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Obama’s victory is a great solace to Cameron, and No.10 will exploit it to the full

7 November 2012

Four years ago, in opposition, the Cameron offices were a swing state in the US election. Most were for Obama but there was still a sizable number who held a torch for John McCain. But this time round it is hard to think of anyone in Downing Street who wanted a Romney win. I asked several people in No. 10 who would have voted for Romney, but only one name ever came up.

The idea of a Tory Downing Street urging on a Democratic President would come as a shock to those who served in the Thatcher and Major governments. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher had common foes at home and abroad. But it would be a mistake to think that the relationship between Tories and the Republican party went into decline when they both left office. Instead, it got even closer.

In 1992, the Major government provided such help to George H.W. Bush’s re-election campaign that Bill Clinton held it against Britain for the first half of his presidency. This led to one of the postwar low points in the special relationship: the decision to grant Gerry Adams a US visa in 1994, before the Sinn Fein leader had renounced violence.

When both parties were in opposition, they still looked to each other for help. William Hague and his team paid a reverential visit to George W. Bush when he was still governor of Texas and considering a tilt at the presidency.

Even today, the Tories and Republicans are sister parties — they’re both members of the International Democratic Union. The then Tory chairman Baroness Warsi led a sizable delegation to the Republican convention this September. There might not be the same intellectual exchange between the two parties as there was in the 1980s, but the ‘compassionate conservatism’ agenda is still a direct import from the States.

But the Cameroons and the Obama administration are bound together by something deeper than joint membership of the International Democratic Union — the ties of office. They are both incumbents at a time when it has often appeared that to govern is to lose. Since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, 17 European governments have been ejected from office and an incumbent party has lost the White House.

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As the results dribbled in through the wee hours of Wednesday morning, there was a sense of relief among Cameron’s circle that Obama had demonstrated that an incumbent could win even in these tough economic times. They were particularly cheered by Obama’s success in persuading voters that he needed more time to clean up the mess left by the last lot. A British version of this message will be central to the Tories’ campaign in 2015.

One senior Labour figure who was paying close attention to the race remarked nervously that, ‘George Osborne is watching this election like a hawk. He’s going to run the same campaign against us.’

On one level, Obama with his stimulus plan is an odd inspiration for an austerity government. The appeal of this victory to the Tories is that Obama has been forced to jettison many of his early promises on the economy, but has still managed to win the economic argument by attacking his opponent on the grounds that he represents a return to the policies that caused the crisis. As Downing Street contemplates financial projections that show how unlikely it is that they will meet their fiscal rule of having the national debt falling as a percentage of GDP by the next election, this is particularly reassuring.

When Cameron’s team was preparing for conference this year they drew inspiration from Obama’s convention speech. It was the best example they could find of how to make the case that, while things may be tough, the country is getting back on track.

Obama’s re-election also ensures that the special relationship will remain uncontroversial. One man who knows his way to Vauxhall Cross explained Downing Street and the security establishment’s enthusiasm for Obama thus: ‘The Americans are still doing most of the same stuff they did under Bush, targeted drone strikes and all that. But no one seems to mind because it is a black, Democratic President. If Romney wins, though, the whole stop-the-war lot will be out in force straight away.’

Then, there is the important issue of Iran. One Cameron ally concedes that ‘the worst of all worlds for us would have been Romney bombing Iran and us looking like poodles for going along with it’.

Perhaps, though, the real driver for Cameroon Obama enthusiasm is the belief that he can, as he has in the past, help them politically. In 2008, Obama did Cameron the honour of treating him with the same respect that he had the sitting Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Tory strategists were so pleased with the meeting that they purchased a whole series of internet adverts to ensure that as many voters as possible saw it. Cameron himself rushed out a web video to commemorate the occasion.

The now Prime Minister returned some of the favour this year. His visit to the United States this spring became part of the Obama re-election campaign. The President’s bond with this English Conservative emphasised that it was the Republicans, not him, who were outside the mainstream. Cameron even flew with Obama to the swing state of Ohio to watch a college basketball game, an action that sent many Republicans into -apoplexy.

The protocol of the world leaders’ club means that an Obama visit to Britain in 2014 or 2015 with some warm words about the Prime Minister is now almost certain. This, of course, isn’t going to swing a British election on its own. But every little helps.

