Sunday, January 25, 2009

Inauguration of hope

One of the less edifying sights of the political near future will be that of George Brown sucking up to President Barack Obama. The incongruousness of it is staggering. The man who will lead the free world, whose oratory has inspired millions, who embodies the American creed of yes we can and who so far has proved it, is set to be tainted by association with the bullying, dogma ridden, tediously uninspiring co-architect of the party of no you can’t, don’t you dare and let’s not even think about it.
Twelve years of New Labour, its glib pronouncements, its cynical attitude, its bullying of the whole parliamentary process through an unassailable majority, its twisting of the facts, its redefinition of the basis of any measurement of progress or performance so as to present news to its advantage have reduced me to a despairing impotence and obliterated any memory of why I originally wanted the Tories out. And now Brown is going to try to get some of the glamour, the hope, the sheer quality of Barack Obama to rub off on him. It will be like watching a hyena trying to steal the show from an Afghan hound, a vulture trying to soar with the wandering albatross.
When Obama made his now almost definitive race speech I started a piece that I tentatively called ‘if only we had one like that’. And I didn’t mean black, coloured, African-American or whatever the right term is. His race is understandably important to millions of Americans and more millions elsewhere but to me it was irrelevant. I rejoiced because first the speech emphatically removed race as an issue in the primary process but second and mainly because it revealed him as so clearly the best person for the job, demolishing in the process any claim to special consideration that Hillary Clinton, in many ways an entirely worthy candidate, might have had simply for being a woman. For some reason I never finished the piece, absorbed in the arithmetic of the primary race and daring to hope that someone of Obama’s character and quality could go all the way. In November we celebrated with our American friends and today we simply basked in the final confirmation, as one does at a wedding after the build-up following the engagement announcement. His inauguration speech came down a little from the celebration of his acceptance but seemed to me to have just the right tone - I’ll start as I mean to carry on.
And now our papers are full of speculation over if or when we might have a black prime minister. They miss the point. The British system emasculates potentially good politicians and makes it almost impossible for them to achieve high office before any inspiration or originality has been squeezed out of them. The last one to beat the system, for good or ill, was Margaret Thatcher. It’s not a black prime minister that will save us, it’s a good one. When he or she shows up it won’t matter if he is black, white or green so long as he is a citizen, not a politician.

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