Dispatches From the South – The Election

Even as you read this I may be exercising my civic duty as a UK citizen by voting in my first General Election. Then again, I may not be; I may have already voted by now, so I’m probably down at the pub discussing the weather or the economy, or, just perhaps, the election.

This is a significant and historic election for the Brits, every bit as historic as the last Presidential race. But we won’t delve into that. Instead, I would like to point out the differences between voting in the UK and the US. First and foremost, I had to work today and I am going to the pub afterward. Now, I can’t say I’ve been paying much attention to what you do on the first Tuesday in November over there, but when I was young, the bars were closed and we got the day off.

I have trouble believing that is still the case.

Other differences include ticking a box with a pencil instead of pulling a level, but that was specific to my locality in America. We had voting machines where I lived; but you may have voted in “Hanging Chad” country.

So that narrows the big differences between a US and UK election down to who you get to vote for and the length of time they get to campaign.

In the US, I was able to cast my vote for the person I wanted to run the country, and a host of others, besides. But here, I don’t get to vote for the President, my State Senator, my local Representative, the county sheriff and the dog-catcher all in one go. What I do get to do is vote for my local MP. Period.

The idea is, with the backing of my vote, my MP will get elected. If enough MPs from their party get elected, then the party’s Head MP gets to run the country, and that would be the person I would naturally have voted for if I did get a say in who I wanted running the country. Perhaps, but not always. And this year, not bloody likely.

On the other hand, I rarely point this out to the locals because they usually counter by asking me to explain the Electoral College.

The best thing about British elections, however, is that they only last a month. This pales in comparison to the year-long media frenzy that is an American election. As an American, I just assumed our way of doing things was The Way It Should Be and never considered an alternative. But having experienced a different reality, I have come to the conclusion that the US method is well and truly bonkers.

Think of the waste, the effort, the drain on our economy and our nerves. The only winners in a US election are the manufacturers of red, white and blue bunting and media underlings with maxed out credit cards who are glad for the overtime. We put the person who would be President though a media gauntlet designed to kill an average person and expect them to come out the other side unscathed. What we are doing is making certain that, once the election is over, our successful candidate is as totally and thoroughly exhausted as we are tired of listening to them. And by the by, who is running the country during this time?

Our method makes it impossible for anyone but the obscenely rich to even attempt running for office. And the constant need for greater and greater amounts of money practically guarantees that our candidates, if they did not go into the election corrupt, will surely come out of it that way.

Now I’m not naïve enough to believe the UK candidates are any less sullied, but at least I don’t have to suffer their attempts to convince me otherwise for eleven additional months. And, seriously, if it takes you a full year to make your mind up concerning who you want to run the country, maybe you should practice making decisions a little more often than once every four years. Or invest in an 8-Ball.

Really, four weeks is plenty long enough for an election campaign. Try it; you’ll wonder how (and why) you put up with protracted electioneering for so long.

And the best part is, enjoying the post-election coverage at the pub.


  1. avatarjonathanwthomas says

    I’m quite jealous Mike! One of my goals in life is to vote in a British election and hold that scarlet passport. Congrats on your first election!

  2. avatarAnthony Lister says

    A full year is an exceptional length of time to run a campaign. I should expect everyone can make their choices choices within a month or they should, as you rightly say, ‘invest in an 8-ball’.
    I’m currently into my 6th hour of the election coverage and I must say it’s stern stuff. However, I personally feel quite proud that out of the 650 constituencies, my home town was the first to return with their vote; a vote I feel was well placed.
    P.S. Good luck Jonathan. You hold onto that dream for as long as neccessary, and you’ll get to enjoy a British election one day.

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