For all intents and purposes, I’m a liberal. Many of my life experiences and travels have made me that way just as the experiences of many I know and love have made them more conservative. I do not see either as a character defect although I know some might disagree. I wasn’t always so rational but politics in the UK is not the blood sport it is in America so I’ve relaxed a bit over the last ten years. The British have made room in their heads to change your mind every once in while. It took me a while to allow myself that freedom but now that I have I will never go back.
Politics does come up in the UK. A boozy dinner at friends or an evening in the pub can bring about quite a spirited debate. Yet, as heated as it can all get, a debate would never get in the way of a liberal buying a conservative a drink when next round falls to him and the conversation would easily transition when something more interesting came up. When politics comes up I’m happy to discuss it but I try to censor my diatribe in fear or being labeled the biggest bore in the room. But I don’t have to censor myself too much as it honestly rarely comes up. I have no idea what many of my UK friend’s political tendencies even are and could care less. This is rare in the US these days. It’s hard not to know how someone votes. There is this strange undercurrent of people feeling they have a right to know how you lean so they know how to relate to you or indeed if they want to relate to you at all. Both sides of the political shit storm are equally at fault in this. American Politics is not pretty people. I am happy to be well clear of that mess come election time. The bitterness is palpable. Everyone blames the media but if you ask me, (which you haven’t but am going to tell you anyway) it’s time to look in the mirror.
I long for the days when voting was a private affair. Much better. In London’s Hyde Park there is a very old, yet still active, tradition of the Speakers Corner. (I’ve added a link with a brief history of this tradition http://www.speakerscornertrust.org/library/about-free-speech/a-brief-history-of-londons-speakers-corner/ ) It is a place you can go on a Sunday, stand on a box, and speak out against all the injustices of the world. Basically, it’s special designated place to piss and moan. If you don’t want to hear it just stay away from Hype Park on a Sunday morning. I think it’s a fab plan. Every town needs one of those.
This radical idea of free political thinking combined my dislike of American politics has turned me into a Liberal Lite. I reserve the right to change my mind. In everything. I feel completely comfortable liking some forms of socialist reforms whilst also knowing I would last about two seconds in a non capitalist state. I think many liberals feel this way. Conservatives who are vehemently opposed to all forms of socialism often send their children to private schools with a mandatory uniform and live in subdivisions with homeowners associations which prevent their crazy neighbor from painting their garage door hot pink. Hypocritical? I’m not so sure. This is the problem with extreme partisan politics. It’s makes hypocrites out of everyone. It’s virtually impossible to be all one thing.
I attended a London University in my early thirties where I studied English Lit. The young were constantly banging on and on about capitalism and how it’s the route of all evils. There was one girl in particular who loved to run her mouth about her hatred of American capitalism yet she failed to see the irony in the fact that she always had either a Diet Coke or Starbucks in her hand. I finally had to point this out to her in a discussion one afternoon and found out later that I had made her cry. I didn’t feel bad. She was young and a little stupid. This was not her fault but she needed to be told. She’s probably married to a banker by now.
English politics is just as crazy but it doesn’t take over the nation the way it does in the US. A lot of that is probably due to the length of the campaign (weeks versus months). It is also helped that there are three main parties in the race instead of two. The two party politics in America draws a straight line firmly in the sand, forcing people to pick a side. Adding another party makes that line a bit harder to follow which I feel is a good thing. In the UK’s last election a few short weeks brought to fruition a crazy combo government that I barely understand but appears to be working. Imagine that – opposing sides working together. As an American it’s not surprising I can’t wrap my head around it.
Some over here feel that under the Labour Government (Tony Blair) there has been too many hand holding laws implemented and shhhh don’t tell anyone, but I sort of agree. For example, my son starts school in September and I have learned that he is not to bring nuts anywhere on the school premises. Lunch boxes will be inspected. On one hand I understand that a nut allergy is serious and can understand the rule but I cannot ignore the other hand (the American hand) which is screaming ‘Why don’t you tell your kid not to eat my kids peanut butter sandwich?!’ What’s wrong with that plan? A friend of mine has just told me that at her daughter’s school they have banned all junk food. No crisps, no chocolate, no cookies. No fun. This is all in an effort to combat obesity. So as my friend packs her daughters lunch I imagine her thinking ‘Ok, what’s a healthy alternative to crisps? Oh, I know! Nuts!’ Think again sister.
Then there are the building laws. We are in the middle of an extension and renovation and partly due to the government’s slow involvement in this process we are starting two years later than we planned. They have to approve all plans and they have no clue what they are doing. The Housing Authorities are getting it oh so terribly wrong. Strict planning laws are resulting in safe and often soulless developments. It’s not like this everywhere but for the most part there is a formula by which all plans are passed or refused with no consideration of individual plots or people. We were not allowed to extend one room by two more feet out the back incase the cars coming down the hill in the front could see into our living room. We pointed out that even if that were physically possible, the forest of trees between the road and the house would prevent this from happening. The planning officer’s response… ‘The trees could die’. My response… ‘You have got to be f*****g kidding me’, is what I was going to say but was interrupted mid ‘f’ by husband kicking me under the table giving me that ‘Your not in Kansas anymore’ look. No, indeed I am not.
Some of these things are mildly annoying and some make me see red but at the end of the day I have to ask how many of these maddening things really directly affect me. Not many. The nuts thing isn’t actually an issue as my son won’t touch them, alone or in peanut butter, and while the bit of extra space in our extension would have made a nice design feature, we don’t really need it. I could argue the principle of everything until I’m blue in the face but most days, I chose not to. Don’t get me wrong, I feel strongly about many issues but I also seem to have developed the ability to (eventually) see that thinking something doesn’t automatically make it so. The divide the difference of opinions in America is causing is worrying. It seems that people have lost the plot in regards to what a democracy is all about. We are allowed to have opposing opinions. That is the point. The English are a little better at accepting differences. Perhaps this comes with age. I sure hope so.