First, I’m glad my prediction on this blog (26th June) was right – most of them aren’t – and I’m glad Obama won. Second, I regard Obama’s re-election as a victory by, if not for, the American working class. Third, while there’s a lot of talk about the implications for the Republicans and by extension for Tories and Labour, there are also important issues for those wanting to move beyond the straight-jacket of establishment party politics.
It’s now clear, as I thought back in June, that if you go into a US election having alienated and insulted women, blacks, Latinos, other ‘minorities’ and the poor, you will lose. Perhaps this is what’s disturbing the Tories and making Labour think they’re on a promise at the next election, but I think this is based on a mis-reading of the differences between the US and UK. The complex historic development of and alliances to the Democratic and Republican parties are uniquely American and don’t translate to UK politics. The US never had the historic bargain between its working class and a particular party. However, some of the breakdowns of Obama voters indicate the latent class solidarity in the US, while dispelling the myth that the US working class doesn’t exist. There’s been plenty of attention paid to the number of blacks, Latinos and young people who voted Democrat, but what is less commonly noted (but obvious) is that support for Obama was in inverse proportion to income and that 80% of people voted for Obama because ‘he cares more about people like us’. I wonder if the Labour Party would get the same kind of response? Obama has become the electoral vehicle for the wide-ranging disillusionment and anger of the ‘bottom half’, if not quite the ‘99%’, of US society and the fact that he did so without having done enough to help them makes his second election even more significant than the first.
In my lifetime only Tony Blair in 1997 came near to galvanising a popular mood of righteous indignation and misplaced optimism in the way that Obama has done, but after a century of betrayals, the Labour Party, which is no longer a mass party, can’t be anything more than a mass protest vote. Despite everything, Obama offered something that people could vote for, as well as against – not just the lesser of two evils, which is what Labour has become. Of course, you couldn’t get a fag paper between the Democrats and Labour on policy and ideology, or at best two fag papers between them and the Tories, Lib/Dems and Republicans. But context is everything and saying ‘they’re all the bloody same’ is not a constructive political argument. Rightly or wrongly, Obama looked and sounded different to Romney, but you couldn’t tell the difference between Cameron, Clegg and Miliband in a dark room, which is why the UK urgently needs a new political force capable of articulating the hopes of a nation as Obama has done, but with a bit more substance. (Previous applicants need not apply.)