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Page last updated at 08:51 GMT, Wednesday, 25 May 2011 09:51 UK

Is the UK better at politics than the US?


Influential US commentator David Brooks has returned from a trip to the UK with a new-found love for British politics.

"I felt that I was in the midst of a political culture which is confrontational, where people scream at each other, but where people do actually have to confront one another, where there is more learning being done, a lot less rigidity than in the states," he told Justin Webb.

"I found it a much more functional political culture than the one I live in."

While US politics has become tribal and rigid, he said, he found in the UK a political system which was "not dysfunctional" - where rival parties build on the others' policies, think tanks were open to a broad range of ideas, and the Conservative Prime Minister embraces foreign aid and climate change - unthinkable for US Republicans.

But UK commentator Peter Oborne was not impressed with the "factually flawed and conceptually disastrous" analysis.

"Mr Brooks has bought the modernisation creed, which is very much in favour of the idea that there is a powerful technocratic elite," he said.

The best leaders on both sides of the Atlantic - in his view Reagan and Thatcher - were successful precisely because they were "tribal, ideological, and challenge the non-partisan consensus, not belong to it".

Rather than disparaging populism in US politics, he said, we could do well from a system where "the voters aren't treated with contempt by a kind of political aristocracy".

"Hard won argument, rather than conspiratorial agreement between a narrow political sect at the heart of power is the way forward."

David Brooks was not convinced by the argument. The UK system had simply not become "ossified" in the way US politics had.

"That doesn't mean you need a London elite to look down on the people, and it doesn't mean you need Kumbaya politics where everybody just gets along in a technocratic sense.

"It means you've got to have constructive competition with a clash of ideas which actually leads to some results - and one party consolidating parts of what the other party has done, as Tony Blair consolidated Thatcherism".

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