05.05.10 12:15 AM ET
10 Truths About the British Vote
Gordon Brown's a dour loser and Nick Clegg's anti-U.S., so Americans should root for David Cameron: at least he's younger than Obama. Tunku Varadarajan's rough guide to the U.K. elections.
Americans, chin-scratchers as a tribe, are nonplussed by what's happening this week with our cousins, the Great Brits. Here's a rough guide to make sense of what they're up to in the mother country (or Madre Patria, for those of you who live in Arizona):
First, Tony Blair is not running for office, which is too bad, since he was the best British prime minister America has had since Maggie Thatcher (who was, herself, the best since Winston Churchill).
Gordon Brown is a dour, dithering, dry, dislikeable loser. He is Dukakis with a Scottish accent. So if (and when) he loses, let us rejoice.
Second, we have in Barack Obama a president who values Britain as meanly as he might Arizona. OK, I exaggerate, but Obama is to the "Special Relationship" what Angela Merkel is to Greece (OK, I exaggerate again, but only a smidgeon.) So for those who say that there's anti-Atlanticism in the U.K., I say: "What about the anti-Britainism in Washington?"
Third, before we go gaga over Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat whose success might result in a (not so well) hung Parliament: Let us remember that he is the most anti-American politician to head a (serious) political party in Britain in the modern era. He is to America what Paul Revere was to the Brits—without the horsemanship, the lanterns, and the Longfellow.
Fourth, Gordon Brown is a dour, dithering, dry, dislikeable loser. He is Dukakis with a Scottish accent. So if (and when) he loses, let us rejoice.
Fifth, Cameron is a strange bird, but not one that would not fly stateside. He is the most Eurosceptic Tory party leader since Maggie, and he would make the most anti-Atlanticist British prime minister—at least in his rhetoric—since Harold Wilson. But how much of this is election-time blather, to be jettisoned once in office? Rather a lot, one suspects.
Sixth, Cameron is matched, in Obama, with the most anti-Atlanticist American president in the modern (or even pre-modern) era. So what will happen? Possibly the worst entente ever, except for the fact that Cameron is an Old Etonian, which would seem to ensure that—from the British side at least—the relationship will be civilized. (There's nothing an Old Etonian abhors more than a kerfuffle, or any major effortfulness.)
Seventh, the British electorate is genuinely unsure of what it wants, except for the fact that it's sure that it doesn't want more Gordon Brown (whom the voters never really wanted in the first place, and who was foisted upon them). Of all the world's major peoples, the British make the most unforgiving "foistees."
Eighth: This is an election for government and not, as some commentators would have it, a referendum on proportional representation, a voting system that no serious country has (and certainly no former Empire). PR is for wusses, and Israelis.
Ninth: If Cameron is elected, Obama will confront the first leader of a Serious Country who is younger than he is (Cam is 43). This will be salutary, and will deflate some of the pomposity-born-of-precociousness that bedevils Obama.
Finally, it would be nice to have the Tories back in power, if only because alternation—as any American will tell you—is the life-blood of a healthy democracy. From an American perspective, a Tory government is always useful, for it is only the Tories who subscribe, reflexively, to an unapologetic view of Britain as a great power. America—Hegemon, hyper-puissance, whatever—needs, in these times, a muscular smaller ally without a sidekick-complex. Only Britain fits the bill.
Conclusion for Americans: Let's hope the Brits vote Cameron!
Tunku Varadarajan is a national affairs correspondent and writer at large for The Daily Beast. He is also a research fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution and a professor at NYU's Stern Business School. He is a former assistant managing editor at The Wall Street Journal. (Follow him on Twitter here.)