British Question Time: A Contrast In Political Dialogues
Question time is always fun. What is most interesting to any American viewer is the constructive nature of the dialogue. What did Leader of the Opposition Miliband rise to ask Prime Minister Cameron about as this screenshot was taken? Infrastructure development and crony capitalism, accusing the Conservative government of allowing the railroad companies to raise rates on working families while executive pay increased with little government attention. PM Cameron said he was for infrastructure investments and that he would address the executive pay issue, whereas his opposition neglected it.
Why is this important? Both sides are in favor of infrastructure development during a recessionary/recovery period, and both sides are against executive pay excesses (at least publicly). This is a positive policy and oversight discussion, that though it may be heated, and yes, there are talking points, pointed fingers, and crowd noise, it is still a more productive government dialogue than the one Americans are accustomed to.
In the United States, it is always about political maneuvering and who can reduce government the most, and lower taxes the most, and badmouth institutions the most. While the Democrats typically concede their strongest bargaining tools before negotiations, thereby selling out their constituency, and Republican elected officials emulate their parties out of touch elites and not the economic interests of its constituents, both sides end up barking over who is to blame for the death spiral instead of properly fixing it. I do not know about the UK, but facts seem to matter less here than there.
Facts only matter to those who value them. How many congressman are driven by ideology and not an understanding of the facts? I would say about three-fifths, with the remaining opportunists and pragmatists with all the responsibility to create a constructive dialogue and effectively legislate.
Anyway, back to Question Time. Scottish Nationalism came up, and both parties seem to agree that the union benefits everyone within it, but that if Scotland wants more domestic decision-making institutions, they should be able to have it. Additionally, many questions were levied about maintaining, or increasing, the current tax burden on the richest Brits, to which Cameron usually responds with a remark about fairness, but that the point of taxes is to raise money, and that if these do not raise that much money they should be reconsidered. Not knowing the dynamics of the British tax code, I would say his position is pretty reasonable for the right-wing in a country, especially when America’s right-wing is against all taxes, in theory and practice.
A question on National Health Service solvency came up, to which Cameron said he, unlike his opposition, supports increasing the funds for the NHS for the next several years, and that he wants to make some reforms giving clinicians more say and looking into the effect alcohol has on draining health resources away from other potential sources. Again, seems reasonable. He is not talking about removing socialized medicine, or personal responsibility, or the nanny state. In fact, he seems to be positing that alcohol users either i) need to pay higher health costs for their actions (big government) or that alcohol should be harder to obtain (bigger government). Libertarians must hate British politics, as the most conservative party supports further restrictions on individuals.
The dialogue in a parliamentary democracy can afford to be far more vitriolic than in a system of divided government, yet a simple comparison between the two countries’ government seems to contradict that logic. Obviously size and diversity of the governed citizens is a component, but political leaders are supposed to forge consensus and construct successful policies, not subscribe to the lesser views of a polarized and ill-informed electorate.