Why the Tories are rooting for Obama

by Mark Stockwell

Each year, as autumn descends, nature-lovers’ thoughts turn to the russet and auburn vistas of New England. Every four years, an altogether different breed joins them in gazing longingly across the Atlantic as the leaves crispen and fall at home. But the only colours they care about are primary colours – red and blue.

With the end of the party conferences and the return to a dank, dreary Westminster, Britain’s political classes huddle round to bask in the reflected glow of a US presidential election.

The states of New England, for the most part solid blue Democrat territory, are but a passing concern. These peculiar beasts garner what warmth they can from the battleground states of the mid-West and the sunshine state of Florida.

With the axis of US politics tilted so far to the right, there are quite a few UK Conservatives who back the Democrats in general and Barack Obama in particular. It is, on the other hand, vanishingly unlikely you will come across anyone on the British left cheering for a Republican.

There are all sorts of good policy reasons why both left and right in the UK should welcome the Obama victory which seems the likely outcome of next Tuesday’s poll. But if Labour is looking to Obama to win vicarious battles on deficit reduction, the size of government, or the role of the state in the provision of public services, they are missing an important point.

As a guide to its own electoral prospects, Labour should be cautious about celebrating Obama’s re-election.

As the Times’ Danny Finkelstein is fond of pointing out (here (£), for example), there are only three basic types of election campaign – “It’s time for a change”, “Better the devil you know” and “We’re on the right track; don’t turn back”.

Opposition parties mostly only have one of these available to them. Governments, on the other hand, get to choose – up to a point at least.

It’s pretty clear that Obama has chosen the last of these. Type “Obama speech turn back” into Google and you’ll see what I mean. I have lost count of the number of times I have heard the president utter words to the effect of “We’ve come a long way, we’ve got a long way to go, but we’ve come too far to turn back.”

The Conservatives, too, have already settled on that as their campaign theme – for all that some on the extreme fringes seem to want to go for a “change” platform, the main plank of which is “change the prime minister.”

Take the reaction to last week’s GDP figures.

David Cameron struggled a little at prime minister’s questions to suppress his understandable relief at the return to growth. But, there was precious little triumphalism from the coalition, though; no talk of “green shoots”, still less “sunlit uplands.” The line rigidly adhered to was, “we inherited a hell of a mess, we’ve got a long way to go, but it shows the measures we’ve taken so far are going in the right direction.”

It was, in other words, a track taken straight from Barack Obama’s re-election playlist.

It’s not a good idea to read too much into what another country’s election might mean for our own – history does not repeat itself either as tragedy or as farce. Still, what parallels there are should concern Labour.

There’ll be satisfaction to be had, certainly, in the re-election of a left-leaning president – but the key to an Obama victory will have been incumbency, not leaning left.

Mitt Romney will have gone into the election against a gloomy economic backdrop, leading a “time for a change” campaign. He’ll have been written off by the pundits after some clumsy early outings. He’ll have come back fighting and surprised many with some strong performances and an unexpected ability to “speak human.”

He’ll have had Obama genuinely worried at times.

And then he’ll have lost.

Mark Stockwell is a former adviser to the Conservative party. He now works in public affairs.

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3 Responses to “Why the Tories are rooting for Obama”

  1. swatantra says:

    And of course Obama could always claim that he inherited the most goddamnawful economic situation since 1931, a theme very familiar to Conservative Central Office apparatchiks, as Labour has found to its cost extremely diffiult to counter, forgetting that the Bankers were largely responsible.
    When Dubbya left Office America was perhaps the most derided country ever and Ameicans the most hated. Obama has managed to bring respect back to the USA with the elimination of Osama Bin Laden but there is still the legacy of Guantanamo and Iraq and Afghanistan, and lets not forget Iran, which played a crucial role in making Carter a one term President. So things are more finely balanced tha the article suggests, and we could well find that the public has very short memories and could well return a Republican, or even a Labour Administration, to Office.

  2. Robert says:

    Obama has been as liberal as it is possible to be as a US President and his government has followed sensible economic policies that have worked reasonably well in the circumstances, so I hope that he wins.

  3. uglyfatbloke says:

    yeah, the bakers were largely responsible, but Brown and Darling were able to screw things up all by themselves – also, they set the ground rules and he general tone for the bankers. Darling and Brown have generally been let off lightly so far all things considered, but we can expect to see them getting more realistic treatment once the Scottish referendum campaign starts in earnest. if they are smart , neither of them will face Salmond in a debate because he will make mincemeat of them. it’s not that Salmond is smart, just that they are vulnerable.
    Focussing on the ‘bad’ bankers and the ‘global situation’ rings as hollow as the Tories with their ‘mess Labour left behind’. it’s all very well for Labour politicians to say it’s time to to ‘stop apologising’, but before you can stop doing something you do have to start it first.

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