BRITAIN NEEDS ITS LEADERS TO RISE ABOVE BANALITY
Britain's second so-called “great debate” last Thursday between the men who seek to lead the country was heralded as historic. In fact, it was a disingenuous display of the ability of practised politicians to pretend that they know the solution for the UK's major economic and political problems and that the country has reason to be hopeful about the future if it chooses wisely in May. In seeking to show themselves presidential, neither Gordon Brown, nor his principal adversary, the Conservative leader David Cameron, showed wit or wisdom. Both struggled to prove that they were reliable, the all-important quality. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, the new boy on the block, proved himself an attractive, articulate debater. Not one of the three showed a command of foreign or domestic policy and, although all promised change, their proposals for domestic and foreign affairs reform were banal and mostly rhetorical.
上周四，几位寻求成为英国领导人的竞选者进行了第二场所谓的“大辩论”，这场辩论被称为是历史性的。实际上，它是老练政客虚伪的表演秀——他们假装知道如 何解决英国主要的经济问题和政治问题，并佯称如果英国在5月份做出明智选择的话，就有理由对未来充满希望。在试图展示自己的总统素质方面，戈登•布朗 (Gordon Brown)和其主要竞争对手保守党领袖大卫•卡梅伦(David Cameron)都没有表现出风趣或智慧，都难以证明自己是值得信赖的——这是至关重要的一项素质。作为一位参选的新人，自由民主党领袖尼克•克莱格 (Nick Clegg)证明了自己是一位富有魅力，能言善辩的辩手。这三人都没有表现出自己精通外交政策和国内政策，尽管他们都承诺变革，但他们对国内事务和外交事 务改革的提议缺乏新意，而且大多数华而不实。
Yet this was not how commentators following the 90 minutes of drivel chose to see the matter. To hear them interpret the words of the three party leaders, their body language and the like, one could imagine that something important had taken place. Regrettably, these commentators wished to increase their own self- importance by pretending that they had witnessed a historic event.
For those acquainted with the situation across the Atlantic, it is clear that the UK does not today boast a political leadership that can compete effectively with Washington or negotiate with an administration that is no longer as Anglophilic as in the past. One does not need to be a fan of President Barack Obama to realise that his charisma is of a different order from what is on offer in the UK. For years after the second world war, Britain's political leadership compared favourably with America's. It no longer does. The UK would do well to consider what this portends.
While Mr Obama is expected to move from his substantial healthcare reform victory to other feats, nothing the three British politicians spoke of suggested a comparable ambition. The financial proposals that Mr Obama is considering exceed anything that British politicians are proposing for themselves or for Europe. Neither in the European Union nor in the Commonwealth, the latter once deemed important for British identity, are significant changes proposed that would give the UK a new role in the world. The UK does not enjoy the influence in America, north or south, Europe, Asia or Africa that it was able to claim just a few years ago, and it is reasonable for the British public to ask why.
What does this mean for the future? Is there not growing evidence that the Americans are less preoccupied with British opinion than they were? How does the Obama administration view Britain's relations with Germany, France and Italy, and does it believe these to be important for the US? While the UK backs US efforts in the Middle East, it is a minor player in the region, no longer with the influence it once enjoyed. The world is changing and nothing the three contenders said suggested how Britain will accommodate these changes.
Concerns about a “hung parliament” are legitimate, but there is a greater danger that Mr Brown or Mr Cameron will come in with a very small majority and try to govern. They are likely to do so ineffectively. Mr Brown is exhausted, intellectually too feeble to command support from people who have seen too much of him. The Tories, superficially, appear in better shape, but there is little evidence that, so long denied power, they will prove competent. Also, the Lib Dems may act as a “wild card”, knowing less than they pretend, but throwing their weight around.
No candidate in the debate suggested that the country is experiencing its most serious crisis in decades. It is certainly not comparable to 1940, when invasion from Nazi Germany threatened, or on a par with the Great Depression in 1931. But the UK had a unity in those times of adversity that it now lacks. In the third debate, greater realism is called for. The candidates must be held to the fire, explaining what they will do to overcome the serious economic problems. The time for “blah, blah, blah” is over. The public needs a more honest appraisal of the situation. Can any of the three contenders provide this?
The writer is emeritus professor of history at Brown University and author of The Presidents, recently revised and published by Penguin
对那些了解大西洋两岸局势的人而言，英国今天显然不拥有一个能与美国政府有效竞争、或能与一个不如过去那般亲英的政府讨价还价的政治领导层。即使你 不是巴拉克•奥巴马(Barack Obama)的粉丝，你也能意识到，奥巴马的魅力与英国领导人的魅力不是一个数量级的。在二战以后的许多年里，英国的政治领导层与美国相比毫不逊色。现在 不再是这样了。英国不妨考虑一下这预示着什么。
在取得医疗改革的重大胜利后，预计奥巴马还将取得其它功绩，而上述三位英国政客都未能提出可与之媲美的抱负。奥巴马正在考虑的金融提议比上述英国政 客为本国或欧洲提出的任何建议都要好。无论是在欧盟(EU)内还是在英联邦(Commonwealth)内，他们都没有提出能让英国在全球发挥新作用的重 大改革建议。英联邦曾被认为是塑造英国认同感的重要保证。就在几年前，英国还能宣称对美洲、欧洲、亚洲或非洲拥有影响力，现在这种影响力已不复存在。英国 公众有理由质问原因何在。
对未来而言，这意味着什么？难道没有越来越多的证据表明，美国人不再像过去那样重视英国的意见吗？奥巴马政府如何看待英国与德国、法国及意大利的关 系？它相信这些关系对美国重要吗？尽管英国支持美国在中东地区的努力，但它自己在该地区只扮演了次要角色，影响力大不如前。世界正在改变，但上述三位竞选 人均未提及英国如何才能适应这些改变。
人们有理由对“均势议会”感到担忧，但更大的风险却是，布朗或卡梅伦以微弱多数赢得大选、并试图治理这个国家。他们很可能无法有效地治理英国。布朗 已筋疲力竭、江郎才尽，难以博得已对其产生视觉疲劳的公众的支持。英国保守党表面上状态更好一些，但没有证据显示，这个长期在野的政党将证明自己的能力。 此外，自由民主党可能扮演一张“百搭牌”的角色，假装自己懂得不少，只为唬住别人。
没有一位参加上述辩论的竞选人表示，英国正在经历几十年来最严重的危机。这场危机当然比不上1940年纳粹德国可能的入侵，也不及1931年的大萧 条(Great Depression)。但英国目前缺乏在上述逆境时期曾拥有过的团结。竞选人们需要在第三场辩论中变得更加现实。他们必须承受压力，阐明打算如何解决严 重的经济问题。废话连篇的时代已经结束。公众需要看到他们对形势做出更诚实的评估。三位竞选人里有谁能够给出这种评估吗？
本文作者是美国布朗大学(Brown University)历史学名誉退休教授，著有《总统们》(The Presidents)一书，该书最近由企鹅出版社(Penguin)修订出版