Christopher is a senior from Savannah, TN studying Political Science, Human & Organizational Development, and Financial Economics. Watching his father's involvement in local politics ignited Christopher's passion for the political process at a very young age. This lead him to become very involved in student body elections in high school and to attend Tennessee American Legion Boys State. In the summer of 2012, he interned for a member of Congress in D.C. and is still active with the congressman's office. Christopher is most interested in education policy, immigration policy, and U.S. elections.
After spending the summer interning on Capitol Hill, I have now hopped over to London to study for the semester. This column will be dedicated to the perceptions of and attitudes toward American politics that I see while I am abroad. I will be keeping my ears and eyes open for conversations, media coverage, and lectures. I hope my experience brings interesting political stories and discoveries that I can share with you.
My first full day in London was packed with orientation sessions with our study abroad program. And to my great surprise, they looked for every opportunity to discuss our politics and the upcoming elections.
It began with Lynne, a middle aged director of the study abroad program. She weighed in on social issues from gay marriage to gun control. Lynne then recalled a picture of then vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, proudly standing with a gun and joked about Palin’s obsession with firearms. She explained how bizarre our right-winged politics seemed to the British. Lynne briefly explained their three party system and compared the American Democratic party to their most right-winged party.
The amount that she knew about American politics and the candidates was impressive. She further explained that the British loved American politics and that their news covers American politics daily. She said any new President of the U.S. would be their new president as well because of the great affect the U.S. has on their country and the world. Therefore, they watch the presidential polling very carefully. Lynne at one point commented, “The race between President Obama and…” Then she paused, looked at her co-director, and asked, “What’s his name again?” She, as well as the U.S. students, erupted in laughter. Her bias was quite blunt as she finished her political orientation segment saying, “I guess you all know who I would vote for.”
Following Lynne was Lord Taverne. He was first elected as Labour Party candidate to be a Member of Parliament in 1962, and he is now a Liberal Democrat in the House of Lords. Lord Taverne had even more to say about US politics and the upcoming elections as he expanded on Lynne’s bias against American conservatism. Lord Taverne joked that Governor Romney has approximately a 4% approval rating in the United Kingdom (However, I am assuming this is a rough estimate). And of course he had to mention Governor Romney’s trip to the UK before the Olympics and the gaffes that were made.
Next, Lord Taverne contrasted British politics and U.S. politics. He claimed that often times, Americans elect officials who are not fully aware of all their policies and the details pertaining to them. He jokingly added that they would never have a prime minister who was previously a peanut farmer or an actor. However, he did later credit President Carter and Reagan for being governors as well.
Lord Taverne continued by contrasting American and British social views by making a lot of jokes about the Tea Party. He said that abortion is a nonissue in the UK, and there is little opposition to gay marriage. He then elaborated on how heavy of a role religion plays in American politics. He joked that football (soccer) team allegiance of British politicians was as important to British voters as religious affiliation of American politicians is to American voters.
On a more serious note, Lord Taverne rhetorically asked what was the most controversial issue that Parliament faces. The answer was how to handle their deficit. He explained his belief that simply cutting spending and raising taxes could never reduce a deficit. In support of his claim, he recounted Clinton spending his way out of a great deficit and claimed that Reagan “somewhat” spent his way out of a deficit as well. Lord Taverne’s knowledge of British and U.S. politics was astounding, and with such a long career in politics, he was able to recall instances from as far back as Kennedy’s presidency.
The staunch opposition to American conservatism from not only a member of the House of Lords but also a commoner surprised me. If this trend continues, it may become my mission while I am abroad to find Lord Taverne’s 4% that actually support American conservatism.