Geoffrey Lawler, a former Tory MP, has a funny primer on the British election in today's Los Angeles Times:
You may wonder how the British parties compare with their U.S. equivalents. Labour is split between "New Labour" centrists who still revere Tony Blair and would be quite at home within the mainstream of the Democratic Party, and old Labour statists who would be quite at home in the mainstream of the Chinese Communist Party.
The Conservative Party also covers a wide spectrum, from those on the liberal wing (currently in the ascendancy under Cameron), many of whom would have backed Barack Obama for president over John McCain, to a core of unreformed right-wingers collected in a party grouping called Cornerstone (known as Tombstone to others), who would feel right at home with the "tea party."
When I look at the election across the sea, I see certain aspects of the American and British systems converging. For example, this campaign saw the first televised ministerial debates, something we've been doing for 50 years. Television helped launch a boomlet for the snazzy, fresh Nick Clegg, just like television helped John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama. On the right, MEP Daniel Hannen would fit right in at a Lincoln Day dinner in Kansas. Recently, a classic "gaffe" helped doom beleaguered British prime minister Gordon Brown. This parliamentary election looked a lot like a presidential campaign.
Meanwhile, in the United States, we have parliamentary antics such as Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst during the president address to Congress last September. We have Question Time, in the form of President Obama's visit to the House Republican Retreat in January and the Health Care Summit in February. We have a president who's more comfortable being legislator-in-chief than chief executive.
The two nations also face a similar problems. Immigration is a huge issue in both places. The major question facing the two governments is how to ward off a fiscal crisis and shrink a profligate state before it brings down the economy. No party on either side of the Atlantic really seems to have a clue how to do this (though one Badger has a plan).
One difference is the Tea Party. A spontaneous populist upheaval every now and then is a uniquely American phenomenon. Does that make it likelier the United States will solve her crisis before the U.K.? Let's hope so, even as we acknowledge that the history of American populism is in many ways a history of disappointment.
Update, 3:46 p.m.: The AFP live report catches another instance of convergence: A BBC reporter apparently tweeted the Conservative's internal results before the polling stations close. (They've since been removed.) This is similar to the networks' use of preliminary exit polling in 2000 and 2004 to skew election coverage to the Democrats -- something Karl Rove writes about in Courage and Consequence.