Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Politics: Britain Understands Politics

TORONTO, ONTARIO - The results of the primary and special elections in the United States yesterday, as well as a community meeting held tonight in my local parliamentary riding lead me to one conclusion--too many in North America have forgotten the purpose of politics, and it's time to look back to Britain for a reminder of how things are supposed to work.

There seem to be almost as many spins on the various electoral results in the United States yesterday as there are analysts, but I believe that it is fairly safe to say that no moderates in either major political party did well. On the Democratic side, Arlen Specter lost in a Pennsylvania senate primary to the more liberal Joe Sestak and Blanche Lincoln heads to an Arkansas senate runoff with the more liberal Bill Halter that she seems likely to lose. On the Republican side, more conservative "Tea Party" candidates did well all over, from Rand Paul in Kentucky to Art Robinson in Oregon.

This is hardly a new trend in the United States. The current highly partisan environment, in the nation's capitol and elsewhere, has been growing for at least two decades. The result has been essentially no bipartisan legislation of any kind except in economic emergencies and growing disillusion with government in general by people of all political stripes. Politicians who dare to actually talk to people of the other party and find common ground can't even receive their party's nomination anymore--just ask Bob Bennett in Utah.

While Canada hasn't decayed nearly as far, the concept of working together seems to be pretty rare here as well. At a community meeting tonight, my local Member of Parliament, Gerard Kennedy, was asked about the prospects of a coalition of left-wing parties in the next election. "People seem to have strong identities as Liberals or New Democrats," Kennedy stated, "They focus on those identities and not commonalities. That's a big problem for sitting down at the table" to even discuss a coalition. While far from calling for inter-party unity on the left, Kennedy did seem to be less than satisfied with the status quo. "We have a cultural issue here in Canada. We're more focused on identity than in finding commonalities."

Great Britain has its own problems--mostly economic--but the election there this month proved that politicians there at least understand that politics is about finding commonalities--usually called "compromises"--and getting things done. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats may not be natural partners, but they found enough in common in just five days to form a government that they intend to last for a normal 4-5 year election cycle. Conservative leader David Cameron and Liberal Democratic leader Nick Clegg figured out how they might work together, and as a result their country has what it needs to address those economic problems (and they are rewarded as being Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, respectively).

I'm not the first to say it, but as many people as possible need to be saying it. North American politicians need to re-learn what Cameron and Clegg demonstrated in Great Britain. Being elected means having a responsibility to govern the country, whether as part of a ruling government or majority party or as part of an opposition or minority party keeping them honest. To best represent the country as a whole, they need to speak to one another and act on their commonalities. If they aren't doing that, they aren't doing their jobs. Most politicians in North America are not doing this job, and voters need to be upset about that, not whether their representatives are ideologically pure.

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