The Secret of Trump's Success (Is Not What You Think)

Simon Phillips-Hughes   |   February 16, 2016   12:34 AM ET


He has been called a racist and a fascist, has no government experience and has insulted everyone from venerated war veterans to women. Yet loathe him or love him, Donald Trump's New Hampshire win and national numbers must make him favorite for the Republican nomination. He has double-digit leads and no one else is getting close. What explains his success in the polls, and what would a President Trump mean?

Conventional wisdom (an oxymoron in any case) tells us Trump is the extreme right-wing flip-side to the anti-establishment anger also responsible for the rise of Bernie Sanders. But the truth is very different, and bodes for continuing victories, even to the general.

Spoiler alert: Trump is actually a moderate who has said some tough-guy things to get the party's right to go along with him. A sheep in wolf's clothing. A conservative in campaign style but a 'wet' in wisdom, an entrepreneur doing what entrepreneurs do best: catering to a huge gap in the market.

In this case it is the vast number of conservatives, independents and even Democrats neglected by the political consulting and lobbying industries who have pushed the parties to either extreme, and approval of Congress to single-digit lows. He is doing what the GOP should have done years ago, and he is making it look easy.

He's been labelled an 'insurgent' Wall Street right-winger but if you look at the issues Trump is as Main Street and moderate as they come. On the most electorally important issue of the economy, the candidate has said things that would be a liability for a Democrat any other year, let alone a Republican. Remarks about the ability of hedge fund managers to legally avoid taxes echo Sanders more than his GOP rivals.

Opposition to 'free trade' turns thirty five years of neo-liberal Republican orthodoxy on its head and gets the union vote. He understands something different is going on within the structure of capitalism. No wonder writers at the Weekly Standard and National Review are choking on their pens.

He's even on record as a supporter of single-payer healthcare (Republican kryptonite) and in the first debate praised the way national healthcare has worked out in the UK. His offer to repeal and replace Obamacare with something that includes all actually puts him to the left of the president; the Affordable Care Act is a measure for the working poor and excludes those making $12,000 a year or less as many Republican Governors have not allowed Medicaid to take up the slack. Yet he has been let off the hook, probably because everyone is looking for a way to decrease healthcare's ever increasing cost.

It's the same with international relations, where Trump's bombast actually defies labels of 'hawk' and 'dove'. Because the last two presidents were drawn from the ideological reaches of their parties, foreign policy in the Middle East and elsewhere has zig-zagged like a jack-knifing eighteen-wheeler and nobody likes the result.

Even proposals from moderates like Bush and Fiorina to mirror Russia's wargames would take us back to a Cold War situation which hindsight tells us nearly turned very hot, more than we were ever told at the time. Maybe, like Reagan, it is time for a leader who can deal on a personal level with the Russian leader. If Trump can do this, he could de-escalate tensions in the Gulf and Europe and kill two birds with one stone.

The one issue of immigration where Trump has aimed to 'out-conservative' the likes of Cruz and Rubio is now a priority for governments of every political stripe. Then take into account America's unusual situation of a huge land border with a second-world economy, overseen by a federal government designed not to act even when a clear majority wants it to. As a builder, he must have witnessed first-hand the effects of illegal labour on wages. In any case, his most controversial proposals to deport twelve million people and ban Muslims will be frustrated by the timeless wisdom of the US Constitution. Trump must know this. And after events in Cologne and elsewhere, maybe his most incendiary comments don't seem so far-fetched after all.

Yes, this Trump campaign is a third-party juggernaut in all but name, and it is driving right between both parties; not just their 'elites' but busybody ward captains too. It isn't an 'establishment' lane or an 'insurgent' lane, just the road traveled by many right-thinking people. So far this century voters for president in the general election have been offered a false choice between national security and economic security; false because neither has been delivered and false because they shouldn't have to choose. Now there is a credible, incredible alternative.

But with all his advantages Trump could have made a good showing in New Hampshire any year, as reform-minded crusaders Pat Buchanan did in 1996 and John McCain in 2000. So what's different this time?

