OK, I’m not that familiar with British politics, but I didn’t expect it to be too complicated.

By now, I understand that an election must take place this year, by June, to be exact.  Mr. Gordon Brown will have to announce the date, and pessimists claim he will declare some national emergency to prevent it happening.

I also understand Gordon Brown is Prime Minister because Labour is in power and he is their leader.  I know that voters go to the poll and vote for their MP.  The candidate that gets the most votes wins the seat for that particular constituency.

But, there have been talk about the possibility that none of the parties will be able to establish a government if they don’t win a majority seat.  I never thought about that.  I just thought, whoever wins, wins. 

The UK system is not like the US system where you vote for the President/Vice-President, then your local representatives separately.  Here, the winning candidate becomes MP and takes a seat in the Commons.  The party with the majority (51%) of seats in the Commons gets to form a government.  That party’s leader becomes Prime Minister.

Since the polls seem to suggest that the two main parties (Labour and Conservatives) will get the most seats but neither will reach the majority, due to some seats going to other parties (Liberal Democrats, Greens, etc.), there will not be a majority government.  This, of course, will have many implications.  One being that the one with the most may seek to form a government coalition with other parties.  But, you can see with all the political wrangling that that might prove to be difficult.

The other thing I wonder about is what happens if the current party leaders lose their seats?  Has that ever happened before?  Party leaders going into an election and coming out losing their own seats?

This month, new rules may come into effect regarding immigrants’ rights to attain British citizenship.  While it does not pertain to myself, I do wonder if I should consider British citizenship.  At present, I do not qualify.  Another two years in this country would give me eligibility.  There are these other tests of citizenship and proof of “good citizenship” to go through, but I’m not too worried about that.

My question is, would there be a benefit?  Would it make life any easier?  I know it would give me the right to vote, but how else would it help me?  I already have an indefinite visa.

I do know the possible disadvantages.  From what I understand, if I apply for UK citizenship, I may lose US citizenship.  And if there’s any remote possibility that we return to the US, I wouldn’t want to lose that citizenship.  The key word is “might”.  A British citizen, may acquire US citizenship without losing his/her UK citizenship.  He would have dual nationality.  However, the opposite is not true.  The US government’s website states that US citizens who voluntarily apply for citizenship in another country “may” lose their US citizenship.  This “may” could be crucial.  However, if automatic citizenship is granted, that person would not lose their US citizenship.  How does one get “automatic” citizenship without “voluntarily” applying?

My children have automatic dual citizenship.  But, they only hold US passports at this stage.  They would be able to get UK passports if we apply for them without them having to go through the citizenship process.  If I could do the same thing, I’d go for it.  But I don’t think that’s possible.

For a while there, all the news was about the swine flu and many of us suspected that it was a case of “wag the dog”.  Perhaps, we were right, though experts warn us not to be too complacent yet.  But, as people saw that it is not a major catastrophe right now, they turned back again towards the politicians.  Anyone in the UK right now will have heard all the stories, some quite farcical, about the MP expenses.

It makes me wonder what we have across the Atlantic.  Freedom of Information does not extend to Washington, but do the politicians there have a similar expense arrangement as they do here?  Makes you wonder doesn’t it?  Where did all our taxes go?  I admit that when I file taxes, I never agree for any moneys to go into the political funds.  But did our taxes go to support our congressmen and -women and senators?

We took a walk along the Wey River yesterday in Weybridge.  For those who don’t know, this is a very “posh” town of the greater London area.  There are some nice, big mansions along the river, many with boats moored along the river.  As we walked and admired some of the views, I imagined what it would be like to live like the rich and famous.  It was a very quite time of the day.  Surprisingly, despite the warm weather, it was not alive with people.  There was a group playing badminton in one yard, a couple of women took their boat through the locks, a group was cruising along in another boat, and some bikers were on the path.  But it was not thronging.  Across from the mansions was what we Americans refer to as a trailer park – a group of park homes.  Usually, these homes are cheap, but in this area, I’ll bet it was expensive.  Weybridge has been home to many celebrities, many of them right now are football players.

As I look at the rich people’s homes and lifestyles, I tried to compare them to the politicians.  Many of these politicians are rich in their own rights, but even those who aren’t, they are making good money right now.  And the expense system allows them to earn even more.  There’s been considerable debate on what MP expenses should be paid out of taxpayers’ pockets, and the list of things that MPs claim for have been quite ridiculous.  I’m not saying it wasn’t right or fair or even that every penny should be scrutinised, although that is what is being done right now.  But, these rich people are so attuned to their lifestyle that they don’t realise that to us middle-class and working-class people, some of what they think they’re entitled to are just plain absurd.  Mr. Gordon Brown’s sister-in-law is a journalist and put her two-cents in about how everything they did was above board.  I’m not disputing that, but is it reasonable to expect that taxpayers pay for a maid?  Even if Mr. Brown is absent-minded and couldn’t be bothered to clean up after himself and his guests, is that reason for us to pay him to get a cleaner?

I wonder how America would react to their politicians in a similar situation?  I’m really curious to find out what expense allowances they have there.

On a more serious note, I have some questions about the ID cards that I hoped someone might be able to answer.  It was recently reported that the ID card program was launched in Manchester.  Furthermore, all foreign nationals (non-EU) were supposed to have ID cards starting last November.

I looked into this issue and the government pages addressed those who are currently applying for visas to stay as a student or a spouse.  It mentioned that anyone applying would automatically have to apply for the ID card.  In addition, anyone who applies for an extension of their leave would get one.  It did not address those who already had extended leave.  I have a settlement visa, not a temporary one, but a permanent one.  I won’t be applying for an extension, so what do I do?  You would have thought they would have tracked people like me down to let them know how, where and when to get an ID card.  Do I have to?

Should Britain join in fully with the EU? It’s a strange question to me, coming from America. I had never thought about a “United States of Europe“. But here, it is a contentious issue. Having lived in several states in the US, I never really thought of each state independently. Yes, each state was independent and had their own set of laws, including tax laws, traffic laws, etc. But they were bound by common laws as well. I was used to it and never gave it a second thought.

But in Europe, where each country had been independent for so long, establishing a new relationship, whereby all member states would be bound by new, common laws, it can become contentious. The EU has been in existence for a long time now, but not all European nations are in it, nor are all those in it fully integrated. Britain is one that is partially joined with the EU. Now there are debates about whether they should join fully or even if they should withdraw.

I may not understand fully the history of the EU or how it currently operates, but I do know that member states must comply with all EU laws, regardless of how fully they are joined. All citizens of this European community have the right to come and go as they please within the EU. They have full rights in all the EU countries.

The reason that the issue is so contentious in Britain is that it is one of the few countries that suffer more as a result of membership in the EU. Because they have not fully integrated, Britain still has its own monetary system, using the sterling, but they do accept euros here. Proponents of the EU would like to see the sterling disappear as they fear that it is a more volatile market than the euro. If they are not part of the EU, Britain may suffer from competition. The EU green laws have imposed many new laws and regulations regarding energy usage. I have always thought of England as a green country, but not in terms of energy. Now “green” has come to have a different meaning. Everywhere you turn, you see “green” advertisements.

One of the biggest disadvantages I have seen is that Britain offers much more social benefits, such as free healthcare, than most, if not all, of the EU countries. That means that those EU citizens coming to Britain are entitled to all those benefits, while Britons going abroad may not receive similar tokens of goodwill in exchange. Because of this, immigration into Britain has risen over the years.

Immigration issues have been highlighted in recent months, with much anger towards immigrants taking jobs away from British workers. However, because criticism cannot be directed towards EU citizens, since those citizens have every right to come here and work (some at very low pay), the anger has been turned towards those immigrants from Asia and Africa. New rules are being put in place to curb immigration from outside the EU, but it will not solve the problems of immigration from the EU.

What feels strange to me is that you have different countries, with different languages, different cultures, different governments and laws joining together under a unified government. They may have different states in the US, but they have basically the same language, culture, and laws. An analogy to the EU would be to have all the North and South American countries unite. In the US, you have state as well as federal taxation. Though the EU does not tax its member states’ citizens, will that come in the future?

After becoming so used to the way the US holds elections, it is difficult for me to understand other countries, including England, choosing to call elections when they want. In the US, there are general elections every four years for the presidency and every two years for governor, senate and congressional seats. Those in-between general elections where the presidency is not determined are called mid-term elections. And the date chosen is always the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. However, there may be local elections that are called as needed by local councils.

Here, I have no idea when elections will be held. There is talk that it will be next year, but that it might be moved up to this year. Who decides? The PM? In the US, because there is a time-scale to the election process, you see advertisements for political candidates starting at a specific time in the year. Here, I would find it difficult for candidates to campaign and get their message out to the people in time for them to delve into the politician’s background and beliefs. Candidates would have to campaign continuously because they may not have time to mobilise their staff once they find out the election date. As it stands now, the election could be as early as 3 months or as late as 15 months. The British public must be extremely well-informed when it comes to politics, such that they have no problems going to the polls when elections are announced.