US elections


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Western leaders love a good challenge when they’re new to office. That’s what you have to hope looking at today’s front pages, which are dominated by images of destruction in the Gaza strip.gaza1

The death toll rose past 280 people after another Israeli airstrike this morning, according to Hamas. The Guardian reported infantry and tanks moving towards the Gaza border in anticipation of a possible ground invasion. Rhetoric across the Israeli political spectrum has been bellicose ahead of February’s elections, with defence minister and former PM Ehud Barak declaring: “Now the time has come to fight.”

One of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton’s few unequivocal achievements was the Good Friday Agreement, pushed through partly thanks to their youthful vigour and self belief. The infamous Parliamentary malcontent Enoch Powell once darkly declared that “all political lives end in failure”; if that’s the case, it’s also true the greatest politicians take to office possessed of an unshakeable faith in their own abilities.

All eyes will be on Time Magazine’s man of the year when he finally moves into the White House. Bill Clinton and George Bush both launched half-hearted attempts to negotiate peace in the Middle East in the dog days of their presidency. Barack Obama’s advent will be the clearest juncture in years for the beleagured process to be given a hearty jump-start.

In a well balanced piece in today’s Sunday Times, Michel Portillo says the incoming president’s in-tray from hell could be the material he needs to fire his ambition:

The conflict between Israel and Hamas is, in a way, an attractive issue for Obama and his team. It has been evident for decades that matters cannot be resolved without the closest involvement of the United States… It could be that for once the Palestinian-Israeli problem will receive the full attention of an American presidency at the outset, at the moment of its greatest prestige and when its mandate is strongest.

One positive omen is the extent to which Obamamania has penetrated Israeli politics. Apparently the right wing Likud Party, which is tipped to win the largest slice of votes in February, has redesigned its website to mirror Obama’s campaign site and has even nicked his “Yes We Can” slogn, adding: “With God’s Help.”

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Since the London bombings of July 7, 2005, Britain has become a more troubled, less confident and harmonious country.britishjihad

So begins the introduction to this autumn’s Granta Magazine. In a comprehensive article entitled ‘The Rise of The British Jihad’, BBC journalist Richard Watson says Western democracies have been “disastrously slow” to realise where the battle lines are drawn in the fight against internal networks of extremists:

M15’s warning about the dangers posed by extremist ideology has come too late… [But] few within the security services [now] doubt there will be another murderous attack in Britain before too long.

Transatlantic rumblings are beginning to suggest Barack Obama could face an early test from Islamic terrorists in his vulnerable ‘transition period’ into the White House. Following an article in The Telegraph a couple of weeks ago, yesterday’s Times warned of a “huge threat” to the president elect in his first days:

Security officials say that there is genuine concern that al-Qaeda will attempt a ‘spectacular”’in the transition period… Many Muslim [extremists] are intrigued by Mr Obama’s arrival in the White House.

In the Los Angeles Times, Sebastian Rotella says Obama will face a third war against stateless terrorist cells which should engage his administration’s attention as much as Iraq and Afghanistan.

An early strike would certainly test the new president’s mettle in the harshest way. So far, 31 of Obama’s 47 appointments have been drawn from the ranks of Clintonites. While Bill Clinton’s administration was a formidable election winning machine, it’s rarely remembered for its foreign policy achievements.

spectatorawardsAnother man facing down a threat from within this week is George Osborne.

After presenting Peter Mandelson with Best Newcomer at the Spectator Awards earlier in the week – what a delicious moment that was – Osborne took to the Andrew Marr Show this morning for what turned out to be a very defensive interview about his job prospects and his sterling doom-mongering in The Times.

Blinking rampantly and looking a bit like a puppy who’s been on the receiving end of a hearty slapping, Osborne repeatedly dodged Marr’s question as to whether he thought his role as Shadow Chancellor was tenable.

You get the feeling his answer was tilted towards the older guard in the Tory ranks who apparently harbour some pretty venomous feelings for him:

David Cameron and I work the whole time on economic policy, not for the next few weeks but in the run up to a general election. We are working as a team but it is not the David and George show, that’s a misunderstanding of the way we work. We have a very strong team in the shadow cabinet.

The lady doth protest too much, I think. There’s a good news article covering the interview on Politics Home.

At the most cynical end of the commentariat, News of the World man Fraser Nelson gives Osborne eight days to reedem himself:

I hear he was even thinking of writing a book recently. I wonder what the title was: “How to lose a 20-point poll lead in four weeks?”

I now know at least THREE Shadow Cabinet members who are openly talking about a new Shadow Chancellor.

Andrew Rawnsley thinks for Cameron to dismiss Osborne would be “madness”. “He [Osborne] is trying to see 18 months ahead,” Rawnsley argues. “That makes the Shadow Chancellor smarter than those Tories who want to toss him overboard.”

 In The Sunday Times, Martin Ivens is as mystified as the rest of us by Gordon Brown’s Jekyll and Hyde transmutations on the economy and Baby P.

 Against the flow of news and opinion, The Independent’s Alan Watkins still reckons Good Ship Cameron is cruising to an easy electoral victory:

Mr Brown has been revived temporarily by a shot of bad news in the arm. The Tories are still favourites.

That should set Dave’s mind at rest.

 Finally, there’s a book coming out this week that promises tantalising material a-plenty for anyone hugo_younginterested in politics.

The Hugo Young Papers: 30 years of British politics off the record is a compilation of the legendary journalist’s off-the-record chats with some of the biggest players in the establishment, up until his death in 2003.

Alan Rusbridger wrote an affectionate portrait of the man in yesterday’s Guardian along with some snippets of what to expect. Apparently, Young’s conversations with Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson circa 1994 are all going to be aired for the first time.

 

 

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 As the euphoria around Barack Obama’s barnstorming election victory subsides, a good degree of introspection has set in on this side of the Atlantic.

The crispness of Obama’s victory speech and the graciousness of McCain’s concession contrast rather too starkly with the mucky infighting that’s surrounded UK politics in the past few months.

People instinctively want an injection of the excitement and promise Obama has given to US politics. The New Statesman is already putting its money on Chuka Ummuna, a 30-year-old lawyer and the Labour Party’s prospective candidate for Streatham in south London, who is being tipped for big things by his colleagend_gr_chukaumunna1ues:

Chuka Ummuna is a bold young politician with an easy public presence. If he wins the Streatham seat he will be fast-tracked into what is likely to be the shadow cabinet… He is no Obama yet. But he is prepared to depart from the current government line in a way that would simply not have been acceptable for a candidate in the buttoned-up Tony Blair era.

In today’s Comment Is Free, Gordon Brown – or one of Number 10’s press officers – suggests that Obama’s victory is more than just the triumph over adversity of a remarkable candidate, but rather the symbol of a wider movement towards progressive politics. It’s obviously a thinly veiled advertorial for the Labour Party. You can’t help thinking that neither of the UK’s frontrunners have ever offered anything close to the buzz of the Democrats at the moment.

In case you were tucked up in bed on Tuesday night, this video uploaded on YouTube captures the elation in Chicago’s Grant Park:

Ealier in the week Trevor Phillips, head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, kicked up a stink when he said a British Barack Obama would have been held back by institutional racism within the Labour Party. He went so far as to commend the Tories for a more forward-thinking approach.

On Sky News today William Hague thoroughly rebutted the idea the House of Commons wasn’t ready for a black leader:

That was too strong. I think the same thing could happen in Britain as happened in the US… I think we will see, after the next election, a House of Commons that looks quite different.

It’s not really clear what he meant by the last sentece in the context of race, though. I don’t think anyone’s ever mistaken Cameron’s shadow cabinet for an ethnically diverse, mixed bunch of people from a range of different walks in life. On the other side of the Commons benches, black Labour MP David Lammy declared that “a glass ceiling has been broken”.

Baroness Amos and Dizzee Rascal shared their views on the question of a black PM in a much-talked about Newsnight interview:

On a tangential tip, The Independent’s John Rentoul used an online tool called Who Voted? to see whether the infamous Joe The Plumber cast his ballot. Only four states are signed up to the site at the moment – Florida, Idaho, Ohio and Washington. Luckily Mr Worzelbacher lives in Lucas County, Ohio. It seems he voted in 2004, but this year’s results are yet to filter through.

A quick selection of the rest to satisfy the insatiable Mr Haddon: In The Observer, Andrew Rawnsley warns that every politician and his dog are going to start using ‘change’ as a buzzword to hop on the Obama bandwagon. He also points out what a lot of rightwing American commentators have been saying for a while – that the president elect may veer towards protectionism as the US economy turns down, which may make for some abrasive transatlantic trading.

Matthew D’Ancona boldly reckons that “about 2am on Wednesday, the defining figure of British politics ceased to be Tony Blair and became Barack Obama”. In yesterday’s Guardian Marina Hyde put it more caustically, looking back over Blair’s career as an orator. She says watching him speak at the Labour Party conference followed by Bill Clinton was “a bit like Robbie Williams opening for Frank Sinatra”. It’s funny how quickly political legacies can crumble to dust in the brightness of daylight.

If you’re already bored of the praise being heaped on Obama, just turn to today’s Daily Mail. Peter Hitchens tips a kingsize bucket of bile over the Democrat man and his many fans:

The swooning frenzy over the choice of Barack Obama as president of the US must be one of the most absurd waves of self-deception and swirling fantasy ever to sweep through an advanced civilisation… If you can believe this undistinguished and conventionally Left-wing machine politician is a sort of secular saviour, then you can believe anything.

