THE BLOG

The Americanisation of British Politics

29/07/2014 11:34 BST | Updated 27/09/2014 10:59 BST

Next year, 2015, will be a big year for politics on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In the United States, we will find out if Hilary Clinton will indeed run for president. Other Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls will be knee deep in campaigning in anticipation of the primary season which will begin with the Iowa Caucus in February 2016. In the Britain, there will be a general election which will determine whether the current Prime Minister, David Cameron, will stay in office or whether he will be replaced by Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, or indeed whether the current Deputy Prime Minister, Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg, will secure enough seats in parliament to be promoted to the post of Prime Minister.

All politics is local: so goes the mantra. However, increasingly British politicians are importing aspects of American politics and in doing so are perhaps forgetting that despite the common language, American political mores are very different from those in Britain. The cultural differences between the British and American populaces are such that what works for one does not necessarily work for the other. Politicians must take all these differences into account in terms of how they address people and otherwise interact with them in order to secure coveted votes. However, despite these differences, the creep of American politics into Britain continues and perhaps the most ardent importers of Americanisms seem to be members the Labour Party. For example, the Labour Party has hired President Obama's former adviser and one of the architects behind Obama's stunning 2008 and 2012 election wins, David Axelrod, as an adviser for the upcoming general election in 2015. Recently, I was speaking with an acquaintance who is a member of the Labour Party and she remarked at Mr. Axelrod's inability to spell the Labour leader's name. She of course was referring to the episode in which Mr. Axelrod incorrectly spelt Mr. Miliband's surname on Twitter. This incident obviously caused great public embarrassment to the Labour Party and the high price tag associated with retaining Mr. Axelrod also became a topic of conversation. Despite the gaffes, Labour is sticking with Mr. Axelrod. However, will having Mr. Axelrod on the team really help Mr. Miliband achieve the same success as President Obama?

Obama's victories were just as much attributable to the candidate himself and the way he connected with voters as they were to his campaign's strategy. For example, during the 2008 election season, there were many who compared Obama's hope inspiring campaign to the 1960 campaign of America's beloved slain president, John F. Kennedy. Mr. Miliband does not seem to have the same inspirational qualities and in fact according to a recent Ipsos Mori poll, only approximately one-fifth of voters think that he is ready to be prime minister. Perhaps Mr. Axelrod and the other veterans of the Obama campaign that the Labour Party has hired might change voters' minds and convince them that yes, indeed, Mr. Miliband is ready to be prime minister.

The Labour Party is not the only party to look across the Atlantic for advisers. Another successful American political adviser, Jim Messina, Obama's 2012 campaign manager, has been hired by the Conservative Party in the lead up to the 2015 general election and will offer campaign advice to the Conservatives from the comfort of his base in the US.

In addition to the advisers, British politicians are looking to import or have imported other aspects of the American political landscape like primaries and presidential campaign style debates. In 2010, Britain held its first ever Prime Ministerial debate pitting Gordon Brown, the then Prime Minister against Conservative Leader David Cameron and Liberal Democrat Leader, Nick Clegg. To help him prepare for the debates, David Cameron hired the firm of Anita Dunn, one of the advisers who prepared President Obama for his debates during the 2008 election season. Joel Benenson, an adviser who also worked on the team that prepared President Obama for the televised debates, assisted Mr. Brown. Mr. Clegg chose to rely on homegrown talent to help him prepare for the debates.

Despite the money spent by the other two candidates on American advisers, it was Nick Clegg who benefitted the most from the exposure provided by the debates: emerging as the winner of the first and most watched debate. Overnight, Mr. Clegg became a political star. Ultimately, although the Liberal Democrats, as a third party in British politics, did not secure enough seats in parliament to make Mr. Clegg the Prime Minister, they held on to enough seats to make him a kingmaker, the individual who would decide on whether Mr. Brown or Mr. Cameron would be Prime Minister and in the process Mr. Clegg was rewarded with the Deputy Prime Minister's post in the current UK government.

American political advisers, especially ones with successful high profile campaigns under their belts, are not cheap, therefore, come the spring of 2015, even if any successes of Mr. Cameron or Mr. Miliband can attributable to Mr. Messina or Mr. Axelrod, respectively, such successes would have come with a big fat American price tag. With the last US presidential race costing $2 billion and the total cost of all 2012 US political races costing $7 billion, is the American model really a model that the British public would want their politicians to emulate?