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Bruce Anderson

Bruce Anderson: What do the American elections tell us about British politics? That is easy to answer: nothing.

It is so frustrating. In his first four years, Barack Obama did nothing to justify his re-election. I remember a conversation with Margaret Thatcher in the late Eighties, in which I suggested that there was a paradox in her relationship with Ronald Reagan. Given his inability to grasp detail, she would have been unlikely to appoint him to her government, even in a lowly capacity. "Ron may not understand detail" she replied: "he does understand the principles necessary for the restoration of American greatness".

No-one could accuse Mr Obama of that. During the past four years, he has often given the impression that he neither understands his country nor likes it. There is one crucial unwritten item in the American Bill of Rights: "That each and every American shall have the right to work his or her butt off, and keep a goodly proportion of the proceeds". The current President does not seem to realise that America was built on work, not on welfare: on free enterprise, not on high taxes.

Mitt Romney knows all that, but he could never articulate it. The man has a political tin ear and his tongue often clunked. There was a good example on his London visit, just before the Olympics. Everyone on the British side who was involved with the Games did not need to be told that it could all go wrong. They knew that. It had been giving them sleepless nights for weeks, if not months. When they did slip from exhaustion into sleep, it was often to nightmares. They wanted reassurance; they needed cheering up. Instead along comes this clutz to spread gloom: the most defeatist American in London since Ambassador Joseph Kennedy. What a dork.

Mr Romney would have been better in the White House than he was as a candidate - which would not have been hard. He might actually have been a thoroughly good President: the economy mechanic whom the US urgently needs. This election was his to lose. So what did he do? He lost it. Such a damnable failure of political competence and duty deserves the treatment he once meted out to his dog: to be shut in a cage, put on the car roof and driven for several hundred miles.

It is too early to ponder the longer-term consequences (for politics, that is: not the dog). But the Republicans do have one structural problem: the Hispanics. Most Hispanics arrived in the States with family values and the wish to work hard. They do not want to pay high taxes; they do want to prevent their kids from being sucked into the criminal ghetto. So they ought to be willing to listen to the Republicans. Yet there are two problems. First, as Sam Huntington pointed out, previous immigrants committed themselves to the US by the arduous and expensive process of crossing an ocean. They had little choice except to climb into the melting pot. Mexicans merely had to cross a border. They do not have to melt. The question is still open: do they want to assimilate to the US, or do they want to turn it into North Mexico?

The second problem is related. Mexicans usually want to make it easy for fellow-Mexicans to come to the States. That gives the Republicans a dilemma. How can you woo the ones who are already in while trying to keep the rest out? That awkward question will have to be answered before the next Presidential election.

A further point is bound to be raised. What do the US Elections tell us about British politics? That is easy to answer. Nothing. As most political obsessives in this country also have American allegiances, there is a tendency to search for parallels. This should be resisted. It would be as fatuous as trying to assess the England Test side's chances in India by referring to a recent baseball game. The systems are too different.

Finally, one desirable outcome. Everyone now seems convinced that the Bishop of Durham, Justin Welby, is about to become Archbishop of Canterbury. If so, that is excellent news for the Church of England, and for the national life of this country, which needs a strong Church. Dr Welby is able, spiritual, immensely likeable - and tough. If the poor, bewildered, rudderless C of E can still be led and made shipshape, he is the right captain. The new Archbishop will not be an easy partner for the Government: nor should he be. Justin Welby's Church of England is a long way from the Tory party at prayer. His political views owe a great deal to the Sermon on the Mount.

Archbishop Welby will speak with authority. He will offer clarity and inspiration. All readers who believe in prayer should include the Archbishop in their petitions, for he will need all the help he can get. But let us hope: cometh the hour, cometh the man.


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