As a businessman Trump should know that timing is more than half of life, and within the last twelve months two important and interrelated trends have come to a head. For the first time in memory fewer Americans now identify with either party than do, which means the 'floating voters' that actually decide the outcome of elections are now in the majority.

Secondly, high earning and low paid Americans now outnumber those in the middle income bracket. This is a shot through the egalitarianism at the heart of the American Dream, which generally excuses leaner welfare provision. Because median income has not increased and inequality has only accelerated sharply under both parties, the pocket-book voter has nowhere to turn. This is his trump card.

As importantly, Trump's personal and patriotic style, his business celebrity, private billions and mastery of mass and social media mean he can overcome the in-built disadvantage of moderate candidates, usually pilloried by outlets like Fox as 'RINOs': Republican in name only. A master marketer knows that people do not buy just because of a mix of positive features, but because a product is a leader in its category. How can he be a Republican in name only when he is the Republican front-runner?

Snooty Europeans may balk at the gold-plated name signs and nouveau-riche heraldry, but Americans warm to a character in a league of their own. Especially if he can use his power to finally upset a two-party system that is currently not even serving itself.

Obama on Climate: Yes He Bloody Well Did!

Barry Gardiner   |   February 12, 2016    5:32 PM ET

Obama came into the White House to the mantra of "Yes we can" and this weekend as he announced his final budget we can happily conclude that as far as climate change is concerned: "Yes he bloody well did!"

The problem with climate change has always been that whilst political timeframes and economic investment timeframes work on a 3-5year cycle, the planet needs a rather longer term view. That is what Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, has called the Tragedy of the Horizon: investors requiring the best possible return over the short-term at the expense of the best return over the medium and long.

Non-economists have simply called it market failure. And of course climate change is perhaps the best example of market failure that we have: individually rational, economically prudent, short-term decisions that collectively undermine the global public good.

That is why the UK Climate Change Act charged the Committee on Climate Change with the legal duty to advise government on the most cost effective pathway to achieving our long term goal of an at least 80% reduction in emissions by 2050.

Acting on long-term thinking

Last weekend, Barack Obama set a bold example of long-term thinking by announcing he plans to use his final budget as President to double U.S. spending on clean energy research by 2020. This followed his decision last week to boost investment in electric vehicles by introducing a $10 per barrel fee on oil paid by oil companies.

It used to be thought that the last year of a presidency was lame duck territory. Obama has proved that not standing for re-election can, in fact, be a tremendously liberating experience.

Courageous political leadership is precisely what is needed to deliver the low-carbon vision that world leaders agreed at COP21 last December. Obama has now given a clear signal to the markets that they need to invest in the future rather than continue to rely on the subsidies of a fossil fuelled past. The White House wants to use the budget to increase funding for research into clean energy, electric cars and battery storage. This is a dynamic boost that will carry forward the momentum from Paris and give real substance to the pledges that the U.S. brought to the conference.

The Paris Agreement is a highly significant step in tackling climate change - but a piece of paper will not save the world. It is not 'job done'. This international agreement on tackling climate change provides the mechanism to speed up and scale up climate action. Governments must now put solid resources and tough regulation behind the visionary text of the agreement. This means, a step change in investment to scale-up clean energy globally.

Bringing Paris home - or not

Obama's announcement builds on Mission Innovation, an initiative launched at COP21 where 20 countries, including the UK, pledged to double clean energy research and development investment up to 2020. This evolved out of the Global Apollo Programme, which the UK's own climate change envoy, Sir David King, launched last year to supercharge investment in clean energy research and development. In his speech to the Paris conference, David Cameron told delegates, ""Instead of making excuses tomorrow to our children and grandchildren, we should be taking action against climate change today".

But underneath this rhetoric on the world stage, the UK's domestic action is going backwards when compared to our international partners. I welcome the doubling of innovation funding by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to £500m in 2020. But Cameron must realise that this has been undermined by a swathe of spending and policy decisions that have seen investor confidence plummet in the UK's capacity to deliver regulatory stability for clean energy. This saw Britain fall out of the Top 10 of places to do low-carbon business for the first time last autumn.

