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By Peter Hoskin
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BRITAIN & AMERICA 2 copy

We
shouldn’t overstate the overlap between American politics and our own, but some
lessons can still be wrung from the campaign that ended with Barack
Obama’s victory last night. Here, briefly, are five for British Conservatives,
although you might care to add more:

i) Demographic
change means that parties ought to change.
The traditional Republican vote
— broadly speaking, white, Christian and possibly wealthy — is quite literally
dying out. And in its place come new voters: young, immigrant and often secular.
Many of these new voters will be Democratic voters by instinct, as in the case
of the young voters who turned out more strongly than they did in 2008, and who
split about 60-40 in favour of Barack Obama. But some needn’t be. George W.
Bush tended to poll quite well among Latino voters, for instance, yet Mitt
Romney has failed to match that example. As the Daily Beast’s Andrew Romano tweeted:

“In 2008
Latinos were 9% of electorate & preferred Obama 67-31. In 2012 they're 10%
& pro-Obama 69-30. Rs can't win if that trend continues.”

The
lesson is that political parties need to account for demographic change. As it
happens, Paul wrote on just this topic — from a British Conservative
perspective — on Monday.


ii) Let
conservatism be broad.
When it came to the demographics, I doubt Mitt Romney’s limited
version of Republicanism helped much. Indeed, as commentators such as Andrew
Sullivan

and David Brooks have
consistently pointed out, it’s almost as though the American right has
forgotten the “traditional conservatism” of, say, Edmund Burke and Benjamin
Disraeli. Instead, the image that has all too often been presented — sometimes
by design, sometimes by gaffe — is one of Randian radicals who practice
sectional (“47 per cent”) politics and who may have deeply
questionable views
about rape and abortion. Thankfully, British conservatism is
broader than that, and more aware of its own breadth. But the Republican
campaign still stands as testament to what can happen when a party stays stuck
on a clutch of unflattering issues, and doesn’t try to spread outwards.     

iii) The
power of the Internet.
British parties still haven’t really learnt the lessons of the
2008 election, which provided ample demonstration of how the Internet can be
used to cultivate votes. And now this year has provided even more lessons about
digital campaigning. Foremost among them, I think, is the way both Democrats
and Republicans have used images, videos and nifty web tools to state their
case. Take, for instance, this GOP
infographic
about the House Democrats’ health plans or the Democrat website www.romneytaxplan.com. Both are fun and make a point, and there
are hundreds of other examples, both more or less serious, besides. As for
Britain, I struggle to think of one nice infographic that our parties have
produced. Over here, that sort of thing is left to the Guardian or the Times.

iv) The
power of language.
As well as the new techniques afforded by the Web, this election has
also given us a demonstration of a very old art: political rhetoric. Of course,
as I pointed out in a feature on
political speeches
for the Sunday Telegraph in March, a lot of that political
rhetoric may be too bombastic for British ears. But, given the times, our own
politicians could still learn from how American politicians — cf. Paul Ryan and Bill Clinton — manage to
tell human stories alongside their highfalutin visions for the nation. This is actually
something that David Cameron achieved in his last conference speech (“I’m not
here to defend privilege, I’m here to spread it”), but his colleagues can all
too often rely on dull, technocratic platitudes. Deficit reduction ought to be
more about creating opportunities for future generations than about gilt
yields.

v) Shocks
matter (even when it looks like they don’t).
The last month of the campaign
delivered two particular jolts to the presidential race: Hurricane Sandy and
the televised debates. Hopefully we won’t witness anything like the former
during our own general election in 2015, but there will be something like the
latter and its potential impact shouldn’t be underestimated. There are those
who point to the polls, as proof that these debates don’t make much difference:
Romney’s ratings jumped upwards after the first debate, but soon settled back
to their previous levels; just as the Lib Dems’ did after Nick Clegg’s performance
in the first debate in 2010. But the truth is that they have an effect beyond
simple numbers. Romney’s victory in the first debate, for instance, did much to
arrest the idea that he was sunk after his “47 per cent” remarks. The Tories
should be wary in 2015.

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