Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Lessons we can learn from Obama's circumstances

You can’t have failed to note that the US is at their polls today - half term voting and Obama (personally - though not in the election) and his Democrats likely to take something of a drubbing. You may well have noticed, too, that the TEA Party (a loose knit right wing grouping) is making headway and shoe-horning in its own candidates into the Republican movement. Quite how far the TEA party candidates will be able to shift Republicans to the right remains to be seen; and in the full-term elections (including the Presidential) nobody knows if the TEA Party will attract moderate voters or put them off.

It would seem that the US elected Obama with his left-of-centre policies on a wave of unseeing (or unthinking?) enthusiasm. Then, seeing what he is trying to do, run away from him. TEA Party members to a man and women (and lots of women in the movement) speak of his move to make America socialist (based to a great extent on his moderate Health Reforms). In the UK many of us would see this Socialist accusation as laughable - it is, but it’s mighty serious too.

Serious because in the UK we are different only in degree. Tony Blair created the Labour victories by rebranding Labour from Socialist to New Labour; Tony Blair introduced many socialist leaning policies (despite accusations to the contrary). But to do this ‘Socialism’ was something not to be spoken of - Christian Democrat became an unnatractive euphemism. The UK population is as deeply conservative in essentials as the US.

For the majority of the populations Socialism strikes them as inherently unfair. ‘Why should I let someone else have what I’ve worked hard to get?’ You have only to listen to the TEA Party members and supporters to hear this time and time again.

Is this question so far removed from the way the Housing Benefit and Welfare Reforms are being argued. Last week I suggested that Labour has to be very clever in handling this issue because it has popular support; I’ve seen a recent YouGov poll which suggests more than 70 per cent of UK people support the Housing Benefit policy of Cameron. Let’s not fool ourselves here! Cameron is totally confident in sticking to this policy despite adverse publicity. Why? - Because his private polling must have been giving him this 70 per cent information.

This doesn’t make this policy right. But we must acknowledge the truth - the realty if you like - and them create and appropriate strategy to overcome it.

Obama has shown himself inept (because too inexperienced) of handling the presentation of politics and the reality of working within party politics. In exactly the same way that Cleggie has - and he is inexperienced to the extent of naivete. Ed Milliband must ensure he doesn’t fall into this trap too. Intellectual cleverness doesn’t equate to political nous. Nearly all LP members and supporters I meet are complaining about Ed Milliband’s lacklustre performance - by which they mean he’s not in the news. ‘Give him time,’ I say. But he must be aware, time will soon be running out.

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