Obama’s odyssey

The president hares from state to state, but are the Democrats heading for a “historic bloodbath”?

Believe the respected Rothenberg political report, and the Democrats are heading for a "historic bloodbath" on Tuesday – at least in the House. The Republicans need to pick up just 39 seats to win a majority, and there isn't a poll around that doesn't suggest they'll win at least 50 – if not dozens more.

As for the Senate, it looks likely that the Democrats will at least avoid a wipeout there – the GOP isn't heading for the neccessary ten-seat win.

And while Obama has been appealing to supporters to knock on 20,000 doors this weekend, even the wildly successful Rally to Restore Sanity hasn't given the Dems the last-minute boost they were hoping for.

Sure, most of the 250,000 people who crowded into the National Mall were liberals through and through (and you couldn't help but think back to that freezing day back in January '09, when the entire city was a sea of Obama flags and faces shiny with hope), but Jon Stewart's shtick deliberately avoided any kind of partisan appeal.

"Some of you may have seen today as a clarion call for action," he told the crowd. "Clearly some of you who just wanted to see the Air and Space Museum got royally screwed."

And when he did get political, Stewart let rip against extremists on both sides. The media, especially the likes of Keith Olbermann and Glenn Beck, got most of the flak. "If we amplify everything, we hear nothing," he said.

But beneath this cacophony of extremities, there's no getting away from the fact that President Obama is about to be dealt a huge rebuke.

"Part of it is a profound unhappiness with the way Washington is working," says Matt Bennett from the Third Way think tank, describing people's deep frustration that their lives aren't getting any better and no one in charge really seems to care.

The recession is overshadowing everything – almost all Americans think the economy is in bad shape, and hardly anyone can see things getting better soon.

Curse of the 'burbs

It is even more profound in the suburbs, where 53 per cent of people describe their own financial situation as "bad". Most people, according to Princeton Survey Research, have either lost their job or know someone who has, while 40 per cent have lost their home, or know someone in that situation.

That's a lot of discontent, and, says the survey, the suburbs hold the key to this year's Republican success. Especially when the president is so city-centric: years ago, he told AP he just wasn't interested in the suburbs – "they bore me".

But what is really noticeable right now is how polarised the debate is: as the saying goes, it's a lot easier to rant than to rave. If part of the national disappointment is over what's seen as Washington's obduracy, many voters are also disillusioned by a president who promised unity, but has ended up presiding over a country more divided than ever before.

So much for "No red states, no blue states – but the United States of America". Instead, the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, has been proclaiming that "the single most important thing we want to achieve for President Obama is to be a one-term president", while Obama himself urged Latino voters to "punish our enemies" on Tuesday, warning Republicans, "You can ride with us if you want, but you gotta sit in the back seat."

And partisanship is flourishing within the parties as well. The Republican establishment must surely be worrying about the prospect of all those unruly Tea Partiers causing trouble for them – as well as the Democrats – in Congress. And the "professional left" is still causing trouble for the president.

Last night, as Obama made his final pitch for votes on a four-state blitz, one small section of the crowd in Connecticut suddenly started heckling him about funding for Aids research, before the rest of the audience drowned them out.

The president – looking noticeably annoyed – told them curtly to turn their anger against the Republicans instead, warning that his entire agenda could be rolled back if the GOP prevailed.

He did get a better rap back in his old Senate seat of Illinois – where a 35,000-strong crowd whooped it up for him, 2008-style. But it says a lot about the state of the country that, three days before election day, he's having to focus on getting his own key supporters to turn up at the polls.

Felicity Spector is chief writer and US politics expert for Channel 4 News.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

Autumn Statement 2015: will women bear the brunt again?

Time and time again, the Chancellor has chosen to balance the books on the backs of women. There's still hope for a better way. 

Today, the Chancellor, George Osborne, presents his Autumn Statement to parliament. Attention will be focused on how he tries to dig himself out of the tax credits hole that he got himself into with his hubristic summer budget.

He’s got options, both in terms of the sweeteners he can offer, and in how he finds the funds to pay for them. But what we will be looking for is a wholesale rethink from the chancellor that acknowledges something he’s shown total indifference to so far: the gender impact of his policy choices, which have hurt not helped women.

In every single budget and autumn statement under this Chancellor, it has been women that have lost out. From his very first so-called “emergency  budget” in 2010, when Yvette Cooper pointed out that women had been hit twice as hard as men, to his post-election budget this summer, the cumulative effects of his policy announcements are that women have borne a staggering 85 per cent of cuts to tax credits and benefits. Working mums in particular have taken much of the pain.

We don’t think this is an accident. It reflects the old-fashioned Tory world view, where dad goes out to work to provide for the family, and mum looks after the kids, while supplementing the family income with some modest part-time work of her own. The fact that most families don’t live like that is overlooked: it doesn’t fit the narrative. But it’s led to a set of policies that are exceptionally damaging for gender equality.

Take the married couple’s tax break – 80 per cent of the benefit of that goes to men. The universal credit, designed in such a way that it actively disincentivises second earners – usually the woman in the family. Cuts and freezes to benefits for children - the child tax credit two-child policy, cuts to child benefit – are cuts in benefits mostly paid to women. Cuts to working tax credit have hit lone parents particularly hard, the vast majority of whom are women.

None of these cuts has been adequately compensated by the increase in the personal tax threshold (many low paid women are below the threshold already), the extension of free childcare (coming in long after the cuts take effect) or the introduction of the so-called national living wage. Indeed, the IFS has said it’s ‘arithmetically impossible’ that they can do so. And at the same time, women’s work remains poorly remunerated, concentrated in low-pay sectors, more often part time, and increasingly unstable.

This is putting terrible pressure on women and families now, but it will also have long-term impact. We are proud that Labour lifted one million children out of poverty between 1997 and 2010. But under the Tories, child poverty has flat-lined in relative terms since 2011/12, while, shockingly, absolute child poverty has risen by 500,000, reflecting the damage that has been by the tax and benefits changes, especially to working families. Today, two thirds of children growing up poor do so in a working family. The cost to those children, the long-term scarring effect on them of growing up poor, and the long-term damage to our society, will be laid at the door of this chancellor.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the age spectrum, low-earning women who are financially stretched won’t have anything left over to save for their pension. More are falling out of auto-enrolment and face a bleak old age in poverty.

Now that the Chancellor has put his calculator away, we will discover when he has considered both about the impact and the consequences of his policies for women. But we have no great hopes he’ll do so. After all, this is the government that scrapped the equality impact assessments, saying they were simply a matter of ‘common sense’ – common sense that appears to elude the chancellor. In their place, we have a flaky ‘family test’ – but with women, mothers and children the big losers so far, there’s no sign he’s going to pass that one either.

That’s why we are putting the Chancellor on notice: we, like women across the country, will be listening very carefully to what you announce today, and will judge it by whether you are hurting not helping Britain’s families. The Prime Minister’s claims that he cares about equality are going to sound very hollow if it’s women who take the pain yet again.