Skip to content

In a moment of change, an opportunity for Britain to think again

November 6, 2020

As we watch American democracy, in all its querulous and partisan glory, slowly reaching a conclusion on the matter of Trump versus Biden, one of the interesting aspects of the election process is not so much to listen to the pronouncements of the great and the good, but to take note of the press conferences given by officials who are administering the vote count in the battleground states such as Georgia, Arizona and Pennsylvania.

Over the past 48 hours, these officials have been explaining in detail, county by county, the current state of play in their states. They have also shared with us the process they use for dealing with votes cast on election day, absentee votes and mail-in votes. The processes they are describing seem very complex. One of the officials, I think it was in Georgia, talked about a four-stage process of categorisation and verification that has to take place before the votes can be added to the tally for the state.

This partly explains why it’s taking such a long time for these states to count every vote. Special measures to prevent malevolent hackers from distorting the results are another reason. And decisions by state administrations to change the counting rules so that mail-in and absentee ballots are counted not first, in the run-up to election day, but last, are making a difference. Why last? Because there was a perception, fuelled by Trump, that the mail-in ballots would show an early skew in favour of the Democrats.

The conventional wisdom, which seems to be born out by the results, is that most Republicans voted early or on Election Day, whereas a majority of Democrats have gone either for mail-in. Why would that be? Beyond my paygrade, I’m afraid, but I would hazard a guess that Republican voters, encouraged by all sorts of mixed messages from the White House, as exemplified by Trump’s mask-free rallies, are less spooked by COVID than the Democrats. Hence Democrat voters are taking the safer option by mailing their votes.

Be that as it may, anyone who has spent some time in the USA, as I have, will know that far from being a quick and easy place to do business and conduct a civic life, America is highly bureaucratic, both at a state and federal level. In the US, you pay federal, state and city taxes. You have to navigate different ways of getting stuff done in each of the fifty states.

Why then, do we British, especially the faction that wants to “take back control”, look to the United States as our natural ally and trading partner, while excoriating the European Union, which has a far weaker federal structure and a bureaucracy far smaller than the American federal behemoth?

Is it because we feel more culturally assimilated with America, thanks to a common language and the overwhelming dominance of the US technology and entertainment industries?

This has obviously been a subject of debate over the past five years since a slim majority of Britons voted to leave the European Union, so I won’t bore you by going over the arguments again here.

But I do wonder, when I see one of Trump’s former chief advisors telling us that he would behead the country’s chief medical officer and the head of the FBI, when gangs of heavily armed men threaten to break into places where the votes are being counted, and when a chancer like Nigel Farage is hopping around in Trump’s wake like Mr Toad in search of a pond, why we don’t opt for the calmer waters of the European Union, at least by going the extra mile in order to reach an accommodation on our trading relationship.

I’m not picking this moment to make an invidious comparison between the institutions of the United States and the European Union. No doubt the US at some stage will sail into calmer waters. But isn’t it worth reflecting that the European Union has come though a financial crisis, and has absorbed numbers of incoming refugees that would have caused revolutionary protest in today’s US without falling apart and without abandoning its founding principles: the free movement of goods, services, capital and people?

And am I being a cultural snob by suggesting that the bedrock of our culture isn’t the iPhone app, the gig economy, superhero movies and the abandonment of those who fail to thrive, but the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, Leonardo, Beethoven, Shakespeare and all the other cultural influences that come from Europe and our former colonies in Africa and Asia, not from the United States? And now we seem to have given up making war across our borders, should we not be looking to a future of alignment, if not to the institutions but at least to the principles of the European Union?

Whether we look to the future with optimism of pessimism, it does seem to me that in six months’ time, assuming a more rational government takes office the United States, and we are finally able to look beyond the massive disruption and grief caused by the coronavirus pandemic, we in Britain have an opportunity to think again about our future.

Will we look for consensus, reconciliation and a fresh desire to work with our neighbours to rebuild our shattered economies? Or will we continue on our current bull-headed course, sacrificing our future prosperity on the altar of small-minded and destructive ideologies perpetuated by a group of misguided politicians with questionable motives?

I won’t be holding my breath, because re-thinks don’t happen in an instant. It will be a long haul before our beliefs and priorities evolve, just as the end of Trump in America won’t mean the end of Trumpism.

I do think we’ll eventually get to a better place. Yes, I know I’m biased. But, as John Lennon said, I’m not the only one.

From → Politics, Social, UK, USA

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply