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American Misconceptions and Fears of British Social Politics

Updated on January 1, 2017
Nathanville profile image

I love history; it forms the basis of my interest in genealogy and has an influence on our itinerary when on family holidays.

Statue of John Cabot who sailed from Bristol, England in 1497 to discover Newfoundland.
Statue of John Cabot who sailed from Bristol, England in 1497 to discover Newfoundland.

A Personal View

I recently severed contact with what was a very good and long standing American friend, simply because our cultural, social and political views are polls apart.

I was willing to be tolerant in our correspondence but he constantly preached to me how the American ways are best and ridiculed British culture for being too ‘Socialist’ and damaging to the economic, financial and business interests of corporations who are the powerhouse to prosperity. Comments I naturally resented having shoved down my throat from a foreigner who has no idea of the ethos of British Culture and Society.

He’s not the only American by any means with similar attitudes; my experience from Americans I’ve corresponded with is that most seem to have similar blinkered views of Britain; to varying degrees. Therefore, on social media its one subject I try to veer away from where possible.

So this article, based on my personal experiences of social media contact with Americans, aims to highlight some of the misconceptions and fears many Americans seem to have about Britain.

My Skill Set on the Subject

At school I studied and gained qualifications in the following related subjects:-

  • Civics (focusing on the roles and duties of local government)
  • British Constitution (amusing considering we don’t have a written constitution); albeit the Magna Carta, signed by King John of England in 1215, is the founding document upon which today’s British Political and Democratic System stems.

At college, on day release from work between the age of 16 and 21, I studied and gained qualifications in these relevant subjects:-

  • Economics
  • Economic History
  • General Principles of English Law
  • Mercantile Law
  • Accounts (Business trading accounts including the ‘Profit and Loss Accounts’, and Balance Sheet.
  • Statistics

My Personal Interest in the Subject

I’m not politically or business minded by nature but I do have a fascination for and a keen interest in history.

As a government employee for all my working life (39 years), until I took early retirement at age 55, I have gained a profound knowledge and experience of the workings of British governments (of all political suasions) from the inside.

Most important of all, is the stark fact that political policies followed through by the government of the day has such a profound effect on our daily lives e.g. the ramifications of political decisions made by Parliament.

Differences Between Living in the US Vs the UK

Misconceptions Fuelled By News Media and Online Media

One of the main hurdles in trying to correspond with Americans is their faith in the media, whether it be news or online.

Trying to tell Americans I’ve spoken with that you can’t believe everything you read, in the newspapers or see on the TV news, is like bashing your head against a brick wall; so frustrating.

Likewise, many conspiracy theories are fuelled by dodgy online media. A prime example being how the American friend I used to correspond with is convinced the Bank of England is controlled and owned by the Rothschild family. Even though he kept citing websites proving it, he couldn’t be any further from the truth.

The plain truth is online media and newspapers are not restricted or controlled in what they publish, and consequently most frequently twist the facts and or fabricate the news for:-

  • Propaganda
  • Political spin
  • Political gain
  • Making stories newsworthy or controversial to increases readership and thus revenue

Regulated News

As with newspapers in Britain and America, America TV news channels are not regulated, and therefore prone to tell porkies; whereas British television is heavily regulated.

As part of the checks and balances to avoid the risk of government control of News on British TV the government appoints ‘Independent Organisations’ who although financed by the tax payer are answerable only to Parliament, and not to the government itself.

So consequently, although Sky News on British television is part of the American Fox News organisation, Sky News on TV comes under the same regulations that guarantees the BBC are restricted to reporting honest and balanced news.

  • The positive side to a British TV News channel having to provide non biased reporting is that you do get a chance to hear both sides to the story.
  • The negative side is that in an attempt to balance the report the story can at times be unduly weighted in favour of the wrong side.

Interestingly, Aljazeera News, TV news channel and online news run and owned by an Arab Royal family in the Middle East, who are not restricted by regulation, pride themselves in non-biased news reporting.

Consequently I tend to watch the Aljazeera news channel as often as I watch BBC or Sky. We also get CNN on cable TV in Britain, and although their reporting isn’t as bad as FOX news (which I’ve seen online a few times), I find it difficult to watch CNN because they all too frequently twist the facts into propaganda when it comes to reporting on affairs in Britain.

When I’ve mentioned the above points to Americans their response is almost invariably that the BBC and Sky News are left wing socialist channels, and they shudder at the thought of watching Aljazeera because they link them with Muslims and terrorists!

