Naomi Klein on Barack W Bush

She agrees with me on how Obama has let us down

As the author of the rather controversial and provocative cover article for last week's New Statesman, "How Obama went wrong and became . . . Barack W Bush", which argued that the president of the United States has continued, adopted or simply adapted the policies of his disgraced predecessor on a range of isses at home and abroad, I couldn't help but smile as I read Naomi Klein's piece in the Guardian yesterday.

The thrust of Klein's argument is best expressed in the headline: "Obama isn't helping. At least the world argued with Bush". She writes:

The Nobel committee, which awarded the prize for Obama's embrace of "multilateral diplomacy", is evidently convinced that US engagement on the world stage is a triumph for peace and justice. I'm not so sure. After nine months in office, Obama has a clear track record as a global player. Again and again, US negotiators have chosen not to strengthen international laws and protocols but to weaken them, often leading other rich countries in a race to the bottom.

She then runs through the increasingly familiar list of failures, let-downs and setbacks, from climate change to Israel/Palestine to regulation of banking, and adds, in her concluding paragraph:

Of course, Obama has made some good moves on the world stage -- like not siding with the Honduras coup government, or supporting a UN women's agency. But a clear pattern has emerged: in areas where other rich nations were teetering between principled action and negligence, US interventions have tilted them towards negligence. If this is the new era of multilateralism, it is no prize.

I couldn't agree more. While I welcomed the election of Barack Obama, both predicting and supporting his victory, first over pro-war Hillary Clinton and adulterous John Edwards in the Democratic primaries, and then over the kooky Republican hawk John McCain in the actual election, I always worried that his popularity, charm, genuine decency and liberal values would give America's political, financial and military elite a cover under which to continue with business as usual.

Don't get me wrong: despite the provocative and amusing cover image on our magazine last week, I don't believe Obama is Bush. Of course not. Few human beings can ever begin to resemble the unprecedented combination of ignorance, incompetence, elitism, belligerence, dishonesty, corruption, pure selfishness and indifference to humanity that characterised the 43rd president of the United States (now safely retired in Dallas, Texas). Obama has, as Klein says, "made some good moves on the world stage" and I do happen to believe that he is, at core, a decent human being -- though of course I may be wrong. But, as I argued on my blog, he does not deserve a Nobel prize (yet!), and as I argued in my longer piece:

. . . the former Illinois senator raised the hopes of millions of people across the US and the world to an extent never seen in modern politics, talking repeatedly of change, reform and renewal, and suggesting he would erase the legacy of his disliked and disgraced predecessor from day one. It was inevitable that even the slightest sense of continuity in policy, personnel or practice would disappoint, as it has. Obama, however, has gone further, adopting his predecessor's positions on a wide variety of issues, from the parochially domestic to the grandly geopolitical.

He has three, or perhaps seven, more years to turn things around, get things right, and prove to America and the world that his changes are real changes -- or, to borrow a phrase, that his presidency represents change we can believe in.

Oh, and for John Pilger's typically passionate and polemical view in this week's magazine, on Obama, war and peace and the Nobel Prize, click here.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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