Why are some North Americans so interested in the British election?

Apr 7th, 2010 | By | Category: In Brief
British actress Helena Bonham Carter will not be running for Parliament on May 6, 2010. And whatever party any of us on this side of the Atlantic Ocean may support, that seems a great shame.

British actress Helena Bonham Carter is not running for Parliament on May 6, 2010. Whatever party any of us on this side of the Atlantic Ocean may support, that seems a shame.

Back in the 1930s the historian Percy Robinson called Toronto “the citadel of British sentiment in America,” and Ontario “the most British of all the provinces.” He had not spent enough time in Victoria, BC or Halifax, NS — to say nothing of (parts of) Alberta (or Newfoundland, which was not a Canadian province in the 1930s, but that’s another story).

In any case, it has been quite a while since there was much Canadian interest, in any part of the country today, in a British general election — back in the cthonic homeland of the Mother of Parliaments, etc, etc. (You still might not have figured this out, if all you ever do is watch CBC TV, and/or read the National Post, but the number of people who so qualify in the year 2010 must be quite small.)

All of a sudden, however, the British election that Queen Elizabeth II herself and in person has just called for this coming May 6 has acquired unusual numbers of Canadian fans. And in both official languages, believe it or not; see, eg: “Élections britanniques — La férocité” in Le Devoir.

One reason may just be the unusual “férocité” surrounding the event this year, in a quite broad sense. But more exactly, after a long period in which opnion polls indicated that David Cameron’s Conservatives were bound to rout the increasingly fatigued “New Labour” government begun by Tony Blair, and now in the hands of Gordon Brown, the outcome predicted by scientific survey research has come to seem not at all so certain.

With particular reference to Canada, as it were, the polls still show the Cameron Conservatives leading Brown’s Labour Party — but perhaps not by enough to form a majority government. And so the most likely result predicted by political science at the moment would be a Conservative minority government, just like in Canada today, etc, etc.

Of course, the Brits are not at all happy to think that they might wind up in any situation even just somewhat like that of Canada today. (Without a Bloc Quebecois of course, the Chunnel across the Channel notwithstanding. O, and btw, CBC TV has at least made the old Mother Country’s disdain for the present political circumstances of the former first self-governing dominion quite clear, to give credit where and when it’s due.)

Another photo of Helena Bonham Carter. Whatever you might think of her (or us for posting so many photos of her here), she is the great-granddaughter of  Herbert Henry Asquith, 1st Earl of Oxford and Asquith, KG, PC, KC, who was Liberal Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1908 to 1916 and  the longest continuously serving British prime minister in the 20th century until early 1988, when his record was smashed by Margaret Thatcher.

Another photo of Helena Bonham Carter. Whatever you might think of her (or us for posting so many photos of her here), she is the great-granddaughter of Herbert Henry Asquith, 1st Earl of Oxford and Asquith, KG, PC, KC, who was Liberal Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1908 to 1916 and the longest continuously serving British prime minister in the 20th century until early 1988, when his record was smashed by Margaret Thatcher.

The deepest truth may run still deeper. It could be not just Canada but the narrow definition of North America, in the sense of the United States and Canada, that is unusually interested in the British general election this coming May 6. See here, eg, Jonathan Raban’s quite instructive  New York Review of Books blog for April 2: “Did the Gravediggers Arrive Too Soon?” There is, someone has suggested to us, something in the mood of this piece vaguely similar to the mood of the “London Letters” that George Orwell used to write for the Partisan Review in New York, back in the good/bad old days of the Second World War. (Though as best we can make out at the moment, exactly what the deeper meaning of all this might be is anyone’s guess.)

Meanwhile, if you want to follow what just may prove an intriguing month ahead in British politics, from a seat over there, so to speak, the March 25 print edition of the London Review of Books advertised in bold letters: “As soon as the election is declared, John Lanchester will be writing daily at lrb.co.uk/blog.” As noted, the election has now been declared for May 6.  Mr. Lanchester’s April 6 posting “Mr Brown Goes to the Palace” has kicked off his daily reporting. The story continues with “Decontaminated? “ on April 7. Note as well that in 2010 “the Brits will get to see their political leaders spar in a series of televised election debates” — like Americans since 1960 and Canadians since 1968. Stay tuned chaps. Put your faith in god, and keep your powder dry.

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