Applebaum: Can the Brits Learn Bipartisanship?

June 6th, 2010 at 11:11 pm | No Comments |

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Anne Applebaum considers the prospects of bipartisanship on England:

During Britain’s recent election campaign, someone asked David Cameron, the Conservative leader who is now prime minister, for his favorite joke. He replied, “Nick Clegg.” During that same election campaign, Nick Clegg, now the deputy prime minister and a Liberal Democrat, accused Cameron of “breathtaking arrogance.” “In this country,” Clegg declared, unsubtly alluding to his opponent’s aristocratic background, “you don’t inherit power, you have to earn it.”

All of which was pretty lame, by the standards of British politics. Winston Churchill once described his opponent Clement Attlee as “a modest man with much to be modest about” — and, on another occasion, as “a sheep in sheep’s clothing.” Elaborating on that same theme, one Labor politician infamously dismissed an opponent’s attack on the grounds that “it was like being savaged by a dead sheep.” Not all of the nastiness is between parties: When asked why Margaret Thatcher so disliked him, her Tory predecessor, Edward Heath, merely shrugged. “I am not a doctor,” he said.

Insults, both amusing and otherwise, are central to British public life: This is a country in which the government and the opposition glower at each other from opposite sides of the House of Commons, in which backbenchers jeer when their opponents speak. American partisanship, whether of the Nancy Pelosi or Sarah Palin variety, is a pale imitation by comparison. All of which explains the genuine fascination of the Cameron/Clegg, Conservative/Liberal Democrat, rightish-leftish U.K. coalition: After 21 days, it has become clear that this isn’t just a government, it’s a cultural sea change.

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