The Corner

A British Obama?

Writing over at the London Spectator’s blog, Fraser Nelson makes some comparisons between Tory leader David Cameron and Barack Obama:

It’s all about the mission. Obama is not just running against Hillary but at the entire US political system. He seeks to tap into a separate force: discontent with the system. And as this is perhaps the strongest force in British politics (we’re about the only country in the world where more abstained than voted for the ruling party) then it’s a vein which Cameron seeks to tap. He tried a little…last week, but hit his stride in the Wales speech yesterday. 

Consider the Obama-esque language. Obama’s slogan is “bringing about real change in Washington”. Not just change the administration, but the system. In Wales yesterday, Cameron called for “change in Westminster” and, like Obama, detailed discontent with the whole system. His other phrases – “broken politics” and a pledge to move from the “old politics to new politics” – are also staples of Obama speeches. Unlike Brown, Cameron is not lifting chunks of American speeches. As I say in the News of the World today (not online), the words are the same because the ideas are the same. Both have recognised the feeling of disdain/contempt for the Westminster/Washington system. Americans have always understood the importance of political framing. The Tories, at long last , are beginning to do so too. Cameron want to frame the election as Obama has done: a contest between a New Broom and an Old Hand.

To see this as something new is, I think, a stretch. Calling for ‘real change’ to ‘the system’ has been a staple of opposition politicians for generations. There’s nothing uniquely ‘Cameron’ or ‘Obama’ about it. What’s more interesting, however, is this distinction drawn by Nelson:

Obama struggles to define what “change” means. Cameron does not. The empowerment agenda is meaty (schools – welfare), and can be easily augmented with parliamentary reform (spurning state funding, forcing all MPs to publish all expenses). Cameron has plenty heavyweight ideas, he just needs a good slogan. Obama has the reverse problem.

That’s well put. Obama is a fine speaker (although way too messianic for my taste) and in my view he’ll be the next president, but for the most part his artfully spun ‘changes’ (such as they are) seem to be inspired by little more than Boomer piety, ancient leftist resentment and the dreamworld of Jimmy Carter. They are a return to the past, marketed as the future. If he’s attracting support from the young (and he clearly is), it may at least be in part due to the fact that they weren’t around to see how this type of thinking worked out before.

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