American culture has become so globally dominant that even the lamest U.S. customs, such as our soporific presidential debates, infect countries blessed with superior traditions. For example, as part of the run-up to the May 6th General Election, the Brits are holding their first ever prime ministerial debates, although their party leaders come up through the gauntlet of Parliament’s vastly more substantive and scintillating daily Question Time.
That the prime minister has been evolving into the president junior is a recurrent theme of Robert Harris’ 2007 novel The Ghost, which Roman Polanski has made into The Ghost Writer. This competent political thriller for grown-ups, one of the better movies of 2010, has been playing in limited release in the U.S. and opened over the weekend in Britain.
The PM’s job was long more human-scale job than the president’s, less insulated from normal life by security and by deference (which in Britain was paid instead to the Queen as head of state). For example, when I attended a conference with ex-PM Margaret Thatcher in 1999, she showed up accompanied only by a secretary and a bodyguard, wearing an old dress that had been mended with needle and thread. Tony Blair and his money-hungry wife Cheri were the first to indulge fully in American superstaritis.