In two years’ time David Cameron could well be Prime Minister, and it is possible that Barack Obama could be President of the USA. Both have galvanised electorates with a message of change. Both are opposing unpopular and flawed administrations. Both understand the power of new technology and the way the web and the fragmentation of the media is changing politics.
There are, however, important differences. When the background is Credit Crunch, slowdown, and a long war in the Middle East, of course people want change. The question is, ‘What change?’ We now know David Cameron wants lower taxes, through cutting waste and sharing the proceeds of growth. Obama presumably has to accept higher taxes, as he has ambitious plans to increase state spending. David Cameron wants free trade and free enterprise to drive living standards higher. Obama has some protectionist and interventionist views. David Cameron is well advanced with major policy work, going into great detail in every area. Obama is travelling policy-light. David Cameron is currently way ahead in the polls, while Obama is still neck-and-neck with McCain.
There are important things we can learn from Obama, as I remarked very early in his campaign when I liked what I saw in terms of political technique. Obama has shown you can enthuse new people with politics, through the old-fashioned power of great words well spoken in public meetings, allied to words well written on the web. He has shown you can raise more money by seeking small donations from many rather than relying on large donations from a few. He has shown how a more personal appeal through web and email can grow an army of supporters for a candidate.
I think David Cameron would get on fine on a personal level with him. The policy disagreements on economic and tax matters would not, on the whole, matter, as they are largely domestic decisions in each country. I suspect an Obama presidency would end up looking more like a Bush presidency, once the Pentagon had sucked him in to their more warlike view, and once the Treasury and Commerce Departments had explained to him the advantages of freer trade. McCain still has plenty of room to push for victory, and the Mc Cain relationship has been developed by David Cameron in Opposition.
Obama showed an ability to master old combative politics when he needed to and he got rid of opponents by legal challenges to their nomination papers. He should not be underestimated, but we should remember that his message of change is so far spin and rhetoric. He has yet to build a solid policy platform in the way David Cameron is doing.