Brilliant. James Robinson wrote a bright profile of the lord of the news agenda, Paul Dacre, in The Observer this morning. Apparently middle England’s champion flirted with socialist politics in his student days at Leeds, and even once said that anyone who doesn’t experiment with liberal views at university “should be shot”.

Finally, if you haven’t seen Dubya yet, it’s well worth a watch.

Flickr is already a goldmine for images of Tuesday night’s triumph. I thought this one in particular captured the sense of hope and expectation in the air.

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Certain jobs favour the dim but enthusiastic applicant. Looking at George Bush’s two consecutive terms over the past eight years, you can’t help but feel the American presidency has sometimes been one of them.

James Bryce, the 19th century historian and politician, once pointed out that “Europeans often ask, and Americans do not always explain, how it happens that this great office is not more frequently filled by great and striking men”.

Bryce penned his thought in 1888, which in a way is reassuring; America’s electoral distate for the intellectual is nothing new.

If Barack Obama wins on Tuesday, he will have notched up a double victory. The US’s first black President, he will also have won a campaign that has made careful use of his intelligence. McCain’s jittery response to the deepening financial crisis and his vacillation between high mindedness and dirty campaigning have contrasted with Obama’s composure and his focus on a simple, core message.

Meanwhile, on a Sarah Palin theme, if you don’t mind wincing every few seconds this radio clip of her taking a call from ‘Nicolas Sarkozy’ is hilarious.

In a week dominated by the Sachsgate affair, it’s no surprise the Sunday papers have taken a look at the BBC through a critical lens.

This morning the BBC’s director-general Mark Thompson told The Andrew Marr Show Jonathan Ross would be keeping his job, although he described his three-month suspension as a “final warning”. Thompson went on to defend his £816,000 annual salary:

I get paid significantly less than my opposite numbers in ITV and Channel 4. I took a pay cut. People are happy to do that because of the creative challenges.

No doubt he had in mind the News of the World’s splash when he said that. The NotW used a simple Freedom of Information request to get details of the BBC’s top 50 salaries – all of whom earn more than Gordon Brown’s relatively modest £190,000 a year.

The story’s strapline on page 4 sums up the paper’s thrust: “For £14.3m [the aggregate of the salaries] we could employ 677 nurses, 695 teachers, 540 firemen or 596 coppers.. but what DO we get? 50 money-grabbing BBC fat cats!”

The Sunday Times had the same table of stats showing the Corporation’s top earners but didn’t deem it as newsworthy, stashing it away on page 13 as part of a double page spread on the fallout from Sachsgate. Instead the paper led in with comments from a source close to Cabinet minister Andy Burnham suggesting the BBC should “tackle its salary culture”.

The Daily Telegraph quoted a senior Tory source saying the Conservatives would force the Beeb to cuts its licence fee by £6, effectively returning £800 million to viewers in a year. The source tells The Telegraph the Tories would “rein in the overweening ambitions of the BBC” which, in spending huge amounts of money on the likes of Ross, was “acting as if it were Manchester United buying Ronaldo”.

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On the other side of the Atlantic, a real auntie has been giving Barack Obama an unwelcome distraction.

According to The New York Times, Obama had no idea the 56-year-old Kenyan relative he affectionately referred to as “Auntie Zeituni” in his memoir was living with illegal immigant status in Boston.

She made small donations to his campaign amounting to $260 which David Axelrod has said will be refunded.

In today’s Observer, Paul Harris and Gabby Hinsliff remark: “Illegal immigration is a political minefield in US politics and the story could be a vote-losing headache for Obama.”

With a matter of days to go until America’s next president is sworn in, all indicators are pointing to an Obama victory. Like Tony Blair in 1997, he is playing this down. Several commentators have hoped this won’t result in an overly cautious first term as it did for New Labour.

On another note, Andrew Rawnsley thinks David Cameron is quietly keeping his fingers crossed for a Democrat win.

Finally, in today’s Telegraph, Philip Sherwell and Tim Shipman report that if elected Obama will face an early test from Islamic terrorists, who have threatened to test the new president’s mettle. There is a great piece in this quarter’s Granta Magazine that ties in with the ongoing threat from within presented by extremists. Unfortunately you can’t get it online but I’m planning a longer blog piece with some of the higlights.

It’s been a heady few days days for Barack Obama. First, endorsements from two of the west’s staunchest right-wingers – Ken Adelman and Boris Johnson – and now he’s achieved immortalisation in cartoon form.

If by any slim chance you’re still unfamiliar with his life story, check this out:

Is it just me or are there Bob Dylan overtones to that video?