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  1. Election 2024
8 November 2008

Two elections a world apart

The world was gripped by the election of Barack Obama, while the Glenrothes by-election demonstrated

By Martin Bright

The comments of Trevor Phillips in this morning’s Times about the difficulty Barack Obama would have encountered in the British political system are timely. His words chime with Hazel Blears’s views on the UK political class earlier in the week.

There is no doubt that the British political system remains dominated by white middle class men (as indeed does the US system). There was the usual sense of righteous indignation from Ed Stourton at the BBC that anyone should suggest there was a structural problem with prejudice within institutional structures. But Phillips was making an important point. It was striking, for instance, in watching the woeful BBC coverage of the US election, just how many white, male presenters, experts and pundits were used, including those invited from the United States. As I flicked back and forth between the BBC and the American networks it was amazing how diverse the US channels were.

Glenrothes was a great victory for Gordon Brown. No doubt about that. Whether it will turn out to be good for Labour in the long run is another matter. When you catch a Labour backbencher wishing Labour would lose to teach Brown a lesson and hear people around the trade union movement expressing concerns about the Brownite stranglehold on opinion, it’s clear all is not well. The party is now stuck with Brown, whether it likes it or not. Cameron lost his temper at Prime Minister’s Questions this week, but he was right that Labour had made its strategic choice and now had to stick with it. He was also right to point out the symbolic significance of bringing back Peter Mandelson, a character so redolent of the past. If Brown brings back Blunkett in the new year, he may as well bring back Blair himself.

No one in the leadership of the two major parties can really represent themselves as the representatives of the new post Bush-Blair era because, unlike Obama, they supported the war. The political landscape in Britain remains as bleak as a rainy November morning. Collectively, we are suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder.

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