Politics

Some of the basic political differences between American and British politics that often causes confusion and misunderstanding when I’m engaged in conversation with Americans include:-

  • The Prime Minister in Britain has more power than the American President,
  • The two-party system in America compared to the multi-party system in Britain, and
  • The wide political spectrum in Britain which extends way beyond the narrow politics of Liberal and Conservatism of American politics.

The British Political Spectrum

There are 650 elected seats in the House of Commons, with elections taking place once every five years. Those seats are currently shared between 12 political parties, with the government having 329 seats giving them an overall majority of just 14 MPs (Members of Parliament).

As most Americans may know the current government is the Conservative party (equivalent to the Republican Party). The equivalent to the Democrats is the Liberal Democrats who in British politics is classified as a ‘centralist’ party e.g. in the middle rather than being left or right wing. Currently the Democrats have a grand total of 9 seats in the House of Commons. The main opposition to the Government being the Labour Party with 231 elected MPs.

Labour is a left wing socialist party, albeit not the most extreme left wing party in British politics, currently that being the Green Party with one seat. Although in local elections (local government) the Green Party does significantly better; and occasionally (as they did in Bristol until recently) can hold the balance of power on the local council. Albeit, in local elections it tends to be the Liberal Democrats who hold the balance of power when no single party has overall control.

An introduction to Parliament

House of Commons

With respect to the House of Commons, in aggregating the various political parties into the political spectrum there are a total of:-

  • 339 right wing MPs
  • 296 left wing MPs
  • 9 Centralist politicians
  • 5 Independent politicians
  • 1 Speaker

The Speaker chairs meetings in the House of Commons, and although he or she is an elected MP the Speaker is elected by the House of Commons, and on accepting the post gives an oath to the House of Commons (not to his political party) and gives up his or her right to vote on political matters in the House (so becomes politically neutral).

House of Lords

The House of Lords is the check and balance to ensure the House of Commons doesn’t command too much power e.g. Legislation can be amended or delayed by the House of Lords.

Members of the House of Lords are not elected, they are either life peers awarded a peerage by the Queen or appointed by the government, hereditary peers or Bishops.

There are currently 809 Peers in the House of Lords, as follows:-

  • 26 Bishops
  • 255 Conservatives, of which 49 are hereditary peers
  • 204 Labour, of which 4 are hereditary peers
  • 103 Liberal Democrats (Democrats), of which 4 are hereditary peers
  • 221 Independents (179 Crossbenchers, 28 non-affiliated and 14 others), 34 of these peers are hereditary. Crossbencher is essentially the House of Lords word for 'Independent'.

In practice, the Conservatives have a tougher time with the House of Lords than Labour because on balance the members of the House of Lords tend to be more socialist minded rather than conservative.

Local Government

Each City, County or District in the UK has its own local government to ‘Administer’ Local ‘Social Services’ e.g. Housing, Education, Refuge collection and Recycling etc.

Local Governments are called ‘Councils’ and elected politicians to Councils are called Councillors. In the UK there are 418 Principal Councils; the one where I live being Bristol City council.

Bristol Docks
Bristol Docks

Bristol Green Capital Partnership

The City and County of Bristol, England

Bristol, which was granted County Status by Royal Charter in 1373 was originally established as a small community next to the River Avon by the Anglo-Saxons, probably sometime after the 8th or 9th century. Avon is the Anglo-Saxon word for ‘river’, and the original spelling of Bristol was Brigstowe, which is Angle-Saxon for ‘Bridge Place’.

One strange fact which always amuses me is that American databases always make the mistake of putting Bristol in one of the neighbouring counties e.g. either Somerset or Gloucestershire; presumably because it’s such a small County and they get it confused with the City of Bristol?

Castle Green, Bristol, where the original bridge that gave Bristol its name spanned the River Avon, and the site where Bristol Castle once stood.
Castle Green, Bristol, where the original bridge that gave Bristol its name spanned the River Avon, and the site where Bristol Castle once stood.

Bristol Local Elections

In Bristol today there are 70 locally elected politicians (councillors) and an elected Mayor. Unlike the national election which is first past the post, local councillors are elected by proportional representation.

Of the 70 seats in Bristol (local government):-

  • 37 are Labour
  • 14 are Conservative (Republican equivalent)
  • 11 are Green, and
  • 8 are Liberal Democrats (Democrat equivalent)

So currently Labour has an overall majority, especially as the elected Lord Mayor also happens to be Labour.

