Obama announces his re-election bid

President Obama promises to run an innovative campaign, but it could cost $1bn.

And – he's off. Barack Obama has officially announced his re-election bid, after one of Washington's worst-guarded secrets. In typical tech-savvy style, it was first revealed in emails and text messages to grass-roots supporters, with a short video on barackobama.com – before the neccessary papers were filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Everything was already in place – the 2012 website complete with all-important donation button, the campaign HQ in Chicago . . . and running the whole show is the former White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina, unusually ensconced in that high-rise Chicago office some 700 miles from Washington, DC.

David Plouffe, who ran Obama's victorious campaign three years ago, told the New York Times that Messina's team was "going to innovate – and make what we did in 2008 seem somewhat prehistoric". Hard to see what they could do to transform the campaign paradigm this time around, but let's wait and see.

One thing, of course, hasn't changed – cold, hard cash: Messina has already been wooing potential donors and Obama has got a series of fundraisers in the diary, all aimed at attracting up to a billion dollars (yes, you read it right) even though he's extremely unlikely to face any challengers at the primary stage. If he meets that target (and a $30,000-a-head dinner at Harlem's Red Rooster restaurant plus a New York reception the other week managed to pull in a cool $1.5m), he'll become the first billion-dollar presidential candidate, at the helm of the most expensive campaign ever.

In contrast to 2008, the bulk of the money will be raised not from the grass roots, but from wealthy backers with deep pockets. Messina has already asked them to bring in at least $350,000 each this year – not exactly small change. But all neccessary to combat the Republicans' formidable money machine – its own party coffers boosted by groups like American Crossroads, which hauled in millions for the midterms in 2010.

So let's assume he gets the money: what are the odds for 2012? It's usually hard to beat an incumbent, and even though Obama's ratings are hardly stellar, there aren't exactly any standout stars in the Republican field. Indeed, none of the various runners and riders has yet declared officially.

Reasons to be cheerful?

After months of uncertainty, however, the planned 4 April launch date is feeling like pretty good timing for the White House – the Democrats have been cheered by the latest jobless figures, down to 8.8 per cent, with almost a million and a half jobs created this year.

It all offers some hope that the economy could start rebounding just in time for next November's poll. Battles over spending cuts and union rights in key states such as Wisconsin have also rallied the Democratic base.

Yet there are considerable hurdles to leap – not least the fight over this year's federal budget and the threat of a government shutdown, still very much alive. Despite the administration's best efforts, the flagship health-care reforms are no more popular now than they were a year ago, while the stimulus bill has not yet proved its electoral worth.

Most urgently, Obama is grappling with a series of crises overseas, the military intervention in Libya holding out the prospect of a long-drawn-out commitment by US forces.

So the next 18 months are all about "winning the future" – the Obama slogan that's meant to transcend talk of hope and change. Once again, the key is energising his core supporters – including those young people who were the heart and soul of the triumph in 2008 – and reaching out to those independents who are wavering over the choice ahead.

The presidential battle is joined. Now it's up to the Republican hopefuls to put their head above ground and enter the race for real.

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

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The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.