The Return of the Stiff Upper Lip

Normally, British politics is a ferocious sport. But the agenda articulated by David Cameron's coalition government has captured a deep, if mostly unspoken vein of popular feeling – a consensus that something has been amiss in “broken Britain,” and that something needs to be done about it.

LONDON – Normally, British politics is a ferocious sport. Its parliamentary debates are often pugilistic and personal. The British media have been described as “feral” (a word used by Tony Blair, among others). The questions asked of politicians by journalists are often so aggressive or implicitly insulting that one wonders why their recipients don’t walk out of interviews in a huff, or wither on the spot from humiliation.

But nothing has been normal in Britain of late. For one thing, there is the new coalition government – a rarity unseen since the end of World War II. Then, there are the reactions to the new government, which have been marked by a temperateness of tone that is highly unusual – and all the more surprising, given that David Cameron, the new prime minister, has not exactly been the bearer of good news.

Cameron’s central proposition is that Britain is in a state of “crisis,” and that getting through it will require fortitude and patience. In a major speech, he warned that there is “pain” ahead, and that it will be felt by everyone, as severe spending cuts will be required to bring down Britain’s massive fiscal deficit.

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