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Britain's Dreary Election

Britain's Dreary Election

March 16, 2010

Dull takes a new meaning with Britain’s lifeless pre-election calm. Want real electoral action? Come to India…

It’s less than 2 months to go before the D-day, if May 6th is when Britain will finally vote. And yet things seem rather thanda here. TV anchors look staid as they blurt out weekly reports on who’s where on the point ratings charts and there is a general ‘I care a damn’ air about the whole thing despite the fact that this is probably the most important election Britain faces in the longest time. People, it seems, are tired, rather fed up after the expenses scandal, the recession and the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is all pre-decided – Nick Clegg is going to be kingmaker, Labour is losing ground after 13 years in power and the Conservatives, while retreating in their popularity ratings, could emerge triumphant, albeit with the serious possibility that this could be a hung parliament. This is about as imaginative TV personalities have gotten with their analysis of what could really happen in the 2010 general elections.

For someone like me, never quite ‘tired’ of politics or politicians despite the perpetuity of their uselessness, I am used to an election fever of a different kind – a razzmatazz of screaming party spokespersons, animated TV discussions, post mortem analyses with an extra dose of historical context thrown in, self-assured psephologists and irreconcilable editors pontificating with the same gusto and enthusiasm (much to the viewer’s bewilderment) on 2 or 3 different news channels at the same time. This is what I am used to and this is what I expected. The stoic indifference with which Britain seems to be going about with its elections puzzles me. I mean, elections back home are almost like a soap opera; a new twist every day, new candidates being announced, new trends being spotted (more women standing this time, fewer Dalits in the fray, record number of independents and so on) new fronts being formed, old alliances being disposed of like used tissue, dirty linen being washed publicly – it is as colourful as it can get! Like a carnival. A Jamboree.

With so many parties, regional satraps and openly negotiating kingmakers trying to cobble up last minute coalitions (the norm rather than the exception in Indian politics until very recently), the sheer permutations and combinations to chew on are remarkably exciting. Then there are those grossly inaccurate exit polls, the ridiculous prime time debates which are about almost everything else but policy, the self-congratulatory manifestos and the daily khabar on all the jibes and potshots of the day. All of this is missing here, and sadly ‘election time’ isn’t half as much fun as it is in India or for that matter in the US with all its primaries and Super Tuesdays and swing states.

I guess part of it has to do with the fact that unlike in India or the US, where actual balloting goes on for weeks or sometimes even months, polling here finishes in a single day, so there is hardly any foreplay before the final act. Also, unlike India the UK has a unitary system, so there is no state-level politics to worry about in order to gauge what card who will play so as to hold the balance of power!

But finally, and most importantly, the UK lacks the colourful personalities that abound in Indian politics and make elections such great fun. I mean, David Cameron and Gordon Brown are almost like peas and mash before Mayawati’s Bhelpuri and Lalu’s Aloo Chaat and Signora Sonia’s Penne Al Arabiata (Indian ishtyle!!). What could Indian politics be without these characters? Could Brown or Cameron really match up in the race to being interesting (what with all their well-bred properness and university degrees) to rustic Mayawati’s pre-election statue installation sprees, or Lalu’s attempts at speaking English? Too much of a fight, then, isn’t it? Even the curry-worshiping Britons would agree!


  • Journomuse
    07.04.10 04:23 AM
    At the end of the day, Nikhil, politics in India is just what you called it, 'a Soap Opera'. But I too did notice the distinct lack of punch to the countdown to General Elections. After having covered three, I must say that this is the difference between Indian Masala chai and Chinese tea. Just yesterday, as I sat watching the political coverage on the BBC, the only flambouyant bit was the deep pink crazily patterned tie the reporter/anchor doing a Live Show from Westminster was wearing!!!
  • James Douglas
    James Douglas
    31.03.10 02:16 AM
    Interesting piece. I personally don't want politicians to be attention seeking/celebrities/publicity hounds any more than is absolutely necessary. Spin? A PR machine? No thanks. Why not just concentrate on governance?

    British politics is staid in comparison to India, I'm sure of it - but then if I want to be titillated by controversy and scandal, I would rather it was as far away from the people responsible for running a country as possible!
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    18.03.10 04:44 PM
    As you say, politics are definitely a constant presence on the airwaves here in India. This drabness you speak of surrounding the UK election gives me heart, however. Are becoming less interested in the faux-politics of the modern age? I can only hope...

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