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21 July 2008

Obama, Brown and the Commentators

A brief round-up of the Sunday commentariat

By Martin Bright

For some time now there has been a triumvirate of must-read Sunday political commentators: Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer, Matthew D’Ancona in the Sunday Telegraph and John Rentoul in the Independent on Sunday. (I’m talking here about the straight Westminster-focused columnists, rather than other more free-form Sunday voices such as Nick Cohen, Catherine Bennett, Simon Jenkins or Suzanne Moore.

Until recently, the Sunday Times was somewhat lacking in the hard politics department. So the introduction of Martin Ivens was something of an inspired decision (by none other than the paper’s deputy editor Martin Ivens). It’s nearly a year now since he took over and he’s really getting into his stride.

This weekend’s column on Obama and British politics was timely.
Ivens thinks those who critcise his bland approach are missing the point:

“The senator’s neo-conservative critics don’t find him funny at all. Charles Krauthammer, the influential columnist, takes aim at the royal “we” in Obama’s slogan, “We are the ones we have been waiting for”, his narcissism and “the gaps between his estimation of himself and his actual achievements”. Having been in a live audience for Obama’s rolling cadences, I can understand Krauthammer’s frustration but feel he misses the point.

“There is a kinship here with the youthful Tony Blair – he of the verbless sentences – who also mouthed platitudes in quasi-religious language. A high moral tone may set the teeth of the worldly wise on edge, but it appeals to an audience that yearns for inspiration, not shop-soiled poli-ticking. Obama offers redemption from America’s original sin, racial inequality.”

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The Labour Party has been slow to wake up to the Obama phenomenon, not least because many of its senior politicians (including Gordon Brown) were sentimentally attached to the Clinton project. As David Lammy has argued in these pages, Labour must quickly learn the message of hope or risk obliteration.

John Rentoul also wrote about Obama this weekend. He too quoted Krauthammer on Obama: “His most memorable work is a biography of his favourite subject: himself.” Rentoul argues that Obama must move quickly in power to distance himself on an unsustainable position on US withdrawal from Iraq. I’m not sure I agree, but it is certain that Obama is moving swiftly to the right on Iran, Israel as well as domestic issues such as gun control and the death penalty. So he may find it necessary to shift on Iraq.

D’Ancona and Rawnsley chose to concentrate on the economy. In the Sunday Telegraph, D’Ancona suggests that the government’s decision to rewrite its own rules on borrowing marks the effective end of the Brown era. In essence, Andrew Rawnsley
agrees. “There is a persuasive argument that it is right not to crucify the economy, taxpayers and public services on rules drawn up more than a decade ago,” he says. “But that won’t stop his opponents grabbing their hammers to use this as another cross of his own making on which to nail Gordon Brown.” Ouch.

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