Most of them are even more bored by the election than you are.
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What do other countries think about the general election?

What do other countries make of Britain's elections? They're even less interested than you are. 

Last week, I found myself chairing a discussion on whether or not the British election mattered, but with a difference: it was a panel made up entirely of foreigners,=,

You know those interventions where someone's friends and family come and will explain how much they care about them? This was basically the exact opposite.

With less than two weeks to polling day, it's striking how little of the election debate within Britain has focused on the outside world. Even on Europe, the focus has been more on Ukip itself than the broader issues.

The rest of the world, meanwhile, has largely ignored the vote. If anything, it has garnered less attention than last year's Scottish independence vote.

That might change, of course, but the bottom line seems to be that this particular election -- even with #kitchengate, #milifandom, the #Cameronettes and Farage -- is just not globally interesting.

Particularly after the 2013 vote not to intervene militarily in Syria, Britain is just seen less relevant and less bothered.

Each of the panellists on Wednesday had their own different reasons for explaining why it didn't matter.

First up was Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, a former Indian security official. He had just returned from Washington DC and a string of meetings at the State Department, Pentagon and elsewhere.

Had anyone asked him about the UK election there? No.

Did India care either? Not really, he said. India's government was "ruthlessly pragmatic" in its relationships and Britain was no longer seen as a major strategic partner.

Next up was Marina Prentoulis, lecturer at the University of East Anglia and London spokeswoman for the Greek ruling party Syriza. The Greeks didn't really care either, she said. Britain was seen outside the eurozone decision-making structures. And Ed Milliband was seen too soft for a Labour victory to be really seen part of a wider backlash against austerity.

American political consultant Jennifer Brindisi gave a somewhat more nuanced answer. No, she said, most Americans did not care -- they were already too focused on next year's presidential vote and none of the British contenders had sufficient "rockstar" appeal (although it might have been different if David Milliband or Boris Johnson were on the ticket).

Within the business community, however, had noticed. The Conservative EU referendum and Labour tax plans both worried them. On balance, she said, they preferred the idea of the Tories.

On national security, Washington has expressed concern at UK defence spending dropping below two percent of GDP. And there's at least some interest in whether the UK keeps the Trident nuclear deterrent or not.

Finally, US State Department media specialist Barakat Jassem summed up the mood in the Middle East. They really didn't care either, he said.

That didn't mean there weren't some interesting broader lessons, the panel concluded. Indeed, British Nigerian writer Emmanuel Akinwotu said he thought this year’s election was amongst the most interesting in recent years, even if not as significant as 1997 or maybe even 2010.

The increased support for unorthodox parties such as UKIP, the overall fatigue with mainstream politics, the growing polarisation and dispute between those who want greater regulation and tax and those who oppose it all have wider relevance.

The problem with mainstream politics in Britain, Greece's Prentoulis said, was that they were striving for a centre ground that no longer existed.

For what it's worth, I'm with Emmanuel -- this is an interesting election. And many of the issues Britain is battling with, not least the growing divide between the political and commercial centre of London and the rest of the country, do have much wider relevance.

Britain may be a much reduced force on the world stage but ironically its capital city is at its most powerful in decades, the centre of a globalised trading system that it ultimately largely created.

It also faces some interesting choices -- on Europe, obviously, even if the polls suggest the UK will stay. The return of an assertive Russia also raises some pressing defence questions, not least altering the debate on Trident.

But whatever Britain chooses, the rest of the world will continue largely regardless.

In Whitehall and to a lesser extent in Washington, officials and pundits now talk of a Britain that is "absent from the world". Frankly, it worries and upsets them.

But as one British official put it, maybe that's just what the electorate wants. No one is hugely interested in domestic Dutch or Norwegian politics either and they are perfectly pleasant places to live.

As Iraqi born Jassem said, there's a lot to be said for living in a non-newsworthy country. It's not surprising that the prime concern for most Britons are domestic.

But a Britain that doesn’t want to be noticed is a very different kind of Britain.

The discussion took place at the Project for the Study of the 21st Century, whose website is here.

 

Peter Apps is a Reuters correspondent currently on sabbatical as the safety director of the Project for Study of the 21st Century.

Daily Mail
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Who "speaks for England" - and for that matter, what is "England"?

The Hollywood producer Sam Gold­wyn once demanded, “Let’s have some new clichés.” The Daily Mail, however, is always happiest with the old ones.

The Hollywood producer Sam Gold­wyn once demanded, “Let’s have some new clichés.” The Daily Mail, however, is always happiest with the old ones. It trotted out Leo Amery’s House of Commons call from September 1939, “Speak for England”, for the headline on a deranged leader that filled a picture-free front page on David Cameron’s “deal” to keep Britain in the EU.

