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An ignorant Yank’s lazy overview of British political parties

Oof. I reeeeally didn’t want to do this. British politics is hella depressing and, with heroic effort, I’ve managed to live here for a year and a half without learning much about it. But, as everybody’s favorite little brown mustelid abroad — and with an election coming up in three weeks — I suppose I must.

Deep breath. Here we go…

Right. These guys. In power for thirteen years, drove the country off a cliff, the current leader has all the charisma of a facial mole with a hair growing out of it. Result: not doing too badly at the polls. Why? Douche or Turd Syndrome, I think.

I was surprised to learn that Labour is a 20th Century party, founded in 1900. They compare fairly well with the Democrat party in the US, but they’re more honest about their socialism. They’ve been in power several times for fairly short periods and seemed a bit hapless before the Big One in ’97.

Yep, the Conservatives’ new logo is a little squiggly tree. If that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about the party under David Cameron, then how about this: I was brushing my teeth this morning, listening to Radio 4 and there was — honest to god — a soundbite of Cameron saying, “if you want a more liberal Britain, vote Conservative.”

I almost swallowed my toothbrush.

Snubbed Thatcher. Only put up female candidates where he could. The sort of green who rides his bike to work while a limo drives behind him with his briefcase. Gone to great pains recently to explain that the Tories won’t balance the budget by cutting government.

I hate this man with the sort of searing flame that can only be extinguished with a double fistful of soft, soothing entrails. Whatever happens, Cameron MUST go down.

Okay, I totally don’t get the LibDems. I mean, I don’t get the distinction between them and Labour. They’re the leftist result of a 1988 merger between two 19th Century parties — the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party — and their function seems to be as a perpetual “other guys.” As in “yes, but what do the other guys say?” Or “fuck it — let’s vote for the other guys!”

Their polling took a ten point up-jump after the UK held its first ever Prime Ministerial TV debate, and the LibDem leader distinguished himself from the other two by not coming across as a barking spastic.

Ugh, these guys. Whatever the mess uncontrolled immigration has made of Britain, the BNP is still a bunch of creeps. And they’re leftists — of the blue-collar, pro-union variety. Think Archie Bunker without the charm.

The press describes them as far right, of course, because they’re bigots — while blandly admitting they pull votes away from Labour, not the Tories. It will be very interesting to see how they do in the elections. I anticipate a fair number of people will vote BNP — not because they wish them well and want them in power — but as an angry “fuck you!” to the political establishment. We shall see.

Whenever we go to a country fair or village fête, the UK Independence Party has a tent, manned by the same sweet blue-haired old ladies who sell chutney and homemade jams in the tent next door. UKIP has the right ideas — mainly getting Britain out from under the tyranny of the EU — but they haven’t got the hang of being a real, live national political party. Some financial scandals early in the life of the party didn’t help. Oh, and their logo is lavender on bright yellow, which is like unto being poked in the eye with a knitting needle.

But that’s where I’d vote if I could vote.

Because, bottom line, it simply DOES NOT MATTER who wins the election. There’s nothing much for Parliament to do; Brussels rules Britain. Did you know 70-80% of the laws of the land come from the European Union? And ain’t nothing the British parliament or prime minister — or, for that matter, Her Maj — can do to change any of them.

They can talk all they like about a “United States of Europe” but it’s a totally different proposition from the US of A. These people have been fighting horrible, bloody wars with each other for thousands of years, right up until a few decades ago. There are huge differences in ethnicity, legal system, culture, history and attitude — particularly between Britain and the Continent — and an ancient, deep well of ill-will.

In other words, almost all of Britain’s laws are being written by people who use “Anglo Saxon” as an insult. How do you think that’s working out?

UPDATE: Uncle B just read this and said I got the ancestry of the LibDems wrong. In actual fact, the Social Democratic Party was founded in blah blah blah blah, something something. Hope that clears it up; sorry for the error.


Comment from gebrauchshund
Time: April 19, 2010, 11:08 pm

Thanks for the clarification on the Social Democrats.

I always get that mixed up myself.

Comment from jwpaine
Time: April 20, 2010, 12:08 am

Seems like all of Europe and most of North America is run by people who are competing to see who can kill the goose faster.

Comment from Gromulin
Time: April 20, 2010, 1:29 am

Whenever I get the chance, I love pointing out to lefties that 2 of the last 5 generations of Europeans started wars amongst themselves that resulted in the worst, most vile atrocities ever known to man. Only the resolve of America was able to put a stop to their bloody bickering.
Silence usually follows.

Comment from Sporadic Small Arms Fire
Time: April 20, 2010, 1:47 am

England is a skansen where flint blades are considered “new-fangled” foreign inventions because the proper tool-making material is the horn of pleistocene rhinoceros. On the other hand, socialism thrives.

It gives me no joy to see the convulsions of the once dominant tribe because we were English once. We were, until the level of taxation (three percent on molasses and postal estampage) exceeded the pain threshold of the Colonials.
We told King George #3 to go shove Welsh turnips up his exhaust pipe. In retrospect, it was an act of genius, even if not an utter military madness.
There is no doubt that many Britisher subject curse themselves for picking the wrong side…. “If we only squished this inbred Hanoverian louse, we too could have Constitution, be citizens, not subjects and live in a Republic”. They’ll never do anything about it of course, pining for Plantagenets and meekly intoning “Brussels My Liege, it is of thee…”

SWeasel is quite correct, the outcome of the Britisher elections demonstrates that it is possible for the concept of the elections to be made irrelevant.

My gweat fwend, Soddus Silleus Bwitannicus: Welease Wodewick!!

Comment from EZnSF
Time: April 20, 2010, 2:27 am

Damn Commie Island.
I’m surprised it hasn’t tipped over yet.

Comment from scubafreak
Time: April 20, 2010, 4:22 am

I always knew that joining the EU would come back to bite the UK…

Of course, I’m one of those EVYL Conservatives that believes that unchecked illegal immigration is also a recipe for inevitable disaster.

I’m for tall fences and big open doors to those who come in the right way. And that means that you have to WANT to be a citizen of the nation you are immigrating to, not someone who wants to replace it. If I moved to Immigrated to England, I would want to become English, not replace it with the system I was leaving……

Comment from TexMex
Time: April 20, 2010, 4:34 am

Sweet chocolate balls…

That post is probably the best run down of modern Brit politics I’ve ever read. Really. And after reading it I’ve decided that as much as I moan and bitch about American politics, I’d take what we have over what they have.

I’ve read that after an election of a Prime Minister if their party doesn’t like him/her they can just replace ’em. Is that true? Why even have the damn election? Or do I need to get some more effin’ knowledge on this?

Comment from David Gillies
Time: April 20, 2010, 5:04 am

Don’t forget the word ‘liberal’ on your (current) side of the Pond is much closer to the Locke, Burke, Mill meaning. I’m a liberal. One of the greatest tricks the American Left did was to appropriate the word and pervert it. In Europe, ‘liberal’ doesn’t equate to ‘Social Democrat’. I’m a liberal: a Hayekian libertarian minarchist, and so I’m screwed six ways from Sunday finding someone to vote for (even if I’d applied for a proxy vote in time, LPUK aren’t running in the IOW as far as I know.) But the Tories might, just might, be better than Brown’s cockroach army. There’s at least a fighting chance they’ll repeal some of the more ghastly legislation of the Blair/Brown years. And if they have any guts, they’ll rework the political landscape to make it impossible to re-elect Labour ever again (there’s a bunch of delicious ways to do this.)

As for the idea of a change in party leader triggering a change in government: that’s almost unique when it comes to the US. Continuity of administration has worked pretty well for the UK (and a number of other polities) for many centuries. Just because it ain’t in the Constitution, doesn’t mean it’s broke. We’re not all backwards morons, you know.

Comment from Knemon
Time: April 20, 2010, 5:26 am

“I’ve read that after an election of a Prime Minister if their party doesn’t like him/her they can just replace ‘em. Is that true? Why even have the damn election?”

They don’t have a separate executive. The party picks its own head, but the head is already in the lower house. You never vote directly for leader of your party as a voter, only a representative – you also are much more likely to have to combine with other parties to get to a majority.

The UK is weird in that it has a *really big* third party that is the least powerful of any party its size anywhere, that I’m aware of. Conservatives (here and there) should be thankful as hell that it exists, and that the left is generally fractious – otherwise it’d be a majority, everywhere. Including here (though a very slim one).

