Alistair Thompson was the Conservative candidate for West Bromwich East at the last general election. He also runs Media Intelligence Partners with business partner Nick Wood, the former press secretary to Conservative leaders William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith.
It was inevitable that
following the re-election of Barak Obama — met with gleeful whoops of delight from Team Cameron — that No.10 insiders would draw comparisons between their man and
But a couple of days ago Mr Cameron’s
right-hand man, George Osborne, extrapolated from these comparisons to declare that the Conservatives can win the next election with a mixture of economic
toughness and social liberalism.
It is easy to see why Mr
Osborne might think this. Messers Cameron and Obama both want to lead from the
centre. They both inherited an economy in serious trouble with a debt mountain, and are desperately trying to turn it around. Both lack a strong sense of
ideology. In Mr Obama's case this is partly due to his academic background and
approach to politics, and in Mr Cameron's case the naked, pragmatic pursuit of
power. Both have so far failed to deliver sustained growth. And, finally, both face
opponents who have failed to connect with the ordinary voters.
Team Cameron believe that the
criticisms of Mitt Romney — wooden, remote and odd — apply to Ed Miliband. It
certainly is true that Mr Miliband is seen by many voters as odd: not the sort
of person you would want to have a drink with at the pub, as one commentator said. But Labour are very conscious
of this attack line, hence the "no notes" speech by the Labour Leader
at their Conference and attempts to portray him as just an "ordinary guy," as
Tony Blair might have put it.
It is at this point that the
rest of the tenuous similarities between David Cameron and Barack Obama end.
To start with, unlike the
President who led in virtually every national poll, Mr Cameron has trailed in
every major poll this year by around 10 per cent. And this lead has been
amassed by the PM’s opponent in an electoral system that is completely
different to the U.S's, and biased towards Labour. Compounding this lead is the
increasing difficulty that the Conservative Party is having in raising funds.
By contrast, both the Republicans and Democrats raised and spent billions of
dollars in the most expensive election in US history. And the fantastic amounts
spent by each party were further bolstered by various lobby groups and super
Secondly, and most importantly,
while Mr Obama was seen as in touch with ordinary voters and their concerns, Mr
Cameron is seen as out of touch. Looking at the break down of who backed Mr
Obama, he won a majority of the ethnic votes, including 94 per cent of the
African American voters, and crucially, for states like Florida, a clear majority
of the Hispanic vote, 70 per cent to 30 per cent. This latter, small-c conservative
group continue to favour the Democrats over the Republicans.
Mr Obama also won a majority
of votes amongst women; a lead of between 11-12 percentage points which rose to 38 percentage points amongst unmarried women. He also won amongst those aged 44 or below,
winning 52 per cent of those aged 30-44 and 60 per cent of those aged 18-29, and
did well amongst blue collar voters.
Mr Cameron, by contrast, does
not enjoy such popularity among any of these groups. He is seen as too rich and
upper class by many voters. More damagingly, the PM he is increasingly seen as
aloof and uncaring. This is why Nadine Dorries' withering attack on Mr Cameron,
describing him as an arrogant posh boy who doesn't know the cost of a pint of
milk, was so devastating and refuses to go away.
Thirdly, there's the decline of
politics in the UK. Unlike our cousins across the pond, we have ditched the
deference once showed to those in high office or seeking high office. Whereas
once we treated our leaders with the up most respect, now we treat them with
mild contempt at best and outright hostility at worst. And this attitude manifests itself in the millions of people deciding not to engage with politics, including by not voting.
At the same time, politics is
seen as less relevant to people. Decision-making on a range of issues — along
with how taxpayers money is spent — has become more remote. This is not just due
to the rise of the quangocracy and bureaucratic red tape, but also a genuine
failure of our political leaders to inspire voters with big ideas, take
decisions and get them implemented; a case in point being the PM’s Big Society.
When I grew up, in the 1980s, there was a clear ideological divide with a political discourse that really
mattered. Today there is just a hair’s breadth between the parties on a range
of issues, hence the unedifying scramble by David Cameron to be the Heir to
Blair and Ed Miliband’s desperate attempt to capture the One Nation title.
So for these reasons the mass
rallies we have enjoyed watching on our TVs — the stadia filled with party
activists, all cheering on the political stars of their party — are never going to
happen in the UK. The British parties struggle to fill their annual
conferences. Just look at party membership in this country. In 1950 the
Conservative Party had 2.8 million members; today, less than 130,000. The Labour Party has seen a similar if less dramatic
fall falling from 1 million members in 1950 to roughly 185,000 today.
And as for the Lib Dems, some
reports say their membership has fallen to just 50,000. Is it any wonder that
some speeches at their conference were listened to by more journalist and
lobbyists than party members? Contrast that with the dynamic
force of the caravan club, which has nearly half a million members, twice as
many as all the political parties put together.
Finally, President Obama, has
a political narrative, a vision that he was successful in selling to the
American public. Unfortunately, this is something that is completely absent from
the PM’s campaign. “Not Red Ed” is not a narrative, neither are isolated
policy successes such as reform of schools and the welfare system, no matter how
popular they are.
So, No 10 and Mr Osborne must
not take any comfort from the President’s re-election, because Mr Cameron is no
Obama, and the UK is not the US.