Obama has succeeded in uniting the leaderships of all three main parties in Britain; they all wanted him to make it back to the White House. But it is the Tories who will gain the most succour from his victory: the cycle of incumbent loses has now been broken. They also will be the ones who derive the most practical benefit from it.

This is James Forsyth’s column from this week’s Spectator, which is out tomorrow. You can subscribe to The Spectator here.

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    Obama didn’t win the economic argument – polls showed that. In fact he ran up trillion dollar deficits a la Gordon Brown and for the 1st time in its history one agency stripped it of its AAA rating; partly the Republicans are to blame. US firms are sitting on $ 3/4 trillion because of uncertainty and the prospect of tax increases; they’ll keep sitting on the cash-pile. This is the difference between the normal bounce back from recession and US’s 7.9 % unemployment rate.

    US is more politically and geographically polarised than ever; the views of the new members of Congress are more extreme than those of the people they replaced. The conventional wisdom about the ‘fiscal cliff’ is that US will do right thing in the end after trying out all of the alternatives but August 2011 is not encouraging.

    The election victory was :-

    1) a victory for negative campaigning – BBC’s Katty Kay said how depressing it was that ‘hope and change’ had come to this.
    2) even NBC’s Chris Matthews is giving the credit to the hurricane.
    3) Mr Romney had to make a gesture at least to Hispanics – with Marco Rubio as VP pick he would have won Florida Colorado Virginia and Ohio and would have just finished his first day at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

  • TomTom

    Obama is a Puppet of Circumstances and what is going to unfold will destroy him as it would have destroyed Romney. The World is going out of kilter and the USA is headed for the kind of two-front war Britain feared in 1938

  • Roy

    It is a sad day for America and a sad day for the world now that truth and honesty have left the forerunners of democracy for their agendas of the left. The creeping slime of Islamic penetration and authoritarianism will continue to devour the west until it is beyond the point of no return.

  • Kevin

    Obama still would not back Britain over the Falklands, or the “Maldives” as the gaffe-prone president calls them.

  • DavidDP

    It’s not that unusual. Macmillan got on famously with JFK, while Heath detested Nixon (we’ll ignore Churchill and FDR….). US political parties don’t really map all that well on to UK ones. Moderate Dems and Reps could both find homes in the Tory party equally as comfortable as each other.

  • Burnage Bill

    The failure of the Republican strategy to woo women, non-whites & urban voters should give serious pause to the Tories. They have notable problems with all three voting blocs in the UK.

  • Danielle

    Cameron is the Romney of British politics. Rich, out of touch, elitist, wedded to cuts, austerity and tax cuts for the rich whilst the rest of us suffer. Obama is the complete opposite. Obama is NOT in favour of austerity and has copied Ed Balls economic plans. Obama campaigned heavily on Romney being rich and at ease firing ordinary workers. Women won this election for Obama, look at the Tory party and Cameron’s polling among women, it’s disastrous.

    Labour is on average 10% ahead in the polls. Every one of Obama’s attacks on Romney could be made about Cameron. Labour will win in 2015 and the rigt in Britain will be as shocked and disorientated as Karl Rove last night on Fox TV.

    • HooksLaw

      There are no ‘tax cuts for the rich’ there are other tax rises to counter the 4 p cut and of course the lowest paid have got the benefit of the increase in allowances.
      Your analysis is glib, facile, superficial and self serving.

      The arguments for Cameron to be pleased are as overstated as is the usual anti Cameron rubbish.

      Obama’s stimulus failed – so that is hardly an encouragement for Miliband. Obama spent billions but failed to lift people out of poverty and he failed to create any more jobs than the economy would naturally have done.

      What should make Cameron happy is the failure of the Republican loony tune tendency. Its been rejected by the US electorate. the notion that you should ignore the demographics of your electorate and only sing out of tune to yourself is risible. A coherent sane Republican Party would have given Obama a much harder time.

      How pea brained do you have to be not to realise that? The worry for the conservative party is that the public perception of what it is about will be the ego rants of Dorries. Sadly the tory right wing is so bonkers it cannot discipline itself to be a coherent pressure group.