In the previously elected ‘Administration’ Labour didn’t quite have enough seats for overall control and depended on the Greens for political support against the Conservatives. At that time, although Labour had the majority of seats, with the Conservatives coming second, like Labour the Greens are left wing Socialists, so both Labour and the Greens working together outnumbered the Conservatives and Liberals when it came to voting on local political issues. This gave them along with the Greens a lot of political power at the local level e.g. enabling them to spend money on local infrastructure, housing and services unhindered by the austerity measures of Conservatism, and the inherent caution of the Liberal Democrats.

A view of Bristol City from Clifton Suspension Bridge which spans the River Avon; the bridge being designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and opening in 1864.
A view of Bristol City from Clifton Suspension Bridge which spans the River Avon; the bridge being designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and opening in 1864.

The Bristol Pound

Americans Unfounded Paranoia of Socialism

One thing I consistently get when conversing with Americans, which is why I try to avoid politics when corresponding with my oversea (American) friends, is some misguided belief that Democrats are Socialist and that Socialist is too close to communism. Another common misbelief is that fascism is communism even though they are at the opposite extremes on the political spectrum. I think the misbelief comes about because both are ‘State Control’; whereas in fact any Dictator is State Control regardless to whether they are extreme left or right wing.

Although Labour is a Socialist Party (and the Greens more so), they are a million miles away from Communism. British Socialist Parties are ‘Social Democrats’; the emphasis being on the word ‘Democrat’ (not to be confused with the Democratic Party). In this context Democrat means a strong and deep rooted belief in ‘Democracy’; a ‘Principle’ which is lacking in communism.

Socialism is popular in Britain because of the great benefits it’s brought to British Society over the past 70 years since Labour came to power on a landslide victory in 1945:-

  • The Welfare State
  • NHS (free health care for all)
  • State Pensions
  • Workers’ Rights, and
  • Social Reform for the benefit of the masses

I know many Americans I speak with baulk at this, but it is an integrated part of the British ethos and British Society; and for those who live here, not something to be feared.

Liberalism in Britain

Historically the Conservatives have always been Right Wing Capitalist with the Liberals (Democrats) being more in favour of social reform.

However, the Liberal Democrats would never go as far as a Socialist Party, such as Labour and the Greens, so prior to Labour’s landslide victory in 1945 whenever the Liberals were in power they only tinkered at social reform.

Other Aspects of British Society Americans Baulk At

When conversing with Americans I often find many differences that are not immediately apparent, and when I highlight them in conversation the feedback from Americans I communicate with is always negative.

The two prime examples being the voting and drinking age.

Voting Age

Although the voting age in Britain is 18 (which I think is the same as in America), the voting age in Scotland was lowered to 16 for their referendum, and there is political pressure to lower it to 16 for all elections in the UK. On speaking with Americans, some think 18 is too low, let alone 16, on the ground that at that age people are not mature enough to understand politics!

Drinking Age in Britain

I understand that the minimum age at which alcohol can be consumed in America is 21; something which as a European I find difficult to understand. When speaking with Americans they can’t seem to understand that’s there’s nothing wrong in drinking alcohol under the age of 21, and any younger than 18 is just bizarre to them; although as a British, it all seems natural to me.

In Britain, the minimum age you can buy alcohol is 18, but at 16 you are legally entitled to drink beer, wine or cider in public provided it is consumed with a meal and provided an adult buys it for you.

Also, on private property e.g. at home, you are legally entitled to drink alcohol from the age of 5; which stems from the European tradition of allowing your children a glass of wine at home during a celebratory meal at the dining table e.g. Christmas, Easter etc.

Also in English law, you can give alcohol to under-fives only under medical supervision or in an emergency; I’m not sure when these situations may arise, but that’s the law.

Minimum Drinking Age

In Britain you can drink in public at 18, or at 16 if it is with a meal and an adult buys the drink, what do you think the minimum drinking age in America should be?

See results

Tetchy Subject

Gun Control

As a Britain I just can’t understand why Americans are so fascinated by guns. In my view they are just killing machines that should be banned; as they are in the UK.

In Britain, the penalty of even being in possession of a gun is high, and fortunately with the high penalties and restrictions not even criminals carry guns; so I can walk the streets at night in relative safety.

Enough said, as I guess this is another example of where the American mind-set differs so greatly to that of the British that any reasoned debate just isn’t possible.

Feedback

I would be interested in constructive feedback in that I find it as difficult to understand the American political and social ethos as Americans seem to struggle in understanding the British political and social ethos.

