Sunday, 23 May 2010

Beyond Blighty: The rise of the Tea Party

On 16 December 1773 a group of colonists in Boston harbour, in the British colony of Massachusetts Bay, boarded several ships which were carrying tea bound for Britain. In protest to the British imposed taxes on tea, the colonists through the ships' cargo into the water of the harbour. This became known as the 'Boston tea party' and was one of the earliest rumblings of the American Revolution, which lead to the formation of the United States.

As a Brit, I feel it is my duty to point out that the taxes on tea were actually at an historic low in 1773, and many of the people who through the tea overboard were in fact smugglers who were worried that cheap tea would threaten their illicit business. Also, the taxes in the American colonies were far lower than those in Great Britain. But of course, the people of Britain elected the people who taxed them, the colonists did not.

The story of 'brave colonists' opposing taxation without representation became part of America's creation myth and the tea party became a byword for a very American type of rebellion.

So it was no surprise when, last year, a group of Americans, who were unhappy with President Obama's economic stimulus bill, bailouts and healthcare reform, began a series of protests called 'tea parties'. Within just a few months, what was just a group of disgruntled protesters, has now became one of the most influential political movements in the US today. The Tea Party movement's sudden rise has been compared to the similarly sudden rise of the movement which brought Barrack Obama to power in 2008, although neither group would like the comparison.

It is an oversimplification to say the Tea Party movement is just a group of people who oppose President Obama, but it is true to say the vast majority of the movement's supporters do not like him. Some of the protesters have very good reasons for this, some just don't like the President for no good reason at all.

Like 2008, this is an election year in the US, and although the President himself is not up for election, all of the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate will be facing the voters on 2 November this year.

Last Tuesday there were several primaries to choose party nominees for the elections in November and there were some surprise results which were said to be caused by the Tea Party's influence. The most notable of these was Rand Paul who won the Republican nomination for one of Kentucky's Senate seats. Paul is a libertarian and seen as the Tea Party's favoured candidate.

The power of the Tea Party has not been welcomed in all parts of the Republican party. In Florida, Governor Charles Crist had hoped to get the Republican nomination for one of Florida's Senate seats, but instead the nomination went to Marco Rubio, who was strongly supported by the Tea Party. Crist is now standing as an independent candidate, which could split the Republican vote in November and lead to the Democrat's nominee winning the seat.

Some say President Obama should be concerned about the power of the Tea Party, I don't think he has too much to worry about. Although, I wonder if people said the same thing to the British government in 1773?

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