      • Dimoto


        There has always been an underlying anti-British strand to the Democratic party (let’s call it the Jeane Kirkpatrick tendency), whilst relationships with the Republicans have generally been more even.

        However, when the Republicans choose to go on a deeply stupid ultra diversion, with a weird candidate who promises to go to war with Iran and China and write off 47% of his countrymen one minute, then says not really he’s actually a family man and kind to animals, then there’s no solution.

        Obama is a pragmatist.
        If it was good enough for FDR and Churchill, it is surely good enough for Dave ‘n Barry.

    • Curnonsky

      Obama’s winning strategy was to create and exploit division, fear and hatred. Cameron is not up to the task of serious demagoguery (Clegg seems to have a knack for it, though).

  • EJ

    This posting sums up everything that’s wrong with the Cameron project. Cameron is a Trojan horse leftie masquerading as a Conservative. Just as he worshipped at the feet of the traitor Blair, so he worships at the feet of the arch global symbol of PC liberalism – Obama.

    Obama has been handed another four years to continue deconstructing America, with a barely-disguised spiteful vendetta of passing power from the majority to the minority, bloating the welfare machine and building up debt – voted in by guilt-ridden lefties too bedazzled at having a black president to see the trouble they are storing up for themselves.

    Obama cares nothing for the UK or for its crawler in chief Cameron. In fact, he probably despises both. All this goes to show is that the path to self-destruction in the West is now irreversible. We can’t even see what’s happening, let alone stand up for ourselves and stop it. We are voting into power traitors who actively seek to destroy countries that have been built up over centuries by the blood and tears of our ancestors. We’re handing it over without a whimper.

    • dalai guevara

      No, for making the wrong choices you can only blame yourself.

  • Jon Robinson

    Part of this has a ring of truth – another part is, I feel, wildly optimistic from the Tory perspective.

    It is true that an Obama visit to the UK incorporating a successful, friendly meeting with Cameron will do the Tories a favour. This would be especially true if a subsequent meeting with Miliband is lukewarm and awkward.

    However, there are myriad reasons why the effects of being incumbent during a period of gloom didn’t cost Obama the election, and very few of them are also true for Cameron – popularity with various demographics, social moderation, a positive message of hope and change for the better, downright likeability and so on.

  • Vulture

    With this post, James Forsyth abandons all pretence at serious, independent journalism and formally proclaims his role as a pipe carrying Downing Street’s sewage.
    If he serously thinks that Obama’s victory offers any sort of comfort to Dave ‘n George he is as deluded as they are.
    He says that the Camerloons felt uncomfortable about having to go along with Romney bombing Iran, but how will they feel when Barry bombs it instead? Better? (Don’t forget the Blessed One has dropped more than four times the number of Drones on Pakistan as the despised Dubya, killing upwards of 2,000 innocent civilians – a fine achievement for a Nobel Peace Laureate).

    And as for Obama’s campaign helping George’s electoral efforts. Excuse me when I barf. How many Obama-style blocs of Blacks and Hispanics are there in Britain who will be voting Tory in 2015?.
    Just go away and wrap a wet towel around your head James, and come back when you have had a good long think about the asinine trash that you have written.

    • EJ

      Brilliant post. Unfortunately there are plenty of the blocs you refer to in this country – but they sure as hell won’t be voting Tory no matter how Cameron simpers to them. It will be Labour and Respect – until the demographics reach the point where our politicians and prime ministers are directly decided by them.

    • dalai guevara

      For the second time today you go on about Iran as if Obozo and Netanyahu were best mates. You are clearly not with the in crowd.

    • Charlie the Chump

      All too true old bird, and all the Obama gushing praise for winning ignores the fact that the US is so overborrowed and lashed to spending it cannot avoid – all those “entitlements” the new majorities in America so love – that, even if it doubles taxation it will not be enough to balance the books as interest payments and health spending surge ahead.
      The old socialist benefits spending pledges can no longer be afforded no matter who sits in the White House or Downing Street.

  • James P

    “This is James Forsyth’s column from this week’s Spectator, which is out tomorrow.”

    Which you can get if you have an iPad or wait for the magazine. For some reason the spectator decided to ditch the iPhone app which now leaves readers unable to access content until the mag arrives. Why???

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