Obama's Mandate

Ashish Prashar asks New Statesman readers: if Obama wins on Tuesday what - besides change - will his

I want to throw this open for debate amongst you New Statesman readers, but up front let me say that talk of political mandates is one of those political parlour games that often doesn't mean very much (remember people wanted Gordon Brown to call an election in the autumn of 2007 so he could establish his own mandate, was it necessary, no.) In the America they'll probably refer to the 1990s as the Bill Clinton era for a long time, even though he never won a majority of the popular vote. George W. Bush showed that you can aggressively, and for a time successfully, seize the reins of power even if you barely ascended to the presidency.

It's been a generation since Reagan's 1984 landslide, and I think there's a tendency to forget the impact, real and imagined, of a sweeping victory of the kind Obama appears poised to win. (It's worth noting too that in 1984, while the America just come through a recession and the Cold War was still hot, there was nothing like the unsettledness that the financial crisis and overseas military engagements are causing now.)

You're already seeing signs of the impact of the expectation of an Obama win. McCain is going all out to try to win this thing, but let's be honest, his party isn't. You don't have to look too closely to see Republican officeholders running for cover, and not just from Bush, McCain, and Palin - but from specific policies and tactics, too. As the political tsunami approaches the beach, it's everyone for themselves.

But all that being said, what will an Obama landslide translate into in the first year he's in office? It's still not clear to many. One of the most toxic effects of the decline of the two parties as political institutions and the rise of the modern TV-based political campaign, with its cult of personality politics, is that the election becomes a referendum on the candidates themselves, rather than on broad policies or platforms.

The peril of the modern political campaign is not its nastiness (come on, we're all adults). It's that it supplants a real debate, so that by the time the election actually happens and a victor is declared, it's not entirely clear what we all collectively just decided. Did we just vote for universal health care, or against that cranky old man and his dimwitted running mate?

So given the terms of the debate this campaign season, the issues facing the country, and the mood of the electorate, and assuming we see an Obama landslide next on the 4th November, what does Obama have a mandate for?

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What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.