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50 People Who Matter 2010 | 2. Barack Obama

Barry White House.

Last year, the significance of the Obamas was more symbolic than it is today, based in part on the presence of the first African-American family in the White House.

Now it is the prospect of real change that excites. Cynics inevitably complain that Barack Obama is failing to live up to expectations, with two of George W Bush's wars rumbling on abroad and economic turbulence at home.

But the promised "clean break" from the past is not - yet - out of reach. US combat troops are withdrawing from Iraq and Obama is the first president to reform America's iniquitous health-care system. He is also one of the few presidents to engage directly with the Middle East stalemate in his first term.

If steps towards that elusive peace can be made within a year, as promised, Obama will secure his place as a great president, regardless of the colour of his skin.

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This article first appeared in the 27 September 2010 issue of the New Statesman, The 50 people who matter