British politics is internationally embarrassing.
Ask people not from the UK and they’ll likely know us as the Brexit nation, or the country that followed America into an illegal war. On home turf, there’s almost too much to mention – but in the last 12 months alone we’ve had a Health Secretary caught making out with his mistress while encouraging the nation to continue social distancing, and a Tory government hit with multiple cronyism and corruption scandals.
While Brits might be disturbed but unsurprised by the Tories’ behaviour, what do non-Brits living in the UK make of it? Are they aghast? Or is Boris and his party small fry compared to their own governments? I asked seven foreigners for their take on the state of British politics.
Milan, 24, Germany
I arrived in the UK in 2017, and what really shocked me then was the permanent chaos. Even now, the UK left the EU almost two years ago and it’s been chaotic ever since. It still dominates the headlines and there's still so many things about Brexit that need to be figured out.
What also surprised me was that, amid all the political failings of one party in particular – the Conservative Party – there’s been no clear political opposition. We had several general elections since the referendum for Brexit, and there was no proper, proper political opposition that looked set to take over from the Conservative Party. I find it shocking that Labour couldn’t take better advantage of this and either beat May in her snap election or Boris in his snap election.
It’s still all a shambles, [even though] the Labour Party has changed the leader. They don’t seem to actually be able to provide a clear, strong alternative to the Conservatives. It's completely incomprehensible to me how Labour isn't leading the polls by a large margin.
Karolina, 27, Poland
Pre-2016, I was shocked at how everyone actually seemingly got along despite political differences. I was also surprised that the Conservatives weren’t actually as conservative as they are in Poland, where being conservative means you're homophobic and against a woman's right to make decisions about her own body.
From 2016 to 2019, I was shocked that Brexit actually happened. I don't think I'll get over that one. Post-2019, I’m shocked that I'm yet to meet anyone who's actually openly a Tory voter, yet there seem to be enough of them for the government to get away with literally anything they pull.
Theo, 22, Norway
What shocked me most about British politics was the explicit, ruthless and kind of brutal honesty of the political framework in Britain. And this doesn’t only include the House of Commons and the politicians themselves, but also the people concerned with the discipline [of politics] - like politicians, political commentators, reporters and newspapers.
As much as this creates a somewhat toxic environment, I actually like how the political system in the UK expresses itself. Politics can sometimes be very slow, and sometimes a bit too diplomatic, so in the UK I feel like you get to skip some of that side. For instance, there’s a lot of shouting and cheering in the House of Commons, which isn’t really common in Norway.
Laura, 23, Spain
What has always shocked me the most about British politics is the bipartisanism: how things are either black or white, everything's either Tory or Labour. There are in-betweens, but as a person who’s external to British politics, it feels like everything's either Tory or Labour. Spain is a country that has always had very heavy bipartisanism, but I’ve never experienced it in the way I experienced it in the UK.
Nikita, 25, India
Having grown up in India and seen the rise of right-wing politics, which has led to violence, hatred, fear-mongering and actual fear over the past few years, you hear all these great things about Western political systems: how everything is much better over here and how well the government has a handle on what it's doing. The government and politics in India are actually made a mockery out of by the West, but systems here aren’t that much better. It’s made worse by racism here, of course, as the recent emails to Zara Sultana show.
Also, in India, I’ve met many people who openly support the ruling party, the BJP, who are very, very extreme right-wing. The voters don’t hold back, they proclaim it openly. They're proud to be supporting the BJP. Whereas I've been in the UK for almost three years and I haven't met anyone who's openly proclaimed to be a Tory.
Damien, 47, Ireland
I cannot say that I’ve been “shocked” by British politics in general. However, I have found the development of the Brexit issue to be quite shocking, in that an issue that was initially pushed by cranks and weirdos many years ago, about bendy bananas, became such a lightning rod and touchstone across the whole of the UK population in the intervening years. To such an extent that previously rational and eminently sensible people have had heated arguments in front of my eyes about devious bureaucrats trying to turn the UK into France, or that 40 years of a close relationship can be ended without any downsides at all.
The most shocking thing for me is that not only have a majority voted for it, but the post-Brexit period has people in Ireland and other countries across Europe viewing the UK a bit as they did Ireland in the 1980s – nice guys mostly, but what a giant mess!
Laura, 20, Czech Republic
What shocked me the most was the surgeries that MPs host for their constituents. This provides a direct platform for constituents to voice their concerns directly to someone who can actually influence decisions that could potentially solve those concerns or issues. This is definitely not the case in the Czech Republic, where there’s no real relationship between representatives and constituents.