I have just returned from a week in London where I was lecturing at King's College. The newspapers are full of the current election race, with the election coming on May 8, or thereabouts. Outcome unclear, although looks like Conservatives' coalition partner, the LibDems (Liberal Democrats) will take a big hit, but unclear whether more of their supporters will go to Labour or the Tories or some of the regional parties. A big question is whether the tea party-ish Independence Party will break into the parliament. Probably neither of the big two will get a majority, so there will be some coalition, with some forecasting that it could be Labour with the Scottish National Party. That has led some to heavily criticize Labour Party leader Ed Miliband. For whatever it is worth, quite aside from policy issues, with many unhappy with those of the current Conservative-LibDem government, the press on all sides seems to agree that something hurting Labour is that Miliband seems "less prime ministerish" than David Cameron, the current one.
Watching all this up close made me think more about the comparison with our system in the US that people here take so for granted. But it is not the most common system in the world, much as we may all go googly over Madison and his separation and balance of powers, which I grant has some virtues. But excessive partisanship has recently led this to a state of inane gridlock. The much more common form that Britain has, parliamentary democracy, avoids a bunch of this. On thinking about it, I can see some other advantages, although I am not sure how many of them more broadly systemic rather than tied to specific aspects of the US and UK systems.
So, one thing that sticks out is how short their electoral campaign periods are. We now seem to have arrived to a state of permanent presidential campaigns. They are constantly going on. Here we are only a bit less than two years from when the next one is inaugurated, but every day in the paper and all over the TV talk shows we have the carryings on and money grubbing of the prospective candidates. In the alternative, the contests are only a couple of months long, with far less money spent. Much of this is due to the fact that the leading candidates are known and do not have to go through a long primary process to get their party's nomination. The parties select their leaders, and those people are the party candidates to be prime minister. They are there all the time, unless they resign or are overthrown, which happens from time to time. One could say that this means there is a constant election, but it is not. It is a constant political debate.
Which brings me to the nature of that political debate. At least in the UK, they do not have this farce of people in Congress giving speeches to empty houses. Of course, there was a time when members were there and actually debated. But now, most are out raising money for their reelection campaigns, even if those are six years away and only show up for votes or committee meetings (sometimes).
In the UK parliament, they are all there pretty much all the time, including the PM and his opponent and rival, the recognized leader of the opposition. While in the US there are only a few debates between presidential candidates, and they are carefully scripted to avoid having candidates actually have to answer any real questions. In the UK parliament, the PM has a question time, and the opposition can and does question him closely, with the public listening live. Indeed, it is because of this that the public has well-developed views about these people, the PM and the opposition leader. There is no hiding the way the politicians do here in the US, and I think this is why people have their views about the current candidates pretty well established.
Anyway, we are not going to do anything serious about our system, which I fear will simply get worse, at least in the near future.