Cameron & Obama, class & race

July 9, 2008 at 9:00 am | Posted in Barack Obama, British Politics, Conservative Party, David Cameron, U.S. Politics | Leave a comment
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Since the (hurrah!) next American President is on his way over here and looks set to meet the likely (boo!) next British Prime Minister, here’s Andrew Sullivan on David Cameron & Barack Obama:

His policy prescriptions – more autonomy at the bottom of public services, more accountability within the public sector, a gentle tax incentive for marriage – are more in line with traditional conservatism than wage subsidies, for example. And there’s an Obamaite tinge to Cameron as well: a young, eloquent, inexperienced and culturally modern individual emerging to replace a period of rule by the other party. One similarity: both are gay inclusive. One Cameron difference: he, like any Tory should, places more emphasis on environmentalism than Obama does.


What Obama is to race in America Cameron is to class in Britain: cultural game-changers. (emphasis mine)

So America gets a black man to usher in a postracial future and Britain gets an old Etonian to usher in a post-class future? Great. It’s a wonder there are no Cameron murals in Barnsley.

Policy-wise, there are sure to be some similarities between Obama & Cameron. As a community-organiser, Obama has experienced what can be achieved by empowering people at a local level and the way America was devised means it’s very difficult to have the kind of large, centralised delivery of public services we have in Britain. If elected, both men would find their hands tied somewhat by our countries’ respective borrowing and budget deficits.

But I think Sullivan continually overstates the symbolic value of a Cameron premiership. Sure, a postracial America could only emerge with something as symbolic as a black man being elected President. By the same measure, Britain isn’t going to overcome class antipathy by electing yet another Prime Minister who attended Eton. If you look at the two men’s biographies, Obama mixed race and multiracial upbringing meant he was able to identify the antipathies and resentments that exist between black and white Americans – as a result, his campaign has made overcoming these divisions a key theme. Cameron, on the other hand, was reared in great privilege and has spent his entire life amongst wealthy conservatives who resent that their taxes go to such undeserving lowlifes as single parents and the unemployed. Until becoming leader of the Tories, he’s never been anywhere near the deprived side of Britain and can’t hope to speak of it without sounding like a dillettante.

Maybe Cameron is sincere, the Tories are serious about helping the poor and they all honestly believe this is best achieved through localism and decentralisation; only time will tell whether this is a real change or just ‘back to basics’ with superior presentation. But you won’t see a postclass Britain by electing someone for whom class has brought nothing but benefits; it’ll be by electing someone as Prime Minister who, like Obama, had to break a great many barriers just to get there


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