perhaps, this is because of the UK’s geographical location and it being part of the EU and all that the Tories can’t really afford to be isolationists.

The people who are switching their loyalties to the Tories are doing so purely on the party’s economic and foreign policies rather than over its stance on social issues such as gay rights, abortion, family values, role of religion etc. As important as these issues are, they don’t define politics in the UK, the way they do in the US. I also realized that switching party loyalties is not akin to treason (traitor!!traitor!!) as it is in the US.

In the UK, following this televised debate, many people are rethinking their vote and are questioning the ramifications of some of these policies on their personal lives. I hear more dialogue about how free eye care and bus passes would affect people; how council tax would change; how pension would be distributed differently. It’s the fact that these things are being discussed at a micro level which makes it all great and which makes me believe in the election and democratic system again.

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