In three and a half weeks I am going to have the privilege of voting in my first British National Election.
I've been waiting for this day since I received my citizenship back in 2007 but had no idea when it would arrive. The thing is, they don't hold elections on a schedule here as they do in the States. It's up to the party in power to call an election; they have a five-year window to do it in, but they can call it whenever the mood strikes, and when they do, they only have to give four weeks notice.
This means the party in power can shamble along annoying the electorate as much as they please, but if they manage to do something that makes them suddenly popular and likeable (okay, you may have to stretch your imagination here a bit) they can quickly call an election and hope nothing untoward—like an honors for cash scandal, an embarrassing expenses claim or a the eruption of a particularly kinky affair—pops up over the ensuing month.
However, and as you have probably guessed, political parties generally don't do much to endear themselves to the electorate, so they commonly hang on to power like a wino clutching a half-empty bottle of Night Train, calling an election only at the last possible moment.
That is what has happened in this case. Labour is so very unpopular that most people actually knew the election was going to be on 6 May for some time because that was the last possible date it could be.
The other oddity is, individual voters do not have a say in who becomes Prime Minister. All I can do is vote for my local MP. After the dust settles, the party with the most MPs in power get to have their leader promoted to Prime Minister. But the party elects their leader, and that can be anybody they choose.
Add to this the enigmatic statement locals often inject into political debates: "Of course, we have a 'first past the post' election process" and I sometimes wonder why people vote at all. In all the time I've been here I have never had the "first pas the post" idea satisfactorily explained to me. But I suppose, given the fact that no one over here truly understands the Electoral College, that merely make us even.
So, come 6 May, I will go vote, because that's what I do, whether or not I think it does any good or not.
It’s the exact opposite here; election dates are set in stone thus politicians have years to plan, campaign, raise money and generally make us all so fed up with the whole thing that we can hardly bear to drag ourselves to the voting booth. Presidential elections are held every four years, and it’s the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
Usually, there are other positions to vote on too. This year we’ll be voting for a third of the country’s US senators. Each state has two senators apiece, who sit for six years although a third of these fine citizens changes every two years. We will also be voting on a few Representatives (who hold office for two years) and 37 state Governors, (4 years) in the Gubenatorial elections. (That’s pronounced “goobenatorial” and still makes me laugh.)
The recent Presidential campaign literally went on for two years. In the first year Republicans and Democrats had their “primaries”, where various characters from each party campaigned against each other to win the party’s nomination. Once the nominees were named (Obama and McCain) they picked their would-be VP and this “ticket” campaigned for the big job.
The thing that staggers me in this country is the amount of money involved in these campaigns. Candidates either have to possess or raise millions of dollars to campaign competitively. The more money you have, the more advertising you can buy. Simple as that. While in the UK, paid political advertising is not allowed in broadcast media (although parties get free time), in the US it’s the only feasible way to campaign. Both countries have laws regulating campaign financing or election expenditure but they are almost the opposite in what they do. The UK sets a cap on total expenditure while not being as strict on individual donations, whereas the US strictly limits the amount individuals can donate to a party or candidate, while setting no total cap on fund-raising and spending. Obama raised a staggering $750m and spent almost all of it.
By the time we got to the Presidential election I was so burned out by it all, I was secretly wishing that the system could be more like the UK one, with a stealth (ish) announcement of the election date!
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