Vital Signs

Britain Decides

There’s something admirably old-fashioned about a British general election.  Instead of the two years of incessant blather we get over here (“Just 11 weeks until the first GOP debate!” I heard recently on FOX News), the whole thing is over inside a month.  The odds are good that nobody will call you in that period to ask your opinion, or solicit your money, and if you’re troubled by the politicians at all it’s likely to be in the form of a single sheet of paper discreetly tucked in your morning post asking if a particular candidate might please have your vote.  I walked up and down the streets of many suburban London neighborhoods in the week before the most recent election and was struck by the almost total lack of yard signs, bumper stickers, posters, banners, badges, and all the other marketing paraphernalia you might expect to see at an equivalent moment in the United States.  On the day itself, millions of Britons as usual stood patiently in line at their local village halls, schools, or churches (for many, their only glimpse at these mysterious institutions) in order to cast their ballot in the time-honored fashion.  Few things about modern life are predictable, but one of them is surely that the news bulletins that night will carry reports that “crates of lost votes have been discovered” stuffed in a corner at a polling station somewhere, or that several hundred papers...

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