Born in the USA

The White House today released Barack Obama's full birth certificate. But will it persuade the "birt

So did Donald Trump win? Or will President Obama manage to draw a line beneath the controversy about his citizenship, once and for all? The White House has just released a copy of Obama's full birth certificate, showing, of course, that he was born in Hawaii and is eligible to be President of the United States.

Minutes later, Obama appeared at the White House podium, declaring the country just didn't have time for such "silliness" - and it was all becoming a distraction from real issues like the economy.

The issue suddenly hit the headlines again after a poll showed that two-thirds of Republican voters believe that Obama was born outside the United States, or say they aren't sure. The fact that it re-emerged at this precise moment was largely due to Donald Trump - who may or may not be considering a presidential bid. He's repeatedly been quoted on the record, asking for that full birth certificate to be revealed.

The GOP's party's Presidential hopefuls have already been forced to distance themselves from the false claims by so-called "birthers" - who have been obsessed with challenging the President to produce his full birth certificate and prove where he was born.

There is nothing secret about the document: the official certification released by the authorities in Hawaii shows that Barack Obama was born in the state in 1961 - a fact recorded by local newspapers at the time.

So among the 2012 contenders - Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have completely rejected the "birther" idea - while Tim Pawlenty said "I'm not one to question the authenticity of Barack Obama's birth certificate".

But not every Republican leader was so unequivocal. House Speaker John Boehner, for example, says that although he does believe Obama is a US citizen - it's not up to him to tell the American people what to think. Huh? Tea Party supporter Michelle Bachman actually had to be shown a copy of the Hawaii certificate by ABC's George Stephanopolous before she admitted she would "take the president at his word".

Yet tune into a right wing talk show and the claims persist - along with other accusations about Obama being a Muslim, educated at a Madrassa and so on. The Hawaii document, originally posted on the Democrats' website during the 2008 campaign - has been dismissed as fake - even though the independent Factcheck.org website confirmed it is authentic. And a new book on the controversy - Jerome Corsis's Where's the Birth Certificate? The Case that Barack Obama is not Eligible to be President has already rocketed to the top spot on Amazon weeks before its publication date.

Arizona's governor, Jan Brewer, has just vetoed one of the many so-called birther bills which are progressing in several states. Louisiana and Indiana are still debating the measures, which would require any presidential candidate to provide proof of their American citizenship in order to be included on that state's ballot.

It has already proved remarkably fruitful for Democrats, who have siezed on the Donald Trump pronouncements to raise funds from their outraged supporters. But isn't it truly astonishing in this day and age that the citizenship of the President of the United States is an issue at all - let alone one that seems to have gained almost mainstream currency? As White House spokesman Robert Gibbs put it, two years ago: "You couldn't sell this script in Hollywood".

Moments after the brith certificate was published today, Trump emerged in New hampshire, taking full credit for the disclosure - and insisting he's proud of himself. "I've accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish", he said, barely able to restrain his glee. But will this really draw a line under the whole affair, as the White House hopes - and consign the doubters to the furthest conspiracy-theory extremes? In his statement today, Obama urged the media to ignore the "sideshows and carnival barkers": with wars in Afghanistan and Libya, oil prices soaring and a huge debate over the deficit, he wants to show the American people that he's the one in charge - and the one taking the country's problems seriously.

Felicity Spector is a deputy programme editor for Channel 4 News.

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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

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