George Osborne's Autumn Statement just before the Paris conference was anything but a confidence boost to the clean energy sector in the UK. In a sharp contrast to Obama's plans to pump $564 million into the development and deployment of carbon capture and storage, the UK Government withdrew all capital funding for CCS just days before COP21 began. This raised serious questions which have gone unanswered about how the UK will be able to meet its existing climate change targets - let alone uphold its obligations to ramp up ambition over time, as all countries have now agreed to do.

It used to be an article of faith held across parliament that the government should be "technology neutral" to achieve cost-effective decarbonisation. Now, just as the rest of the world is speeding up its transition to a low-carbon economy the UK government has decided to champion fossil fuels, like gas and diesel, and extremely expensive nuclear. With the government eliminating support for clean energy options, it is little wonder that the Committee on Climate Change have warned that trying to meet our climate targets without CCS could double the cost to the UK.

In another stark difference to the plans laid out by the White House, George Osborne's changes to vehicle excise duty have actually made it more expensive for drivers to choose smaller, cleaner cars that are better for our environment. Alongside such perverse tax changes, scrapping support schemes for clean energy have threatened the economic viability of renewables from windfarms to solar, where industry claims over 20,000 jobs in the UK have been lost by the government's inconsistent approach.

In fact, one of the only signs of stability in UK energy debates has been the consistently high public support for renewable energy. The latest public polling conducted by the Department of Energy and Climate Change found that only 4 out of 100 people are opposed to clean energy. What is lacking is the political commitment to low-carbon energy. How different from the U.S. where, despite vocal opposition from Republicans who fail to recognise the wide-ranging benefits of the clean energy transition to their constituents, Obama has shown a determination to prioritise climate action that is achieving far more than many thought possible.

We must hope that Obama's announcement ups the Chancellor's game for next month's Budget. As fossil fuel company share prices continue to nose-dive, and companies and pension funds begin to prioritise smart, forward-facing investments in clean energy and transport, might the UK not look to Obama's lead? How tragic if the fullest aspiration of George Osborne's Budget is to deliver himself into No.10 rather than to deliver the clean energy future that our country so badly needs.

Barry Gardiner is the Member of Parliament for Brent North, and shadow minister for energy and climate change.

Syria: History's Verdict

Robin Lustig   |   February 12, 2016    8:58 AM ET

Read More: syria, obama, russia, world, uk world

I have been granted a sneak preview of a history book due to be published in 2061. In view of the latest headlines about a 'partial cessation of hostilities' agreement in Syria, I thought you might be interested to see it, so here's an extract:

'Fifty years after the start of the uprising in Syria that led to a devastating regional conflagration, the global effects of which are still being felt, it is now possible to attempt an assessment of the world powers' catastrophic failure to prevent the disaster that was unfolding in front of their eyes.

'The question that needs to be asked is why, with so much real-time information available to them, and with the unprecedented amounts of detailed surveillance data that they were able to collect from drones and satellites, world leaders did so little to contain the conflict. Indeed, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that the actions they took fanned the flames rather than damped them down. Their faith in a succession of flimsy so-called ceasefire agreements served only to highlight the inadequacy of their response to what they all knew was a major humanitarian disaster.

'In 1920, the then British prime minister David Lloyd George said that Europe had "staggered and stumbled" into the First World War. The same could be said of the conflict that engulfed the Middle East after the start of the woefully misnamed "Arab Spring" in 2011. Regional powers, especially Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, turned Syria into a battleground on which they fought for domination, and when President Putin committed Russia's air power on the side of the Assad regime in late 2015, the table was set for a war without end.

