January 17, 2008


The Scottish Obama: The link between British and American politics is less obvious than it looks (Bagehot, Jan 17th 2008, The Economist)

[P]ost-war American and British politics have indeed tended to mirror each other. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair; Reagan and Margaret Thatcher; before them, Eisenhower and Macmillan, and JFK and Wilson: the two countries' political cycles have often overlapped, and like-minded leaders (albeit less schmaltzy in Britain) have coincided. There is a longstanding transatlantic trade in tactics and policy ideas, and in consultants, pollsters and other political mountebanks. Mr Brown and his fellow New Labourites are known to have studied Mr Clinton's victorious 1992 campaign; but the phenomenon goes back at least to the influence of Nixon's 1968 advertising on the Tories. (It is not exclusively west-to-east: witness the Tory-influenced Republican attacks on Mr Clinton in 1992, and, maybe, the speech his wife made on a John Major-esque soapbox in New Hampshire.)

But the relationship is not—as some comment implies—a causal one. Mr Clinton's rise did not cause Mr Blair's; Mrs Thatcher's election did not determine Reagan's. Rather, both sets of leaders emerged from political circumstances (the cold war and its end, economic turbulence) that were themselves similar. Quite apart from the doubtful idea that in Britain posh is the new black, the main reason the latest analogies don't work is that, socially and politically, Britain and America have diverged.

To simplify, Britain has not had George Bush.

You have to be awfully parochial to imagine significant differences between Bill Clinton, W, John Howard, Stephen Harper, Kevin Rudd, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 17, 2008 5:34 PM
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