Will UK politicians read too much into how Obama won?

 
President Barack Obama waves as he walks on stage with first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha at his election night party in Chicago President Barack Obama waves as he walks on stage with his wife Michelle and daughters

Ah, the ecstasy of a US election! The anticipation of the primaries, the admiration of the long campaign, the envy of the zillions being spent, the thrill of the attack ads, the excitement of the exuberant conventions, the sheer joy of the fight! Never let it be said that the world of Westminster does not get aroused by the democratic process on the other side of the water.

Elections may come and go in Europe but they disappear, largely ignored by the denizens of London SW1. As for American polls: well, wow! We just cannot get enough of them. Today we are all experts in the psephology of Ohio. Who cares of Corby when you have Colorado?

And now that President Obama has won, prepare yourself for a torrent of analysis about what this means for British politics. The read-across in policy, the campaign techniques to copy, the lessons to be learned for 2015.

A word of warning. Much of that analysis will be balls. We have a different electoral system, we have a different political system, we have a different demographic, we have less money. We do our politics our way. Yes, there are clearly some lessons we can learn. But too much will be read into the tea leaves of Obama's victory. As we know, it is always hard to find a good cup of tea stateside.

But with that proviso in mind, it is worth attempting a few cautious conclusions:

Something for everyone: The Tories say Obama and David Cameron are on the same strategic page. They are both slowly turning around a sickly economy, they are both blaming their predecessors for the mess, they both share the same rhetoric of being all in this together. But equally Labour say that Obama is echoing much of Ed Miliband's message of One Nation politics, bringing the people together, creating a fairer economy, the many not the few and so on. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

Incumbency: David Cameron and Nick Clegg may be encouraged by the idea that incumbents can win despite economic gloom. Unlike leaders in Italy, France, Greece, Ireland and elsewhere, Obama has bucked the trend and won even though he has 8 per cent unemployment. But note this: Obama just had to win back disillusioned supporters who had voted for him in 2008. If Mr Cameron wants to win a majority, he has the extra challenge of persuading people who voted against him in 2010 to vote for him in 2015. If people chose Gordon Brown over Mr Cameron two years ago, how much harder will it be to persuade them to vote Conservative next time? Some in Labour think the lesson from this election is that incumbency is not the safety blanket it once was. They note that Obama was almost pipped to the post by what many saw as quite an average Republican candidate.

Austerity: Ed Miliband will be encouraged that a leader who has spent hundreds of billions of dollars trying to stimulate his economy can win an election. He will be further interested in how the draconian cuts due in the US next year - known as the "fiscal cliff" - will impact on the argument for austerity. Expect lots of claims from Labour about how US spending cuts risk contracting an economy that is vital for British exports.

Debates: Television debates can make a difference. They are focal points when many voters engage in an election for the first time. Performances can defy expectations and inject momentum. Yes, their importance can be exaggerated. But Mitt Romney's comparative success against a lacklustre Obama in the first debate gave his campaign an undoubted boost.

Unenthusiasm: The US electorate did not appear to be hugely enthused by either candidate or their campaigns. Many voters appear to have seen the election as a choice between the least bad options. The same may be true for British voters in 2015. One lesson for politicians here may be how to be the lesser of two evils rather than the great hope for the future. How much appetite will there be among voters for hyperbolic ambition and rhetoric? The key test for both Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband is how to frame a message that is optimistic yet realistic at the same time. We have just seen how hard it was for such a competent politician as Obama.

Demographics: Sectors of society matter in elections. One lesson from the US is that political parties have to do more to target women, ethnic minorities, young voters, older votes and so on. At the very least they cannot ignore them. The Republicans clearly did not do well enough among women and Latinos and others. That factor will play into the internal Conservative debate about how Mr Cameron should appeal to those who did not vote for him in 2008.

Division: Divided parties do less well in elections. Many Republicans appeared to doubt that Mitt Romney was the right candidate for their party. He appeared to swing between appealing to his party's core to appealing to its more moderate supporters. Conservative MPs keen on fighting their party leader over Europe might wonder if voters see division first and the issue second. Many observers in the US have said that Romney's campaign became competitive the moment he appealed to the centre, when he took his message to independent voters in the mid-west.

Personalities: Negative campaigning only gets you so far. Obama vigorously targeted Mitt Romney's reputation. And yet once the Republican candidate got to his feet in the television debates, many Americans appeared to be pleasantly surprised that he did not have horns and a forked tail. He came across as reasonable. There is a danger of trying to demonise a candidate if the nation thinks otherwise. Nota bene all those Tories hoping to portray Ed Miliband as odd. Voters will make up their own minds and there is a risk in exaggerating perceived negatives.

Terrorism: If you can send a team of special forces to foreign parts to assassinate a global terrorist leader in the year before your election, it will do you no harm. Might not be an option open to David Cameron but worth bearing in mind. But don't mess it up. Jimmy Carter sent helicopters in to rescue US hostages in Iran, and look where that got him.

 
James Landale Article written by James Landale James Landale Deputy political editor

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  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 56.

