Britain, the ‘Mother Country’ of the United States, is watching the upcoming American presidential elections, albeit with somewhat less interest than in 2008, when a black man was elected the leader of the Free World.
International Business Times spoke with a British academic to discuss how the media and the public in United Kingdom view the ongoing battle for the White House between Democratic incumbent Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Dr. Jonathan Bell is a professor of history at the University of Reading in the UK.
IB TIMES: Do you sense a great deal of interest in the 2012 US presidential election among the British public? Or has it waned since 2008?
BELL: There has been interest in the presidential debates, which have been given quite heavy treatment in the media here, but there is less excitement than in 2008.
In addition, there exists more cynicism about politics generally over the last couple of years as no one has come up with a real answer to the global economic crisis on either side of the Atlantic.
IB TIMES: Is the heavy coverage of the U.S. election by the British press a relatively new development since the onset of internet and 24-hour media?
BELL: The broadsheet press have given a lot more attention to the campaign than they would to equivalent elections elsewhere in the world. There was a lot of attention given to the debates, and of course to Romney’s gaffe-strewn visit to London before the Olympics received wide attention.
I think there has always been media interest in the US in Britain (just look at the British print media during the US Civil War, for example). 24-hour media has indeed changed the way news is delivered, but this is true across the board and not really unique to the US situation.
IB TIMES: David Cameron seems to have a pretty good relationship with Obama, despite their ideological differences. Has Cameron said anything about the Obama-Romney race, or is he discouraged from making any such comments?
BELL: Cameron has learned from the mistakes of his predecessors – for instance, the administration of former Prime Minister John Major openly favored George H. W. Bush in 1992 and subsequently had a less-than- warm relationship with Bill Clinton’s administration.
Cameron will try and keep his views behind closed doors until after the election. However, he will be concerned about a Republican victory as he tries to woo the center ground in the UK and does not want conservatism associated with a radical religious fringe.
Moreover, Obama has hardly been a crusader for the liberal left in any case, and his health care reforms would not be seen as radical anywhere in Europe.
IB TIMES: Do the Conservatives in UK feel a kinship with US Republicans, or do they feel that the GOP in the US is too far right-wing and has too much of a religious focus?
BELL: The Conservative Party itself is a fairly broad church on social issues, divided over gay and reproductive rights and the place of religion in politics, though it is more united than it used to be over free market economics and the perceived failure of the welfare state.
The modern Republican Party, by contrast, is heavily dominated by the Christian Right and virulent anti-statism that can appear extreme and alien to British political culture. If a Conservative politician openly argued some of the things GOP Senate candidates have about rape and abortion, they would be totally repudiated by the party high command.
IB TIMES: Similarly, does the Labour Party believe it is analogous with the US Democratic Party?
BELL: This is a much simpler issue: the Labour Party would see the Democratic Party’s association with civil rights movements and Social Security, etc. as an easy choice over the contemporary GOP, with which Labour shares nothing whatsoever in common.
The political cultures of the US and the UK have made the kind of expansive provision of health care and generous social services Labour have championed here impossible in the US, but Labour would see the Democrats as far better than the alternative.
IB TIMES: Does Britain have any real “stake” in who wins the US presidential race? For example, would it change future plans for troop withdrawal in Afghanistan?
BELL: This is difficult to judge, but any change in US commitment to the Afghan situation would certainly impact on British policy in the region. Britain does have a stake in whether Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s domestic policy plans get implemented: were he to succeed, some in the UK right would say that those arguing globally for the end of the state as we know it have gained the sort of political ascendancy 'New Dealers' enjoyed for a long period after the 1930s.
IB TIMES: When Obama was elected in 2008, how did the British media and public react?
BELL: Mostly positively – an African American President was a topic of interest to many here, and the sense that the US was about more than religious fundamentalism and militarism symbolized by the Bush years certainly impressed the liberal section of the press (indeed, the left-wing Guardian newspaper had attempted to involve itself in the Ohio primary in 2004, so worried was liberal opinion in the UK about Bush – the intervention of a foreign newspaper had not been well received).
IB TIMES: As you previously noted, Romney made some foolish comments about Olympic security during his trip to London this past summer. Is he disliked by the British press?
BELL: He was disliked at the time, universally, but after the first debate with Obama that tended to fade from view. But I wouldn’t say he is seen as a colorful or likeable character. His interaction with a gay veteran in New Hampshire was noticed, for instance.
IB TIMES: Politically and culturally, do the British (people, media, govt.) feel closer to the US than to continental Europe?
BELL: This is a difficult question. The right-wing press and the Conservative Party loathe the European Union and like the neo-liberal approach of the US to economic issues, but that doesn’t mean people are culturally akin to Americans in many ways.
British liberal opinion is equally torn, attracted to American multi-culturalism that is akin to our own but repulsed by fundamentalism and antipathy to government.
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