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    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 4 months ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Very informative Hub, Arthur. I have found that many of my fellow Americans are very badly misinformed about anything going on beyond our borders. This has been true probably forever. This ignorance came mostly through the disinterest of any subject beyond our borders. I have now found, with the advent of the internet, that Americans are fascinated with any salacious news regardless of the possibility of truth. The 2016 American Presidential election has proven that to me. Fake news has become much more important than reading or travelling to other places to find out truthful information. It is a sad state of affairs here and I found it to be true even with some of my personal friends. I am truly sorry for this attitude that many Americans have but not all of us are that way. Donald Trump exploited this ignorance and narcissism and we are now in for a very dark 4 years.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 4 months ago from Oklahoma

      Very informative.

    • Glenis Rix profile image

      Glenis Rix 4 months ago from UK

      Mmmm. Think you may be in danger of upsetting a few people on the other side of the Pond. An informative article about British politics but I would hesitate to stereotype all US citizens on the basis of contact with a limited number. That said, my perception is that the culture in North America is quite different from our own.

    • Nathanville profile image
      Author

      Arthur Russ 4 months ago from England

      Thanks HSchneider for your feedback, your explanation certainly accords with my experiences from conversing with Americans online.

      And thanks Glenis for your wisdom, which is greatly appreciated; and I agree with you.

      Normally I try to avoid stereotyping under any circumstances because I know everyone is different; so there is always a spectrum of views and attitudes (good and bad) in any Society. I guess my gripe is that (from my British perspective) a majority (albeit not all) of Americans seem to be as expressed in the comments by HSchneider’s above.

    • Misfit Chick profile image

      Catherine Mostly 4 months ago from Seattle, WA - USA - The WORLD

      This is a really good, informative article. However, these aren't 'American' misconceptions. It sounds to me like you've been hanging out with a lot of Christian militants living in the US. They are the minority and not the status quo; although they are the loudest with FEAR fueling their special forms of terrorism.

    • Nathanville profile image
      Author

      Arthur Russ 4 months ago from England

      Thanks Misfit Chick for your valued input. It is true to say that Americans I’ve had contact with on social media have tended to be ‘Middle Class, White Christians’ (with stereotype attitudes that British people associate with such groups). Because I’ve come across so few American people online with alternative views it had given me the impression that most Americans are like that; especially considering the recent Presidential election.

      If however this is a false impression and most Americans aren’t so narrow minded then that is very reassuring; thanks.

    • Credence2 profile image

      Credence2 7 weeks ago from Florida (Space Coast)

      Hello, Arthur, I am embarrassed that your correspondence with so many Americans have been distinctly negative.

      You have had the misfortune of speaking with someone on the American right fringe, a most unpleasant experience. These guys are extensively jingoistic, nationalistic and adamant about their views and attitudes as they are the only correct perspectives. The danger now is that these types are in charge of the Government and many of us more moderate ones are in fear and loathing.

      From the American perspective, I am just left of center, but would be a comfortable centrist or even mild conservative relative to standards of UK politics.

      The danger here is allowing capitalism to operate without necessary constraints and controls as administered by the Government. The Right says that there is too much Government interference in the economy, but without it, the Corporate class will operate without restraint, exploiting labor, polluting without being held accountable and buying Congress at the expense of the people.

      I look upon your system with an open mind and can easily see many advantages.

      For the conservatives here, anything that is not blatantly biased rightwing propaganda is left wing biased. Most will tell you that the press has a general left wing bias rather than pondering to the possibility that they say that because the news printed or broadcasted is not what they want to hear. All you have to do is look at the operations of the Trump Administration to see how that works.

      It has got to be annoying to have people promote propaganda about the UK, when they have never been there and in stark opposition to someone who has lived there and is in a better position to explain how things actually work.

      We have a bit in common, I note that you have been a Government employee over many years, me as well.

      I hope that we can exchange ideas and learn a bit about our relative societies from each other.

      I have always been more afraid of unregulated capitalism out of control than this endless fear of socialism, which can only realistically go so deep within the American culture.

      I hope that I can shed some light on the American obsession with firearms with this link and when I visited Britain almost 40 years ago, I received an education by a Bobby in regards to that topic.

      https://hubpages.com/politics/More-Notes-from-an-U...

      Very comprehensive info about how your parliamentary system works.

      Lets keep this channel open....

    • Nathanville profile image
      Author

      Arthur Russ 7 weeks ago from England

      Thanks Credence2, yes I think you are right, I have had the misfortune of speaking with middle class religious white Republican Americans; all who seem to worship Trump, and one who tried to shove his version of Christianity down my throat.

      Fortunately, in the past few months on hubpages I have started to come across more moderate Americans (like yourself) who I can relate to; which is refreshing. And I do find your articles a fascinating read.

      I look forward to seeing more of you on Hubpages in the future.

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