    You have missed one major feature that is unique to the Tories: Mendacity. The Tories are pedalling lies: like having "created" 1m private sector jobs - they haven't, like "getting rid of debt" "wiping the slate clean" - they haven't - they are increasing DEBT.
    All these go unchallenged by the sympathetic right wing press- they are treating the Electorate as though they are stupid - they are not.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 55.

    Simple. Which party will be encouraged that even with disappointing figures you can retain power?

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 54.

    Don't forget too that Obama had the mainstream media including the BBC backing him all the way - that must have helped a bit. The BBC will get behind Labour big style at the next election. The Tories are toast. You won't be able to move for champagne bottles at the BBC if Labour get in and Barry is still there - The BBCs two heroes in office at the same time!

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 53.

    I think the lesson to all parties is clear. Don't chose a candidate who has made zillions running a hedge company, who doesn't believe in abortion in any circumstances, who would abolish the Liverpool pathway and the "communist" NHS, who thinks God guides his every thought and that the Garden of Eden is on the outskirts of Rotherham.
    One Tony Blair was enough!
    Alan

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 52.

    If i were to sit watching millions being spent on plumped up polititions putting themselves of their pedastals for a couple of weeks to get elected when the economy is in the state it's in, that would be that last straw for me and I think i'd have to leave . . . . . . .

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 51.

    Sorry James Landale but this is a pointless feature. You are simply trying to tie UK politics to the US election result in some bizzare attempt at getting a story out of it. Nonesense.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 50.

    Why does the BBC have numerous staff reporting on New York storms/hurricanes every year? What do these BBC staff who pop up for elections / storms do the rest of the time? More people die in Asia each year from storms than the US but are just reported as numbers. The BBC seems to see US lives more newsworthy than Asian. I was in NYC the 1st time last year, Irene curtailed my hols, maybe it's me!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 49.

    @Ronnieboy1

    Yes, last nights result is a projection based upon percentage of returns, and the political leanings of the votes outstanding. That's why, at one point, Romney had more votes in Ohio, but it was called for Obama. The outlying votes were in highly populated, Democrat leaning counties. The election must still be certified.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 48.

    Yuo can say that again - too much focus by the BBC on happenings outside of the UK especially the "good old US of A" How many news personell were left in the UK newsrooms. All off on their collective jollies at our expense in expensive hotels. I for one showed little interest, why should I as it had little or no bearing on my life Concentrate on the UK and Europe I lived over there and it is crap

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 47.

    "Admiration of the long campaign"

    The long campaign needs to be cut short by about a year and 8 months. Billions of dollars were spent on this election. I feel like we should copy the British and upon a disolved government, you have 5 weeks to figure it out. I'm tired of 2 year long campaigns for office. Ads on the TV, on the radio, in the papers. It's annoying.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 46.

    I know this sounds stupid, but do they actually count the votes?.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 45.

    The British media obsession with American politics clearly reflects the lack of dynamism in the British political system and the fact that the two main parties in the US have ideological differences far far greater than the main British parties. If the Tories preached what they practice, there might be a livelier scene here....who knows, the BBC might even get interested!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 44.

    To compare these guys in America to Ed Miliband is a huge compliment which Miliband does not deserve, he shouldn't even be a shadow minister never mind leader of the Party. Under no terms should someone with his lack of charism, leadership skills or gravitas represent this country. He will stop us winning the next election & must do the decent thing and step down to give us a chance.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 43.

    what utter rubbish in america yes obhama is turning the country around in this country the Tories republican by any other name are doing what mitt Romney would have done taking as much as possible for those at the top from those at the bottom lets not forget real facts James like the average pay increase of the fat cats over the last 2 years of over 77%!! and a nice tax cut too while the poor pay

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 42.

    The BBC coverage of the US election has been total overkill, we are not part of America, I personally do not understand the fixation the BBC has with the US. What does the first B in BBC stand for ?, there are much more pressing matters at home to report on, this has not been worthy of the time spent on this subject.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 41.

    Hugh Edwards reports from Washington and all he did was sit in a studio and hand over to different political editors across America. Why could the BBC not save some money and kept him in London

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 40.

    @17 Thats bull, I can tell you after more than 2 years in one of those solid blue states CA that we share far more in common with Europe than with the US, and this in one of the so called liberal states. You seriously mistake our export of crappy tv, with cultural affinity.

    ps we also export those crappy shows to Europe and beyond, doesn't mean they all suddenly feel British

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 39.

    Now the US election is over, is there any chance of other world news being reported on the BBC?

    I know it's important, but enough's enough.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 38.

    Comparing our obsession w/US politics, and the EU, what is bizarre is that the UK cannot affect US politics whilst we can the EU. In addition, the EU is PR so each votes counts, unlike the US. Even if we could vote the differences between Obama and Romney are minor - you wouldn't think it to read garbage pro-Obama FB posts. Perhaps the media want to distract us from our potential to change the EU?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 37.

    That the GOP could have won this is the biggest lesson to learn from this election. The GOP were far too hawkish on too many important issues. I also simply can't understand why they put SO much effort into winning the Jewish vote, when they could have gone after the Latino vote which if it isn't already, will be far more significant in the next election.
    For God's sake the UK isn't the 51st State

 

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