'To understand the reluctance of the other world powers -- especially the United States and the European Union -- to take early and effective action in Syria, it is necessary to acknowledge the deep trauma suffered by Western decision-makers after their disastrous military interventions in Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003, and Libya in 2011. In each case, intervention was seen to have done more harm than good. It is no surprise, therefore, that the brief flowering of the UN doctrine known as 'the responsibility to protect' (R2P), did not survive.

'In February 2016, the Washington Post published an article headlined "Syria, already a catastrophe, seems on the verge of an uncontrollable disaster", in which it quoted the then German ambassador to the US, Peter Wittig, as saying of the refugee crisis caused by the war: "The United States has been slow to recognize this is a much bigger thing than anything else we've experienced since the beginning of the European Union ...We were totally unprepared."

'Coincidentally, on the same day, the Financial Times ran a piece by a leading Russian analyst, Dmitri Trenin, of the think-tank the Carnegie Moscow Center. After Russian warplanes had pummelled opposition positions in Syria's biggest city, Aleppo, he warned, there was a chance that both Saudi Arabia and Turkey would be tempted to commit their own troops to the war. If they did, he said, "With the US, Russia and regional powers directly involved, Syria can become the first battleground in the global competition for power and influence that has restarted after a 25-year hiatus."

'On 11 February 2016, the Russian prime minister Dimitry Medvedev, was quoted as telling a German newspaper: "The Americans and our Arab partners must think hard about [deeper Saudi military involvement in Syria] - do they want a permanent war? All sides must be forced to the negotiating table instead of sparking a new world war." The warning could not have been starker -- yet it was ignored.

'Another analyst, Julien Barnes-Dacey, of the European Council on Foreign Relations, accurately forecast the next phase of the conflict: "A central story of the Syrian conflict has been the cycle of escalations and counter-escalations in the continued pursuit of victory by both sides, and we're likely to now enter a new, equally devastating, phase."

'We now know that this is exactly what happened. Each party to the conflict committed more military resources to the battlefield in the belief that a stronger position on the ground would strengthen their hand in negotiating a political settlement. It is impossible to overstate the wrongheadedness of this approach and the incalculable cost in human suffering that it caused.

'What makes any convincing analysis of European leaders' myopia so difficult is that by 2015, the impact of the Syria crisis was affecting them directly, with hundreds of thousands of refugees from the war flooding across their borders. The net result, however, rather than encouraging them to seek a resolution of the conflict, was that they focused their energies almost exclusively on how to keep the refugees away from their borders and how to protect their citizens from what they mistakenly characterised as an existential terrorist threat. It was to prove a major error of judgement.

'The approach of the US President, Barack Obama, who had come to office on a promise to end wars, not start them, was one of extreme caution verging on paralysis. Towards the end of his eight years in the White House, he relied increasingly on his secretary of state, John Kerry, to keep alive the hope that negotiations could end the conflict. But after the inauguration of his much more hardline successor in January 2017, US military aid to the anti-Assad forces was sharply increased, resulting in turn in an increase in Russian military support for the regime and an intensification of the conflict.

'It is not as if no one saw what was coming. One of the US's most influential commentators, Tom Friedman of the New York Times, wrote in February 2016: "I am certain that Russia's President Vladimir Putin is deliberately bombing anti-regime Syrians to drive them into Europe in hopes of creating a rift in the European Union, strain its resources and make it a weaker rival to Russia and a weaker ally for America."

'The Russian analyst Dmitri Trenin wrote: "The Middle East has entered a period that will probably last a couple of decades, in which there will be little peace and a lot of fighting." He was wrong -- but only in underestimating the duration of the conflict.

'If there were an Inter-Galactic Judicial Authority -- and given the recent discovery of life forms far more advanced than ours elsewhere in the universe, such an authority may soon be established -- it would be fully justified in ruling that the political leaders on Planet Earth in the first half of the 21st century were culpably negligent in the way they mishandled the Syria crisis. The tragedy is that their successors have not shown any sign so far of learning from their mistakes. War has become the new normal.'

For the avoidance of doubt, I should clarify that the history book from which the above extract is taken has not yet been written. I wish I were more confident that it never will be.

