This is really an updating of my 2012 thread on “Anglo-American election parallels”, because current events have given it a vindication, and also
made it more topical. I’ll just give a recap, for the benefit of those many members who did not read it at the time.
I was observing the way that British and American politics seem to have been running on parallel lines since the end of World War 2, switching from
left to right and back again within a few years of each other.
The timing of the changes is partly governed by the fact that the U.S. operates on a fixed-term electoral cycle and the U.K. did not. This
flexibility means that a change in the political mood can sometimes be expressed first on the British side of the Atlantic.
The pattern goes like this;
When Japan surrendered in 1945, both countries were under comparatively left-wing governments- a Democrat administration and a Labour government-
which lasted beyond the end of the decade.
The Fifties were dominated by conservatism. There was the Eisenhower era (from 1952), and in Britain there was a time of Conservative government (from
1951), epitomised by Harold Macmillan’s observation that “Some of our people have never had it so good.”
The Sixties were ready for something a little more radical- the Democrats under Kennedy-Johnson (from 1960) and the Labour party under Harold Wilson
Nevertheless, at the end of the decade, they both gave way to more conservative individuals- Richard Nixon (from 1968) and Ted Heath (from 1970). (I
swept to power myself in 1970 as the winning candidate in our school’s Mock Election).
Nixon and Heath were both forced out a few years later, but the change happened more quickly in Britain. Ted Heath was able to call an unnecessary
election in early 1974 and get himself thrown out almost instantly. Whereas, even after Nixon resigned, the American Constitution kept the Republicans
in power until 1976.
So, in the second half of the Seventies, there was, once more, a Democrat administration and a Labour government. Neither of them impressed people by
the way they handled crises, and there was another conservative reaction in both countries. Once again, the change happened in Britain first. Maggie
Thatcher was able to force an election in 1979 by winning a “No Confidence” vote in the Commons, while Ronald Reagan had to wait for the fixed
election date in 1980.
The Reagan-Bush and Thatcher-Major years were a time of renewed conservative domination. The compatibility between Reagan and Thatcher was noted at
the time. Leftists will fondly remember the famous film poster parody, with Reagan carrying Maggie in his arms;
“She promised to follow him to the end of the world.
He promised to arrange it”.
Finally, at the end of the century, conservatism gave way to Clinton and Blair. This time the American change happened first, partly because John
Major won an election which nobody was expecting him to win.
Taken individually, all these changes can be explained by local factors, like the Vietnam issue on one side of the Atlantic, and strikes in the
nationalised industries on the other. Nonetheless, when the pattern is taken as a whole, there’s a remarkable sequence of parallels.
I don’t know that the mechanism behind it need be anything more mysterious than having a similar culture with similar reactions to world affairs and
economic issues. This would include being more resistant to Socialism than the European countries. Certainly British politics and European politics
have not been running in parallel to anything like the same extent.
At first glance, the new century seems to have disrupted the pattern. The British equivalent of Clinton remained in power while America was moving
from left to right and back again. Or did Tony Blair end up as the British equivalent of Bush Junior after all? Anyway, with the arrival of Gordon
Brown and Obama, the two countries were apparently back on parallel tracks.
This brings us to the significance of the 2010 election in Britain. Gordon Brown found himself discarded, but David Cameron could not replace him
without first arranging a coalition. My speculation in 2012 was whether this shift in the political mood presaged a similar shift on the American side
of the Atlantic. Did it imply that Obama might find himself replaced by a Republican President, on the basis of a rather slender majority? As
everybody in America knows, this did not happen in 2012, making my projection look like a failed prediction.
But as everybody knows, again, that is EXACTLY what happened in 2016. A Republican President elected on the basis of a slender majority in the
Electoral College system. My theory had been vindicated in triumph. “With feigned modesty, breathes on notional fingernails and polishes them
against notional lapel.” Unfortunately I was too busy to notice this at the time. I was getting three new threads out of that election, which were
occupying my thoughts (Hillary The Movie, a thread on the disputed election of 1876, and my reaction to a comment on CNN).
Then suddenly, in the summer, the two political climates drew even closer, to the point of collision. Even visually, considering those hairstyles. The
fundamental similarity between Donald Trump and Boris Johnson is a tendency to speak or write without regard for the political caution which has
become the norm. More so, in Trump's case, because he never had a political boss who could rap his knuckles. Even their own parties were hesitant
about them, regarding them as political adventurers. Therefore the politically correct on both sides of the Atlantic regard them both with the same
kind of horror.
Which horror turned into strong emotional reactions to the shock election of Trump and the more predictable summer campaign of Johnson. The reaction,
too, was expressed in similar ways. In America, the Electoral College has been part of the system for two centuries, undisturbed. But once it got
Donald Trump into power, the Democrats decided it was evil and undemocratic, because it delivered a result they did not want. Similarly, in Britain,
the system by which voters choose between the parties and all the parties choose their own leaders has been operating for two centuries. Yet once it
started getting Boris Johnson into power, it was being denounced as evil and undemocratic because it was about to deliver a result which the
complainants did not want.
When political criticism had no effect, attacks were extended to non-political factors like hairstyle and domestic life. Another symptom of the sense
of “common cause” in opposition is the blatant and undiscriminating lifting of anti-Trump rhetoric for use against Boris. Back in the autumn I saw
claims that Boris was undermining democracy “with the help of the Russian military”, and again that he should be impeached (doesn’t apply in
Britain, because we’ve got the “no confidence” motion which works quicker). And now there are people parading with “Not my Prime Minister”
signs (we never thought that sense of “ownership” was necessary).
Donald has already suggested that the victory of Boris might be a pointer to what happens in 2020. My case is that there may be reasons in history, in
similarities of political climate, why the two countries really could go the same way. And if this expectation is fulfilled, there is the further
question of one election predicting the other in 2024.
edit on 15-12-2019 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)