Wednesday, 21 April 2010

PostHeaderIcon UK Election 2010: The view from rural Japan

There will be a general election held in Britain on May 6th.  Everyone knows that the most crucial demographic to win over belongs to that of the old women in rural Japan.  Therefore, I have written this long and fascinating piece to help the main parties direct their election strategies towards this essential ‘obaachan vote’.

The British people reading this will know all about the upcoming election due to the unrelenting electioneering that has been going on for about two weeks.  Still, the election campaign only lasts a month in Britain compared to America where it never seems to end.  Personally, I have been addicted to reading every news article and I’ll probably take the morning off work to watch the results.   This recent election is interesting because the two main parties of Labour (traditionally left-wing) and Conservative (traditionally right-wing) are deeply unpopular outside of their core support.  The apathy and distrust with British politicians is more apparent than it has ever been.  The main reasons for this have been with the British involvement in the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Millions of people protested on the streets of British cities in 2003 and the Labour government ignored them and misled parliament.  Recently, the politicians from every party were found to be lying on their expenses and milking the taxpayers of millions for their second home swimming pools, £1000 chairs and private cleaners.  The biggest election issue this time is to do with stabilising and rebuilding the shattered economy.  Labour have a lot to answer for as Britain has been one of the worst affected in the crisis due to a heavy reliance on borrowed money.  Still, people remember the Conservative years under Thatcher where there was mass unemployment and heavy cuts to public spending so they are struggling to gain trust.  Therefore, there has been a recent rise in support for the third party called the Liberal Democrats.  The party in its current form has only been around since the 1980s and has been often mocked as being irrelevant as the British political system is structured for a two party system.  I wrote too much there but I thought I’d give you a semi-serious overview before I lead on to the next part.  Also, I just saved you reading an hour or two of Wikipedia if you had any interest in British politics.

Once again, I was running short on ideas for my advanced English class this week.  Instead of making a class that would benefit their English ability or improve their understanding… I embarked on another experiment to entertain myself.  I told them that they had to pretend to be Scottish for the rest of the class.  I was genuinely surprised when they accepted this without question.  Usually, a Japanese person would look at me with a terrified look of confusion and mutter “but… I’m Japanese” and then refuse to participate until I promised they could become Japanese again after the class.  To begin, I asked them if they knew who the current Prime Minister was.  They didn’t know.  I told them not to worry because a lot of British people probably don’t know either.  I then asked them to tell me anything they knew about British politics.  They remembered Tony Blair (1997-2007) and Margaret Thatcher (1979-1990).  I guess a solid decade of (destroying everything) power rewards them with such a fleeting memory.  Nobody remembered their dull and dreary successors of John Major (1990-1997) and Gordon Brown (2007-present).  Also, they were aware of the wars in the Falklands and Iraq.  As always, they talked fondly of Queen Erizaabethu.  I think she visited Japan in the 70s and won over a lot of people.  Also, I think they see a similarity between the British and Japanese royal families.  

Anyway, I explained the names and histories of the three main parties as well as the SNP (Scottish National Party).  They sound a bit racist but they’re actually a centre-left party and currently the minority government in the Scottish Parliament.   To start off the proceedings I asked them what they thought of the party names and symbols.  I then continued this trend of judgements based on nothing when I asked them what they thought of the leaders based on their name and face.

I had to explain the history of trade unions and their role in politics as they don’t really exist in Japan.  They liked the name because they said people who work hard are important to the country.  The symbol of the red rose (there is a modern version but I couldn’t find it) confused them.  I asked them what they thought it might mean.  My question was met with “It’s a flower”.  Eventually, one asked if it was a rose because that is England’s national flower.  This was a good observation but I told them Labour’s strong roots actually come from Scotland and Wales.  Their main opinion was that it was an English symbol used to show some sort of traditional values.  It actually made very logical sense to me.  Perhaps the Conservatives should adopt it.  On an unrelated note, Japanese people know too much about flowers.

Gordon Brown’s name did not go down well.  The main reason for this was because in the past few years there have been English teachers in this area called David, Nick and Alex.  There is always a sense of comfort in the familiar I guess.  They did not like his surname.  They thought that his hair should be brown rather than grey.  I used the PR picture of him and it went down surprisingly well.  They said he had a nice smile and looked friendly.  I told them that British people called him miserable and mean.  They laughed.  I told them he only had one eye and they all agreed that a Prime Minister should really have two working eyes.  I told them that many English people don’t like him because they don’t think a Scottish person should be in charge of them.  They said that wasn’t fair.  I asked them if they thought he looked like a potato.  My change in tone confused them and they did not reply.

The Conservative name was fairly straightforward.  They asked if they were another traditional party of Britain.  I told them they were the traditional party of rich, evil men.  They asked me what the party were conserving.  I told them they were protecting the money and interests of rich, evil men.  The party symbol did not go down well at all.  They just kept saying tree? ? tree?  They demanded to know what the tree meant.  I guessed and told them it was a traditional British tree which I’m pretty sure is right.  I told them they were trying to be appealing and that the party cared about the world.  They didn’t believe this.  Their main problem was that the tree was badly drawn.  They asked if a primary school pupil had drawn it.  I said I wasn’t sure.

David Cameron’s name was met with an enthusiastic response.  They were pleased because they knew two people called that.  I said it was one of the most common names back home.  Their analysis of Cameron’s face was the highlight of the evening for me.  They said “he is young and handsome but…. he looks cold and cunning”.  It just proves that you can judge a book by the cover.  I told them that he was educated at Eton and surprisingly they all knew what this meant.  I didn’t even need to explain the class structure.  I told them he cycles to work to save on his carbon emissions.  They liked this.  I then told them that he has someone drive his briefcase in a car behind him.  They said that he is not a normal person.  “He is not a Labour.”

