Personality Over Policy: The Americanisation of British Politics

British politics has always had a certain superiority over its American equivalent. After all, our long history paved the way for the American democratic system to exist. Furthermore, we are proud of backing leaders over policy and benefit rather than personality. However, as the party conferences fall upon us, personality and pizazz is prevailing.
The attempt to excite supporters is because British politics is boring. It is not its purpose to be exciting, nevertheless, there is no substance in conflict that arises. The Conservatives and Labour are both so moderate that when David Cameron proposes policies, Ed Miliband can only say “I would not do that if I were you”. He offers no alternative and nothing to spark real debate. If he could recognise the need of a dissatisfied electorate for change and a solution, presenting alternatives would garner massive support. The success of the Liberal Democrats in the Prime Ministerial elections proves the population’s interest in politics with substance. For example, Vince Cable’s economic plan for growth and the policy on tuition fees offered an exciting and feasible alternative. On the other hand, the failure of the Liberal Democrats to enforce any policies shows the neutral stance which suits our leaders just fine.
America offers excitement in the political arena. Barack Obama is the coolest character ever to step in to the White House. Even though his first term is not as effective as his personality, he is trying to impose true left wing ideals. After battling the Republicans on his health care and tuition fee policies, his successes show real hope for the poorer people of the country. Then we have his polar opposite, Mitt Romney. The first thing he will do if he becomes President is scrap “Obama-care”. The Democrats and the Republicans are fiercely opposed, they offer two clear paths for the American electorate. This substance is funnelled through the billions of pounds raised for the campaign trail. The campaign trail’s focus is the personality. The opposition is so vast that policy is barely mentioned in debates or public speaking. It does not require to be mentioned as much because people know what they are getting with each party more so than in Britain. Nevertheless, politics in Britain is attempting to mask its wafer-thin layer with a focus on personality over policy.
First, we saw the debates between David Cameron, Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg before the previous elections. Nick Clegg was heralded because he represented something different. It was an exciting experience to see these differences fight each other. However, for the parties which matter (Labour and Conservatives), little conflict arose other than the debt Labour had left. MPs on question time constantly refer back to this point rather than proposing solutions. It has become a bore.
The over-whelming success of Boris Johnson proves the success of an Americanisation of British Politics. There is no doubt the reason for his re-election is because of his personality. The reason he has become a thorn is Cameron’s side is because of his popularity, and the reason there is discussion of him running for Prime Minister is because without clear routes for the electorate to follow, an exciting personality is worth much more.
Noticing the success of this man, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband and David Cameron have upped their game at the party conferences. Even without a clear strategy for government, using an emphatic populist approach (as well as the occasional sob story) rallied the troops and caught peoples’ attention.
Everyone wants a strong leader, and the party conferences were attempting to show these off “America” style. Nevertheless, we are not at an election and the government is failing. Trying to convince the British electorate we have a popular, strong character in charge is not enough. The Americans can afford this approach because their differences are already laid out on the table. If parties continue to appease the public with personality over policy, then politics will not get more exciting. In fact, the opposite will occur. It will be one man fighting another, not one party fighting another. Substance and difference is required to create a significant and effective debate, one which the people will care about. Unfortunately, it appears our political system is heading the wrong way.

By Jamie McCloskey