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Globe Editorial

British debaters: ‘You’re no Jack Kennedy’

The first debate involving Nick Clegg, David Cameron , and Gordon Brown produced some unaccustomed surprises in Britain. The first debate involving Nick Clegg, David Cameron , and Gordon Brown produced some unaccustomed surprises in Britain. (AFP/Getty Images)
April 25, 2010

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It took a while, but we inheritors of the American Revolution are finally taking our revenge on the British Empire. Proof of Britain’s belated surrender to the American way is on display in the televised debates being staged among the leaders of the Labor Party, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats. This abject submission to American-style politics turns British traditions upside-down and inside-out.

Where once the British voter chose a party for its program, now there is a New World enthusiasm for the telegenic qualities of a party leader. Hence the first debate on April 15 produced some unaccustomed surprises. Thanks to the Yankee innovation of instant “dial groups,’’ no sooner had the candidates ceased speaking than kibitzers in a TV studio concluded that the indisputable winner was the heretofore little-known leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg. In the days that followed, some polls showed the three parties practically in a dead-heat and there was a surge in voter registration, especially among the young.

Britain’s parliamentary system is being subverted. Thanks to practices borrowed from American presidential campaigns, a two-party race has become a three-party affair and instead of choosing a stodgy party, as they are accustomed to doing, British citizens are being asked to vote for a charismatic prime minister.

Where will it all end? Will Labor’s Gordon Brown ask Nick Clegg, “Where the beef?’’ Might Conservative leader David Cameron say to Brown, “There you go again?’’ We Americans can only hope Britain’s new supreme court does not end up anointing the next British prime minister.

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