Demands that somebody or other speak for England have followed thick and fast ever since Amery addressed his call to Labour’s Arthur Greenwood when Neville Chamberlain was still dithering over war with Hitler. Tory MPs shouted, “Speak for England!” when Michael Foot, the then Labour leader, rose in the Commons in 1982 after Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands. The Mail columnist Andrew Alexander called on Clare Short to “speak for England” over the Iraq War in 2003. “Can [Ed] Miliband speak for England?” Anthony Barnett asked in this very magazine in 2013. (Judging by the 2015 election result, one would say not.) “I speak for England,” claimed John Redwood last year. “Labour must speak for England,” countered Frank Field soon afterwards.

The Mail’s invocation of Amery was misconceived for two reasons. First, Amery wanted us to wage war in Europe in support of Hitler’s victims in Poland and elsewhere and in alliance with France, not to isolate ourselves from the continent. Second, “speak for England” in recent years has been used in support of “English votes for English laws”, following proposals for further devolution to Scotland. As the Mail was among the most adamant in demanding that Scots keep their noses out of English affairs, it’s a bit rich of it now to state “of course, by ‘England’. . . we mean the whole of the United Kingdom”.

 

EU immemorial

The Mail is also wrong in arguing that “we are at a crossroads in our island history”. The suggestion that the choice is between “submitting to a statist, unelected bureaucracy in Brussels” and reclaiming our ancient island liberties is pure nonsense. In the long run, withdrawing from the EU will make little difference. Levels of immigration will be determined, as they always have been, mainly by employers’ demands for labour and the difficulties of policing the borders of a country that has become a leading international transport hub. The terms on which we continue to trade with EU members will be determined largely by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels after discussions with unelected bureaucrats in London.

The British are bored by the EU and the interminable Westminster arguments. If voters support Brexit, it will probably be because they then expect to hear no more on the subject. They will be sadly mistaken. The withdrawal negotiations will take years, with the Farages and Duncan Smiths still foaming at the mouth, Cameron still claiming phoney victories and Angela Merkel, François Hollande and the dreaded Jean-Claude Juncker playing a bigger part in our lives than ever.

 

An empty cabinet

Meanwhile, one wonders what has become of Jeremy Corbyn or, indeed, the rest of the shadow cabinet. The Mail’s “speak for England” leader excoriated him for not mentioning “the Number One subject of the hour” at PM’s Questions but instead asking about a shortage of therapeutic radiographers in the NHS. In fact, the NHS’s problems – almost wholly caused by Tory “reforms” and spending cuts – would concern more people than does our future in the EU. But radiographers are hardly headline news, and Corbyn and his team seem unable to get anything into the nation’s “any other business”, never mind to the top of its agenda.

Public services deteriorate by the day, George Osborne’s fiscal plans look increasingly awry, and attempts to wring tax receipts out of big corporations appear hopelessly inadequate. Yet since Christmas I have hardly seen a shadow minister featured in the papers or spotted one on TV, except to say something about Trident, another subject that most voters don’t care about.

 

Incurable prose

According to the Guardian’s admirable but (let’s be honest) rather tedious series celeb­rating the NHS, a US health-care firm has advised investors that “privatisation of the UK marketplace . . . should create organic and de novo opportunities”. I have no idea what this means, though it sounds ominous. But I am quite certain I don’t want my local hospital or GP practice run by people who write prose like that.

 

Fashionable Foxes

My home-town football team, Leicester City, are normally so unfashionable that they’re not even fashionable in Leicester, where the smart set mostly watch the rugby union team Leicester Tigers. Even when they installed themselves near the top of the Premier League before Christmas, newspapers scarcely noticed them.

Now, with the Foxes five points clear at the top and 7-4 favourites for their first title, that mistake is corrected and the sports pages are running out of superlatives, a comparison with Barcelona being the most improbable. Even I, not a football enthusiast, have watched a few matches. If more football were played as Leicester play it – moving at speed towards their opponents’ goal rather than aimlessly weaving pretty patterns in midfield – I would watch the game more.

Nevertheless, I recall 1963, when Leicester headed the old First Division with five games to play. They picked up only one more point and finished fourth, nine points adrift of the league winners, Everton.

 

Gum unstuck

No, I don’t chew toothpaste to stop me smoking, as the last week’s column strangely suggested. I chew Nicorette gum, a reference written at some stage but somehow lost (probably by me) before it reached print.

Editor: The chief sub apologises for this mistake, which was hers

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle