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The back of Bush

'With conservatives in the majority in Europe and America, fear and fatalism have dominated. Obama's

George W Bush has done more than any other US president to undermine the reputation of the USA in the world. Less than one in five Europeans approve of President Bush's handling of international policies. Europeans are not anti-American - almost four out of 10 Europeans still believe that US leadership in world affairs is desirable (although this figure is down from over six in 10 in 2002).

So what is my expectation of the new president? I understand why some people think that anyone is better than George W Bush, but surely Sarah Palin makes people doubt McCain's seriousness. As president of the PES - the European political party bringing together Europe's socialist, social democratic and labour parties - I am unashamedly excited at the possibility of a young, charismatic Afro-American called Barack Obama becoming President. What difference would it make? I believe there would be three significant changes.

First, whereas Bush cut social spending and gave tax cuts to the super rich, Obama's Plan for America offers clear commitments to widen health care, tackle poverty and improve education for all.

A US president with a commitment to the well-being of ordinary citizens would generate renewed interest in social justice and social policy worldwide. It would be good not only for the workers of America but also for social democracy in Europe. It would inspire trade unionists and progressive politicians throughout the world.

Already the US Democrats have engaged with European social democrats on reform of the international financial markets. Like the PES, the Democrats want financial markets that sustain jobs in modern industries instead of seeking excessive, short-term profits at the expense of others.

Second, whereas Bush is an oilman and was for many years a climate sceptic, Obama wants to tackle climate change. It is a monumental task, but one cannot afford not to take on. The prospect of the US and the EU sharing the same goals would make meaningful global action far more feasible. Committing to Kyoto would alone be a reason for rejoicing, and here even McCain is better than Bush.

Third, Obama promises to renew American diplomacy, and to talk to foes as well as friends. The Texan cowboy will be gone. This would offer an opening for a renewed partnership between the EU and US, and possibly more cooperation with the UN. Obama does not see the world only as a security problem - a place to pursue a global war against terror - he knows the other issues: climate, energy, poverty, disease.

I am not naïve. Differences in EU-US priorities would not melt away. The new president would have to protect American interests through a recession. US Democrats are suspicious of world trade. But the difference if Obama was elected is that US Democrats have a real desire to engage with others, to find common ground, to work in partnership.

With conservatives in the majority in Europe and America, the fear and fatalism have dominated. Obama's message of change brings hope. Perhaps the biggest factor is psychological - a new, young, gifted President offering the possibility of a new dialogue on the world's problems, the hopes of the planet. It won't be easy but it will be better. I am looking forward to it.

Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, is President of the Party of European Socialists, and was Prime Minister of Denmark 1993-2001

The discussion will continue at America Votes, Europe Responds, a conference held by the Fabian Society on 8 November

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An English hero for the ages: Ian Botham at 60

Botham blends his sportsmanship and deep-seated passion for cricket with a lust for life.

Begging W H Auden’s pardon, it is possible both to honour and to value the vertical man, and in the case of Ian Botham, who turned 60 on 24 November, it is our bounden duty. No sportsman has given Britons so much to enjoy in the past half-century and no sportsman is loved more. Two decades after he retired from first-class cricket, his reputation as one of life’s champions remains unassailable.

No mere cricketer is he, either. Botham is a philanthropist, having raised more than £12m for various charities, notably Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. In December, 30 years after his first walk from John o’Groats to Land’s End, he will set off again, in South Africa, where England are on tour. And he really does walk, too, not amble. As somebody who accompanied him on one of his dozen walks said: “You can’t keep up with him. The man is a phenomenon.”

Of all postwar sportsmen, only Bobby Charlton and, at a pinch, Henry Cooper come close to matching Botham’s enduring popularity. But Charlton, a shy man who was scarred by the Munich plane crash of 1958 (and may never have recovered from its emotional effects), has never comfortably occupied a public stage; and Cooper, being a boxer, had a solitary role. Botham, by contrast, spoke for England. Whenever he picked up his bat, or had a ball in his hand, he left spectators in no doubt.

Others have also spoken for England. Bobby Moore and Martin Johnson, captains respectively of England’s World Cup-winning football and rugby teams, were great players but did not reach out to people as naturally as Botham. Nick Faldo, Lester Piggott, Sebastian Coe and, to bring us up to date, Lewis Hamilton have beaten the best in the world, but they lacked those qualities that Botham displayed so freely. That is not to mark them down. They were, and are, champions. But Botham was born under a different star.

It was John Arlott, the great cricket commentator, who first spotted his uniqueness. Covering a match at Taunton in 1974, he asked the young colt to carry his bags up the rickety staircase to the press box, where Arlott, wearing his oenophile’s hat, pulled out a bottle of red wine and invited Botham to drink. Forty years later Botham is a discriminating wine drinker – and maker. Along with his friend and fellow England great Bob Willis, and their Australian wine­making pal Geoff Merrill, he has put his name to a notable Shiraz, “BMW”.

Arlott, with his nose for talent and good company, saw something in the young Botham that Brian Close, his captain at Somerset, was beginning to bring out. Later, Mike Brearley, as England captain, drew out something even more remarkable. As Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, you’ve got to be carefully taught. And Botham, a fine team man as well as a supreme individual performer, has never withheld praise from those who enabled him to find his voice.

If sport reveals character, then cricket is the game that reveals it most clearly. In no other sport is the individual performance rooted so firmly in a team context. Every over brings a contest of skill and intelligence between batsman and bowler but only a team can win the match. “A cricketer,” as Arlott said, “is showing you something of himself all the time.”

Cricket also reveals national character more than any other sport. Football may be the most popular game in the world but cricket, and cricketers, tell us far more about England and Englishness. It is instructive, in this regard, to hear what Philippe Auclair, a French journalist and author long resident in London, has to say about Botham: “He is essentially an 18th-century Englishman.” In one! It’s not difficult to sense a kinship with Tom Jones, Fielding’s embodiment of 18th-century life, who began his journey, as readers may recall, in Somerset.

A country boy who played for Worcestershire after leaving Somerset, and who lives by choice in North Yorkshire, Botham is an old-fashioned Englishman. Although nobody has yet found him listening to the parson’s sermon, he is conservative with a small and upper-case C, a robust monarchist, handy with rod and gun, and happiest with a beaker in front of him. He represents (though he would never claim to be a representative) all those people who understand instinctively what England means, not in a narrow way, but through something that is in the blood.

Above all, he will be remembered for ever as the hero of 1981. Even now it takes some believing that Botham bowled and batted with such striking success that the Australians, who were one up after two Tests, were crushed. Some of us who were actually at Headingley for the famous third Test – thousands who claim to have been there were not – recall the odds of 500-1 on an England victory going up on the electronic scoreboard that Saturday evening.

Botham made 149 not out as England, following on, beat the Aussies by 18 runs. For three hours the country seemed to stop. In the next Test, at Edgbaston, Botham took five wickets for one run as Australia fell under his spell. Then, at Old Trafford, on a dank Saturday afternoon, he played the most memorable innings of his life and one of the greatest innings ever played by an Englishman: 118 magnificent, joyful runs. Joy: that’s the word. Botham brought joy into people’s lives.

Yet it was the final Test at the Oval, which ended in a draw, that brought from him a performance no less remarkable than those from before. He bowled 89 overs in that match, flat out, continuing to run in when others withdrew with injury. That was the team man coming to the fore. Little wonder his comrades thought the world of him.

Modest, loyal, respectful to opponents, grateful to all who have lent him a hand, and supported throughout a turbulent life by Kath, his rock of a wife, and their three children, this is a cricketing hero to rank with W G Grace, Jack Hobbs, Wally Hammond and Fred Trueman. A feature in the lives of all who saw him, and a very English hero. 

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State