David Cameron, Barak Obama. The United Kingdom, the United States of America. Conservatives, Democrats. Samantha, Michelle.
The parallels between David Cameron and Barack Obama are often unseen. Too much of the time, people focus on the differences rather than the similarities. Yet as Obama prepares to get his campaign off the ground for the 2012 election, it would be worth David Cameron keeping a close eye on how his American counterpart fares.
Both came to power on the back of a failing incumbent. In America, the frustration of having George Bush in power for eight years was one of the biggest momentum shifters for the Obama campaign. What the Democrat team did extremely well was take advantage of the fact that at large majority of Americans had had enough of George Bush, and expand that to the whole Republican Party. As soon as the lines were drawn between Bush and his party, the GOP stood little chance of retaining the White House.
In Britain, the fact that Gordon Brown’s government was so unpopular by the time an election was called was a huge boost for Cameron. Had Brown called that snap election in 2007, rather than pulling out at the last minute, he would almost certainly have won, and we would still have a Labour government. As it was, he allowed other politicians – notably Cameron – to get themselves into the game. As Brown’s premiership self-destructed over the next few years, Cameron solidified his image as responsible, trust-worthy and the man to rescue broken Britain. He told the country that ‘We’re all in this together’, and used the Labour party’s massive implosion to re-enforce that message.
However, whilst Cameron and Obama owe a lot of their political success to the failings of their predecessors (as to a certain extent all politicians do), this route to power becomes, over time, a dangerous one.
Coming to power on the back of someone else’s failure is not what any politician wants. Politicians want to be able to show that it is by their merit, charisma and policies that they have been elected. David Cameron is the perfect example of this. People were fed up with Brown for sure, and wanted a change. Yet the Conservatives could not secure a majority government and were forced into coalition. This raises the suggestion that people did not so much vote Conservative or Liberal Democrat because they believed passionately in what was on offer; more that they voted for them for the simple reason that they were not Gordon Brown and Labour.
This means that, on wining power (eventually), Cameron was faced with the expectation of the nation, but the lukewarm support of the majority. Hence why the eleven months he has so far spent in charge have been quite tough on him. People were fed up with Brown, and expected Cameron to change things – even though many only voted for Cameron because he wasn’t Brown.
Obama has fared little better in America. His policies have come under attack, he suffered heavily in the mid-terms and lost control of the House of Representatives. Yet as he gears up for the 2012 election, he is still the favourite to win, and enter the White House for a second term. This is because, despite having low ratings in the opinion polls and having had a relatively uneventful first term, Obama still faces no real threat from the Republicans.
David Cameron should therefore be watching events on the other side of the Atlantic with interest. Whilst he might not share political agreements with Obama, he can learn a lot from his electioneering, his organisation and his ability to connect with the electorate.
David Cameron faces a tough few weeks. May 5 will be a key moment for his premiership, and will either be a huge boost or a major setback. The paused in NHS reforms, increasing British involvement in Libya, anger over tuition fees and coalition splits are all starting to take their toll on Cameron. He should not be completely disheartened, as polls today show that the Conservatives are equal with Labour on 40% if there was an election tomorrow. There is still a lot of work to be done, however, and David Cameron could do much worse than learn from Barack Obama.