I can still recall how taken aback I was to see my first UK General Election ballot. Compared to an American ballot, it was pretty sparse.
In the US, you vote directly for the President. Not for his/her party, parliamentary democracy-style. This is one of the reasons that American politics is so cantankerous, even vicious. It's personal.
You can even kind of customise your vote: Vote for the Presidential candidate of one party and then choose you state governor from another because you want to say something different at the state level. In other words, it's a lot about people and personalities.
For example, right now the Republican Party are up in arms because there MIGHT be a bio-pic coming out on TV about Hillary Clinton. Bad news because it could influence the way we vote in the next General Election in 2016. Anything warm and fuzzy about Hillary directed at what's called the 'low-information' person could be toxic for the GOP.
In 2012, the Republicans rolled out their mega-bucks, anti-Obama campaign. So much money was spent in negative personal ads against the POTUS that he asked one big Republican billionaire anti-Obama guy: "All that money! Why didn't you just pay us to leave?"
The Republicans tried to make everyone think that defeating Obama was a done deal. Problem was that they practically had no base, at least not one big enough to get them back into the White House. In their hype to the American people, they hoped that, somehow, the millions would rise up from the mist and go forth. They didn't.
As one elderly Democratic Party stalwart said as she was entering Obama's victory party in Chicago: "We kicked their butts".
As the Americanisation of British politics continues apace, we are encouraged to believe that the polls about Labour Leader Ed Miliband's face, clothes, voice, hair, eyes, choice of reading material, the air he breathes... actually matter.
Why, we're even asked who we'd like to have for PM: David Cameron or Ed Miliband.
BREAKING NEWS: Since we don't directly elect the Prime Minister, why the question?
So why is all this "play the man not the ball" stuff rolling out from Tory HQ and their friends in the press?
It's to divert us from the really big political story: that the Tory Party is in deep trouble. Their famed grassroots operation is shrivelling up. The foot soldiers are defecting to Ukip in their droves.
This shrinking base is a matter of real concern. If you want to read some real Cameron-hate check out the right-of-centre websites and blogs. They don't trust 'Cast Iron Dave', who said with hand on heart before the election that they could count on him for that EU Referendum. Well now it's to be in 2017 or something-light years away. Not now. Not when the Conservatives are actually in Number 10.
Labour has a base. It has a ground game. The electoral map is tilted in its favour. All of this help Labour -in spite of Miliband - maintain a lead in the polls. Ok, the lead right now is soft. But don't count on that to be the case as the months go by. You can love 'em , loathe 'em or just don't give a damn, but everyone has an image/an opinion of Labour.
What, right now exactly, are the Tories?
Are they that squishy green tree logo that Cam stood in front of in 2005 during his very own "Hope and Change" era?
Are they the so-called "Turnip Taliban" who want, above all, that Britain leave Europe immediately and everything else can go hang.
Are they "Boris People" livin' and lovin' in the spirit of Boris Johnson, the Mayor of Toytown as imagined by Machiavelli ?
Are they The Shires, wary of urbanity? Are they Eric Pickles' Northern Tories, tough on all things Left?
The other strand of this two-prong diversion strategy... is UKIP. The right -of-centre press love Ukip MEP "Bongo Bongo Land" Godfrey Bloom because he does Cameron's work for him, i.e. make Ukip look like a risky, even barking choice.
Tory strategists will be praying for more of the equivalent of Bill Clinton's "bimbo eruptions" to come from Ukip.
Above all, they hope that the those who fill the comment sections with negative ripostes regarding immigration, Europe, Islam etc just keep right on doing it. Because according to statistics those people don't, by and large, bother to vote. They won't be there to scare away the 'don't knows'. They are the ones who do vote , the ones that the Conservatives now desperately need.
To help this group along, and since it is entertainment that is the chief yardstick of value and worth in our time, we are all being encouraged to sit back, relax and play X-Factor 2015.
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