Saturday, September 13, 2008

A naughty weekend in Bournemouth

I have to say I'm getting a bit fed up with the relentless media coverage of the US Presidential race (even though we're getting towards the home strait). I haven't got a vote, so the endless speculation about whether Sarah Palin wears liptick or not (I may be a little fuzzy on the details there) leaves me somewhat cold and left-out. It is not something I can influence - as my dear old Guardian reluctantly proved last time around with a rather ill-advised campaign to get every reader to write to a voter in the USA urging them to vote Kerry.

However, it is hard not to get swept up in it all, partly because of the blanket media coverage - everyone on the train is reading about it - but also because, as a student of politics, it gives me pleasure to see a contest that has actually got people interested. It's exciting, it's glamorous, it's got the voters cheering, singing, stamping their feet about Big Ideas such as Democracy, Freedom and The Right to Put Lipstick on a Pig (I know sponsorship and product placement laws are somewhat different in the US to here, so surely there's got to be a marketing angle here for one of the big cosmetics brands?). It's hard to imagine that portion of the electorate over here which actually bothers to vote getting so animated by the forthcoming general election, even though we do actually have some fairly thrilling stuff going on in British politics at present. Ministers are queueing up to put the boot into the PM, real cloak-and-dagger stuff. Meanwhile the Opposition have taken over London and David Cameron would surely be speeding inexorably towards Number 10 if somebody hadn't stolen his bicycle.

But thre is a third main political party in the UK, and I must confess to having spent much of the weekend absolutely riveted by the Liberal Democrats' Party Conference in Bournemouth. It couldn't have been further removed from the foot-stamping, rabble-rousing excitement of the US Presidential race if they'd held it in Russia. The auditorium was never more than half-full in any of the debates that I watched, the speakers themselves seemed to have mastered the art of flat monotone, those that did occasionally try to introduce a bit of fire and brimstone (maybe even the odd joke) were greeted by such stony silence that all too soon they gave up. The language was grand and formal, but the setting was absolutely incongruous. The delegates were at least divserse in age and appearance, and it was all very earnest and worthy, with real policy and issues up for debate. There was no tub-thumping, no triumphalism, no "this is our place in history" type rhetoric, nothing to make the casual viewer think that here was party preparing for government. It was like a parody of itself. I was absolutely hooked. If I hadn't had to come to work today, I'd still be watching now.

And they talked about commuting too.