Issues aren't so different across the pond

Saturday, May 31, 2008 | 2:00 p.m. CDT; updated 7:53 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Kennedy is a professor emeritus at the MU School of Journalism.

LONDON — I hope you notice the dateline. It means that, once again, my Life’s Companion and I have fled beautiful Boone County, this time for the less salubrious but more costly shores of the mother country. (In case you’re interested, my excuse this time is that I’m teaching a course to 21 journalism students who are about to begin internships in a variety of British media companies.)

We’ve been here a couple of weeks now, and I’ve noticed some striking parallels between Britain and the colonies, including but not limited to politics. I’ll explain.

Here, as there, the country is being run by a hugely unpopular government. If you remember the glory days of Tony Blair, you may find that hard to imagine. Well, it’s true. The dour Scotsman who took Blair’s place as prime minister last year, Gordon Brown, enjoys a level of popular support that ranks right down there with Mr. Bush’s.

In both cases, some of the public revulsion probably isn’t their fault. As in the United States, both the weather and the economy are going sour here. The three-day Bank Holiday weekend was mainly washed out. The Guardian reports that inflation in grocery prices is nearing 7 percent. And the drivers of those articulated lorries that we call tractor-trailers just staged a protest against the price of fuel. Regular gasoline is going for the equivalent of more than $10 a gallon, and diesel is even higher.

In both cases, though, some of the loss of support is their fault. Nobody ever said that Mr. Brown looked like a good guy to have a beer with, as they used to say about Mr. Bush. Most people did see him as competent. In his short period as the No. 1, that reputation has been tarnished. He put through a change in the tax code that had the effect of raising taxes on the poor and then responded to the uproar by announcing a temporary fix that seemed to violate his own policy against deficit spending. A long-planned increase in fuel taxes now seems especially ill-timed.

Like the Republicans, the Labour Party is losing a string of local and regional elections, including the mayorship of London. Unlike the Republicans, Labour doesn’t have to face a national election for another two years. That means a continuing stretch of bitterness and backbiting within the ruling party, much to the delight of journalists but the dismay of most normal people.

Meanwhile, according to the press, the Brits join us in worrying about education, crime, global warming, stem cell research, immigration and the declining value of the currency (against, it appears, everything but the dollar). You can see why we feel so much at home here.

Not everything’s familiar, though. Did I mention the prices? It’s hard to have lunch and a pint in a decent pub for less than $20. A trip on the tube costs close to $8, unless you have an oyster card.

But how can you not love a country where the Sunday morning TV talk begins with a review of the newspaper front pages?

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Columbia Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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