Sunday, 9 November 2008

Presidential Elections

Now the presidential Elections are over everyone is picking over the lessons. Personally I’m pleased that Ros Scott won. I’ve always been uncomfortable with an MP as party president especially in an election period. Ros has now to show that she can act as an effective advocate for the grassroots members who gave her such an overwhelming victory.
Across the Atlantic another Liberal won and we must learn from his achievements. Writing in Thursday’s Times Anatole Kaletsky asserted that Obama’s victory ‘inflicts a crushing blow on the Nixon-Reagan coalition of xenophobic working class social conservatism and tax allergic small business men’. He also noted that the election of the first black president has undermined the belief of many of the neo cons that America is a ‘centre right nation’. Obama has a record on the environment, healthcare, gay rights, abortion and gun control that would fit comfortably with British Liberals.
I’ve nothing new to say about how he achieved this. It is well document that he drew groups who have long been under represented into participation in the election. People have spoken a lot about the increased registration of African Americans which was undoubtedly a significant factor, but the one that might have greater significance in the UK is the turn out amongst the under 30 year olds. Anyone who spends any length of time canvassing knows that relatively few people under thirty vote and the thirty to forty year olds aren’t a lot better. This group in America and in Britain is not broadly speaking socially conservative. Most of them would look aghast at anyone who expressed racist or homophobic opinions. The appeal to prejudice that we have often seen from conservatives has no resonance with them. There would be no point in ‘wolf whistling’ to under 40 year old that you are anti gay or racist. We saw Sarah Palin talking about standing up for ‘real Americans’, and many of us remember Tory MPs proclaiming that they were on the side of ‘red blooded’ Englishmen’ (interestingly at the time I suspect that was an anti semitic comment revealing how uncomfortable they were with the number of Jews in the Cabinet). I fought Ann Winterton in two General elections and she was not slow to tell racist jokes and back them up with visits to the apartheid regime in South Africa just in case you missed the implication. Here is Southport our own Brenda Porter when first seeking to be elected included in her literature a declaration that she opposed the repeal of Section 28 of the Local Government Act. Every homophobic bigot you met on the door step in that election who demanded to know if you too opposed the repeal of the section understood the message that was being sent. This politics is in rapid decline and if we can get the under 40 year old to participate in elections we can swiftly kill it off for good. Under President Obama the liberal majority on the Supreme Court will ensure that abortion is not made illegal. I fancy the Obama’s presidency will last long enough for the American Episcopal Church to be joined by other mainstream churches in blessing same sex unions.
I fancy that one other sea change is the decline of xenophobia. I’m not foolish enough to believe what Elliot Dodds described in the old Liberal Party constitution as the ‘warping influence of nationalism’ can be banished but I do conclude that the example of the US clumsily throwing its military and economic weight around the globe has led most people to conclude that that way of behaving doe not work. We are now faced with major global challenges that cannot be solved by one nation going it alone. We are all in this together and together we meet the challenges. We are faced with the real possibility of a nuclear state becoming a failed state-Pakistan. We are faced with global warming. There are wars and rumours of war in Africa and the neo cons have made the middle east worse by their sins of commission and omission. In Britain there are already signs that the public mood is changing and beginning to turn its back on petty nationalism. If the economic crisis and the environmental crisis have taught us anything surely it is that multilateralism is these matters is the way forward. This may be the decade when confronted by matters that are too big for any one nation we commit ourselves to Europe.
With these great challenges come great opportunities. The 21st century could be a liberal century in the way that the 20th century was a conservative one.