Comment from Knemon
Time: April 20, 2010, 5:50 am

‘As for the idea of a change in party leader triggering a change in government: that’s almost unique when it comes to the US.’


All of which are pretty similar to the U.S. in one way or another. (I mean compared to, i dunno, Bhutan).

Comment from Doc Merlin
Time: April 20, 2010, 6:38 am

‘As for the idea of a change in party leader triggering a change in government: that’s almost unique when it comes to the US.’

For the foreigners on this blog:
Now, a big difference in terminology: when an american says “federal government” he means the entire apparatus of the state at the federal level AND the legislature and the ministers and everyone there. This includes everything from the president to the post office.

Another big difference. Americans don’t vote for parties, they vote for individuals. A typical election may have as many as 20 different positions up for grabs within a single district. For example the last time I voted, there were numerous judges, justices of the peace, the sheriff, state senators, state representatives to the legislature, various city officials, county officials, tax assessor, state comptroller, lieutenant governor, governor, railroad commissioner, etc etc etc. For every different position, there are a number of people running and you chose among them.

What parties really mean in the US:
In the early days, parties rose as a way of branding yourself and preventing like minded people from competing in votes on the same position.

Comment from Schlippy of AZ of USA
Time: April 20, 2010, 6:49 am

Jeebus, by your descriptions there is no truly conservative party by any standard. I woulda never moved there. And good luck to y’all ya poor blighty bastards.

Comment from Sean Ollett
Time: April 20, 2010, 8:28 am

Just a small correction: The Social Democrat party were not 19th century but a tiny fragment that broke from the Labour party in 1981. They were led by the ghastly “Gang of Four” Roy Jenkins, David Owens, Bill Rodgers (who he?) and the appalling Shirley Williams who was whingeing on Radio Four this morning.

Excellent to see someone point out that fascists are, in fact, socialists.

Although I am virulently opposed to the EU, I fear that UKIP may only seve to weaken the Tories chances of a clear majority. One may not like Cameron but I would be happier with a Tory government and not some coalition with all the attendant problems.

One more thing, Liberalism in England is from the 18th century philosophical position ad not the left wing drivel that it is in USA. I am an liberal (really right wing) and believe in the free market, small government, the rights of man etc.

Comment from JohnSF
Time: April 20, 2010, 10:03 am

Well. UKIP are probably closest to being conservatives.

Then again, quite a few Conservatives are conservatives, that is, liberals. But others are Tories, that is conservatives NOT liberals.

And the LiberalDemocrats are all democrats (and could be Democrats) but only some are liberals (that is, conservatives) while most are social democrats or secular social Christians; which is to say liberals (but not the conservative sort of liberal, of course).
Though they started out as liberals, except for those who were Whigs, who were rather conservative because they had their doubts about democrats, even though they started out as republicans i.e. leftist radicals, whereas liberals might be democratic republicans but most Liberals ended up being monarchists.

Most Labour are social democrats, quite a lot are socialists, some refer to themselves as liberal (which is silly).
And for that matter, quite a lot of Labour supporters are conservative in the old conservative sense.
Which is why some of them may shift to the BNP, who are left and not liberal (that is conservative) or liberal. But everyone thinks they are Right.

Then again, the BNP are closer to Continental fascists who were left, because they were anti-liberal, but also close to the Continental Old Right who were sometimes called conservatives but were not conservatives in the sense of being liberals, but Reactionaries who were anti-liberal. Their enemies being republicans and democrats.

The socialists were anti-liberal too, of course.

Whereas the post-war European right are mostly Christian socials except where they’re Gaullists or republicans (that is, right wing liberals) and all are democrats.

British conservatives were never conservative in the Continental sense, even when they were Tories, despite being monarchists and establishmentarian, but they didn’t start out as liberals (that is, conservatives) either, because they were parliamentarian but not democrats. Of course some Tories were Jacobites but never, ever Jacobins, that is, republicans.

The thing is that as America most conservatives are Republicans, and a lot of Republicans and conservatives are really liberals, that means that conservatives (that is, Republicans) are left wing radicals.

Hope that clears everything up.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: April 20, 2010, 10:39 am

JohnSF – that was the best summation of the madness of political labels that I’ve ever seen.

