It's the Bill Blair vs John Bush show

how others see the British election
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Most Americans do not have a clue there is a general election under way in Britain. This is hardly surprising in a country where more than half the population do not take the trouble to vote for their own president.

The national television networks, having dutifully ignored the public's yawns and groans to saturate the airwaves with coverage of last autumn's American election, have partially atoned for their sin by all but ignoring what they believe to be the similarly suspenseless contest between John Major and Tony Blair.

In so far as there has been any TV interest at all it has centred on the perceived similarities between President Bill Clinton and Mr Blair. ABC News, which draws the biggest audiences of the four networks, has carried one item on the British election since the campaign officially began. That was last weekend, when the American news flow was unusually slow.

"There is interest," Gerry Holmes, a senior ABC news producer, insisted. "In our story we looked at the election and found parallels with the US. We did a comparison of how Clinton's reshaped the Democratic Party and what Blair is doing with the Labour Party, how he seems to have borrowed Clinton's ideas."

A mass market news outlet like ABC will inevitably strive to draw viewers in to the British election story by seeking out familiar American parallels. But programmes aimed at the intellectual elite are doing exactly the same thing. There is no more rarified forum of discussion on America's airwaves than Boston's public radio talk show, The Connection. Yet in order to grab the attention of the university professors and assorted academics who listen in, the presenter felt obliged to bill the election as a contest between Tony Blair, the Clintonite candidate, and John Major, Britain's George Bush.

David Greenway, who runs the editorial page at the Boston Globe, is not planning to run an editorial until much closer to the election date. "Most people are assuming the Tories have run out of gas, much the way George Bush did in the end," he said.

Among those lending an ear on the right, there is a certain dismay at the British public's apparent willingness to ditch the Tories at a time when the British economy is perceived to be outperforming all others in the industralised world. Adjectives like "odd" and "puzzling" have peppered recent articles in the Wall Street Journal and Business Week.

In the case of John Ellis, a nephew of George Bush who says he listens to the BBC every night, the reaction to the anticipated Labour victory is a mixture of outrage and disgust. A former political analyst on NBC news who now works as a telecommunications consultant, Mr Ellis formed a high opinion of Mr Major when he met him at a lunch with his uncle a few years back.

"There was a time when the Brits would sneer at us for our ludicrous election practices," Mr Ellis said. "Now they've lost that moral high ground. They've adopted all the junk of American politics. Everything indicates that instead of voting for a decent, intelligent man like Major they'll vote for Blair, the Clinton of Britain, the champagne socialist, a man who represents the complete triumph of ambition and appetite for power over anything else."

Mr Ellis' passion is unusual. More eloquent of the American public mood was the decision of the London correspondent of a major American newspaper to take a skiing holiday last week - in the mountains of Colorado.