Talking Politics

What Obama’s win means for Britain

By Dr Matthew Ashton

Only a few hours after it was announced that Obama had won another four years as US president, people are already beginning to ask the key question of what this means for the UK.

The most critical aspect of this is the economic issues it raises. For better or worse the British and American economies are significantly intertwined. As a result, when the credit crunch hit in the USA it spread to us quite rapidly. As the old saying has it, when America sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold. Therefore a strong US recovery is essential for Britain and the rest of Europe. The last four years under Obama have been sluggish at best with continued high unemployment, but the latest economic figures have been encouraging which bodes well for the future.

However the US approach to the credit crunch poses a direct challenge to Cameron and Osborne's austerity plans. While Obama and the Republican-dominated House of Representatives have embraced austerity to a certain extent, they also passed a huge stimulus package and bailed out what remains of the Detroit auto-industry. Many analysts have argued that this had encouraged growth at a far higher level than in the UK. The current coalition plan (often referred to as Plan A), is based almost entirely on austerity alone and has received substantial criticism as a result. If the US economy continues to recover more strongly and more quickly than in the UK, then it might force Cameron and co to rethink this approach. This would be politically difficult, as it would mean conceding that they got it wrong. While the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have U-turned on several policies, a change of direction here would mean them admitting that their entire economic strategy was mistaken.

The second major impact it could have on UK politics is with regards to foreign policy. A Romney victory would have meant a more hawkish approach to a range of global problems, including that of Iran. In this respect Cameron might be breathing a sigh of relief. After our brief foray in Libya and an election due in just under three years, Cameron would be wise to avoid becoming entangled in another potentially messy foreign engagement without obvious benefit to the UK electorate. At this point his primary concern will be withdrawing the troops from Afghanistan. That will probably be easier under Obama than Romney.

The final issue Obama's victory raises for Cameron is to do with electoral positioning. He is currently facing calls from within his own party that the Conservatives need to move to the right. In a similar fashion Republican politicians and bloggers have already started to make the argument that Mitt Romney lost not because he was too right-wing but because he wasn't right-wing enough.

This runs the risk of falling into the trap of Labour in the early 1980s. By shifting to the far left they abandoned the centre ground needed to win elections. Obama won partly because he could appeal to a range of diverse groups including Hispanics, African-Americans and young people. He also did very well amongst female voters. The Republican core vote is increasingly made up of white male voters of a certain age and there are fewer and fewer of these every year.

While the UK is clearly a different country from the US in terms of its electoral make-up, Cameron still needs to appeal to moderate voters if he wants to stand any chance of winning in 2015. So yesterday's election provides a clear blueprint for success for both him and Ed Miliband.

Dr Matthew Ashton is a politics lecturer at Nottingham Trent University. Visit his blog.

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