The Liberal Democrats name was met with enthusiasm because there is a Liberal Democratic Party in Japan.  They lost power last year after over a half century of power.  The party symbol of a yellow bird in flight received the most positive feedback.  However, the concept of a bird flying into the stratosphere of pure liberty was not understood at first.  They just thought it looked the nicest and they liked the yellow compared to red or blue.

Nick Clegg had the most positive feedback from all the leaders.  I asked them why they liked him the best and they told me “he had a nice face”.  They continued to call him Nick because they struggled to pronounce his surname.  I then told them that there was a 90 minute television debate last week and that he had become very popular because of it.  I told them that a lot of support came from people who said “he had a nice face”.  They agreed with this and everyone was happy.  My only hope for the future is that a fascist party does not appoint someone articulate with a nice face.  They said that he looked young and honest.  I asked them if they thought he looked like a bank manager.  They said yes.  I told them that the other two parties often bullied him in parliament.  They thought that wasn’t fair.   I think this sympathy coupled with first name terms were major vote winners.

The SNP name and logo were met with confusion.  I could not find one good name/logo for the SNP on the whole of the internet.  They are usually bright yellow with ‘Scottish National Party’ written somewhere.  They were angry that the SNP symbol did not immediately mean anything.  I told them it was meant to be a mixture of a thistle (the hardest word for a Japanese person to pronounce) and the Scottish flag.  They felt the SNP logo had the strongest meaning once they understood what it meant.  I told them that a good logo should't need to be explained.  They thought that the SNP must not like English people.  I put this one down to the international popularity of ‘Braveheart’.  I think they thought I would appreciate this comment but I tried to convince them there was more to the party than independence.  They like independence because I have brainwashed them for the past two years.  They seemed to struggle with the idea that the SNP should stand for Westminister when there was the Scottish Parliament for them.

Alex Salmond was initially met with silence.  The first utterance came from a question about his surname.  To be fair, it does sound like the fish.  The next question asked how old he was.  I told them he was in his 50s.  The silence continued for a long time.  I was going to ask them if he looked like he had more cholesterol than a fried egg but instead asked them if he looked healthy.  They thought he looked fat and unwell.  They said that he must be intelligent if he was the First Minister of Scotland.  I said he actually had a personality compared to the rest of the politicians in Edinburgh.  The silence continued and I added Alex Salmond next to Gordon Brown in the pile of handsome Scots.

My next plan was to show them the covers of the manifestoes.  Ironically, the exact time I was teaching my class coincided with the launch of the SNP manifesto so they have been omitted.  It’s possibly for the best as I think their campaign slogan (Elect a local champion) is quite dreadful.  This segment of my class had a small element of English education as I could teach them how political parties manipulate and bastardise the language.
Labour:  “It’s red.  It has a sun and a family.  It looks hopeful.  It’s very soft and relaxing.”  I asked them if they thought it looked like an advert for butter.  They didn’t agree.  I decided against asking them if it looked like a nuclear bomb had just gone off.  The slogan was agreed to be short and to the point.  However, they didn’t believe it would be true.  The general opinion was that they were meaningless, empty words.
Conservative:  “Bad.  Not nice.  Very serious.  It looks like the cover of something bad… like bills”.  I asked them if they thought it looked like a rulebook that would shout at you when you opened it.  They didn’t understand but agreed.  The campaign slogan confused them and I told them not to worry because it was an appalling use of English.  They said it was like telling you to vote for them rather than asking.

Liberal Democrats:  “It has nice colours.  It is not too serious but has no pictures”.  They told me that the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan had exactly the same pledges on the cover of their manifesto.  The overuse of the word ‘fair’ appealed to them.  There was no surprise that they liked the ideas of fairness in taxes and children’s futures.  I told them I didn’t like the recent trend to use only the lower case letters.  They did like this because they said they forget to do it sometimes.  I told them they were wrong.  All of them noticed the continued use of the words: future, fair and change since the election of Obama last year.

Verdict:  A total victory for the Liberal Democrats and sympathy for the SNP.

I have written far too much about this.  Many of you can argue that I haven’t given a more accurate account of the main parties.  I mean… it isn’t fair to allow these old women to vote given that they didn’t know anything about the parties or leaders beforehand.  I made them judge the future leader of Britain based on such trivial matters as party name, symbol and colour.  Indeed, I made them base their preference of leader by revealing their name and showing only one picture of them.  I made them assess the suitability of a party’s policies by showing them the cover and slogan of their manifesto.  I was very proud of my English class as they handled such a mundane topic very well.  Still, given how I made them base their vote on a ninety minute lesson on the basics of British politics then we can assume that their opinion matters little.  I mean, we didn’t even get onto the serious issues of how attractive their unelected wives are.  I’ll tell you what though.  I’m glad I come from a country that looks beyond all these gimmicks.


Anonymous said...

I talked about the election the evening before, so I have no idea why they couldn't name GB.

Ahoy hoy said...

There was a glimmer of recognition when I mentioned him. I don't blame them really. I can just about name the G8 leaders myself.

Also, I spelt イギリス shock horror.

Anonymous said...

I am really impressed; the class's comments and your viewpoint of teaching. It is like what people really think but dare not say. It was great that you did not talk about the wives as that would be too much like WAG fodder. It appears if it was not for tradition, the first impressions really do count. After reading your blog entry, I can now imagine the possibility of a hung parliament in Britain.

Ahoy hoy said...

I've got them really interested in the election. Tonight they were talking about how they had researched the policies all by themselves. They couldn't understand why anyone would vote Conservative as they would be cutting public services. I loved it.

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About Me

I am a 24 year old Scotsman currently teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren. I live in a small town on the east coast of Kochi prefecture.