I’m going to plagiarise it, mercilessly 🙂

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Time: April 20, 2010, 12:22 pm

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Comment from S. Weasel
Time: April 20, 2010, 1:02 pm

That was brilliant, JohnSF! Though I can assure you, when Cameron promised a more liberal Britain, he meant “more like the Blair years.” There’s a rumor — which he denies emphatically — that he sees himself as the heir to Blair.

It fits his behavior perfectly, so I choose to believe it.

And they really do use “Anglo Saxon” as an insult in France. It means…oh, all the things we prize most. It varies depending on the context. Hard work leading to success. Capitalism. Lack of pretense. Hardy good cheer. Plain cooking.

Comment from Mark T
Time: April 20, 2010, 1:14 pm

Twenty years here in the UK, and I’m still ignorant–and tend to think JohnSF’s summation says it all. I find it next to impossible to find any media that speaks of principles or even positions–it’s all horse race speak! This one’s ahead–now it’s that one–ooo! There’s a noise over there–quick, run, see who it is! Everyone has an opinion over WHO should win, but not WHY. Frustrating. Sad. Scary.

Comment from JohnSF
Time: April 20, 2010, 2:20 pm

Re. Cameron as “heir to Blair”: my father seems to agree, assuming he’s the illegitimate heir. That would explain why dad keeps referring to him “that b*st*rd Cameron”.

Re. French using “anglo-saxon” as an insult: but it still ends up sounding like a compliment.

Like rosbifs.
Silly froggies 🙂

Comment from jic
Time: April 20, 2010, 3:27 pm

“Don’t forget the word ‘liberal’ on your (current) side of the Pond is much closer to the Locke, Burke, Mill meaning.”

Not really. It’s true that you don’t get the farce we get in American politics of hardcore Marxists being called ‘liberals’, because it still isn’t complete political suicide for them to call themselves socialists, or even to admit to being hardcore Marxists. But otherwise, liberal means the same thing in the UK these days as it does in the US: center-left to left, statist, ‘cultured’, touchy-feely, make a big show of tolerence while treating those who disagree with them like crap.

Now, if you were talking about Australia, you’d be closer to being correct…

Comment from Scubafreak
Time: April 20, 2010, 10:59 pm

JIC, is it any wonder that ‘liberal’ is an anagram for ‘braille’?

It fits, considering how blind the Libs are to what’s going on around them these days……

Comment from jic
Time: April 21, 2010, 12:14 am

It doesn’t really fit. Braille has provided freedom and self-reliance to a lot of people…

Comment from Cromagnum
Time: April 21, 2010, 1:28 am

And just who are the bloody Torries?

Comment from porknbean
Time: April 21, 2010, 3:07 am

Looks to me like ya’ll are on the verge of something exploding…again.

Or we will.

Or *PooF*..with a whimper….thousand years of darkness.

or the medieval f*ckers in the middle east or Europe of medieval f*cker descent, will make something explode. Big.

Comment from Bill (still the .00358% of your traffic that’s from Iraq) T
Time: April 21, 2010, 9:53 am

Braille has provided freedom and self-reliance to a lot of people…

And I speak fluent Braille.

Just ask my wife.

Comment from jic
Time: April 21, 2010, 11:50 am

“And just who are the bloody Torries?”

Old name for the Conservative Party.

Comment from JuliaM
Time: April 21, 2010, 5:42 pm

“…the LibDem leader distinguished himself from the other two by not coming across as a barking spastic.”

But we all know he’s just the face of a hastily-cobbled-together party, prone to fighting each other like ferrets in a sack, pardon the expression.

At the moment, the only chance he has is that he’s benefitting from the ‘he’s not that guy or THAT guy syndrome’…

Comment from JuliaM
Time: April 21, 2010, 5:45 pm

Oh, and as for the ‘Guardian’s’ nemesis, the BNP, the only two seats to watch are Stoke and Barking & Dagenham, where there’s a chance the ‘You’re not really my cup of tea, but I HATE the other bugger’ vote has a chance of them upsetting the ling-standing applecart.

And yes, protest votes are ALL they are really picking up.

Comment from TexMex
Time: April 23, 2010, 3:48 am

What I want to know is how in the world did Margaret Thatcher come along under that system and will there ever be another one?

And where the heck is our Maggie T?

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