Bin Laden's death will have little bearing on 2012

Now that Barack Obama's "Bin Laden bounce" has come and gone, the 2012 election will be won on domes

Back in May, with the 2012 election still over a year away, many were ready to cancel it and hand Obama another four years. People believed the assassination of Osama bin Laden sealed his already likely victory. There was one big problem with this conclusion: when election time rolls around and people review a politician's time in office, the negatives stand out while the positives seems to disappear.

Look at George H.W. Bush's short and sweet term.

In March of 1991, following the successful Gulf War, Bush Sr.'s approval rating reached an all time high of 87 per cent and remained relatively high for the rest of the year, according to a Roper Center Public Opinion Archive. Many of the most qualified Democratic nominees felt their efforts would be wasted against the popular president and opted out of the race, as Nate Silver pointed out in a New York Times blog. By the 1992 election, however, recession had crept in and Bush Sr.'s approval rating had fallen to 30 per cent. Bill Clinton won decisively.

The reason for this dramatic change in opinion is obvious: people forget. In the midst of economic hardship, people will forget a leader's accomplishments and the positive ways in which he has impacted the country.

What people remember is losing their job months ago and having no prospects of reversing their unemployed status. People remember inflation that makes it impossible to provide for their family. People remember the foreclosure of their house. People remember their taxes are at an all time high and getting higher every day.

This is why bin Laden's death will not determine the results of the 2012 election.

Yes, following the news that American forces had killed the wanted terrorist, Obama's approval rating increased from 47 per cent to 56 per cent in a Pew Research Center poll, a number still much lower than the response to Bush Sr.'s Operation Desert Storm.

A recent Gallup poll regarding the 2012 election, however, revealed that 39 per cent of US voters plan to vote for Obama, while 44 per cent are already willing to commit their vote to any GOP candidate - and this is still in the wake of bin Laden's death.

It seems the hype has already begun its decline. Gallup's most recent poll of Obama's job approval revealed the figure has fallen to 43 per cent. This suggests the 2012 election will not be ruled by foreign policy, and will instead be fought on domestic issues that affect voters everyday.

Granted the defeat of a sitting president is not the norm. There have been 35 elections in which an incumbent president has sought re-election, and 21 out of those 35 have been re-elected. Although victory over an incumbent president is somewhat unlikely, Obama's situation makes it no more unlikely than usual. These polling numbers paired with the 10 per cent unemployment, $4 per gallon gas prices, increasing healthcare disapproval are a sure sign that Obama is beatable.

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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

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.