Owen Bennett   |   February 10, 2016    7:24 PM ET

Barack Obama should open up America’s border with Mexico before giving advice to the UK on the upcoming EU referendum, former Defence Secretary Liam Fox sniped today.

The Tory MP hit back at the US President for claiming the UK needed to stay in the European Union to maintain its influence on the world stage.

Dr Fox today rebuffed President Obama’s comments, which were made last June, and even suggest the EU itself was guilty of “pernicious anti-Americanism” when it came to defence.

The Somerset North MP was one of a number of leading eurosceptics who appeared at a Brexit conference in Westminster this afternoon discussing how Britain would manage itself if the public voted to leave in referendum.

After claiming that it was Nato, not the EU, which had led to more than 60 years of peace in Europe, Dr Fox said: “The next time the American president wants to give us advice about remaining in the EU, which of course he’s free to do, he can do it when he has an open border with Mexico and a Supreme Court that can override their own Supreme Court.”

He added: “The Americans need to understand that there is a pernicious anti-Americanism in a great deal of this policy to push EU defence.

“It’s not just pushing the EU into the space, it’s pushing America out, and that is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of threat we face in the world around us.”

The event also saw Ukip leader Nigel Farage launch an attack on fellow eurosceptics who did not want to focus the Leave campaign on immigration concerns.

Paul Vale   |   February 10, 2016    4:12 PM ET

The US Supreme court blocked plans to regulate carbon emissions from American power plants on Tuesday, a blow to President Obama’s Clean Power Plan designed to cut carbon emissions by 32 percent by 2030.

The reduction in carbon emissions was a cornerstone of the US pledge made at the COP 21 climate change negotiations in Paris last December.

Unveiled by Obama in August, the plan established a target for carbon emission reductions for each state, a goal states would then be responsible for meeting by whatever means they saw fit.

However, 27 mostly Republican-led states, along with lobby groups for the coal and utilities industries, launched a legal challenge, arguing that Obama’s initiative violates individual states’ rights.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to suspend the plan until the legal challenge had been heard.

States were initially given until September 2016 to submit plans for reducing emissions. Tuesday's ruling means that deadline will now be missed, pushing any resolution beyond the end of Obama’s second term as president.

Should a Republican win the White House in November, the initiative is likely to be cancelled permanently, throwing into doubt Washington’s ability to maintain it’s international environmental commitments.

Many of the states opposing the initiative rely heavily on fossil fuels for the economic wellbeing. They argued that Obama's plan would force power plants to spend billions to comply with the reduction targets.

In response to the ruling, the White House put out a statement noting it "disagreed" with the Supreme Court's decision.

George Bowden   |   January 30, 2016   10:41 PM ET

If Obama didn't know how awkward Brits could be before, he does now.

This photograph, used to publicise the UK's new ambassador to the United States, shows our man in Washington standing bolt upright, as if incredibly uncomfortable with President Obama's physical contact.

The ceremonial picture of Kim Darroch besides the 44th President of the United States was published on Friday.

He was quickly mocked.

Yet not every ambassador being sworn in this week shared his predicament.

Darroch presented his credentials during a formal ceremony at the White House during which President Obama conferred his status.


Chris York   |   January 27, 2016    8:21 AM ET

Rest easy folks, Baracksdubs are back and this time they have surpassed themselves.

The President's latest involuntary musical incarnation sees him take on Justin Bieber's 'Sorry' - and it's everything you hoped it would be.


If you need some more of that kind of thing - and let's face it you do - then check out these...

Answering the Call to Improve America's Voting Experience

Lord Malloch-Brown   |   January 22, 2016    4:36 PM ET

Last month, President Obama delivered his final State of the Union address.

His speech focused on the nation's most pressing issues, including strengthening democracy. Before Congress, guests and the American people President Obama called for making voting easier, not harder, for all Americans.

In a little noticed part of his speech, the President made clear that one of his priorities in his final year would be to push to upgrade America's voting system and "modernize it for the way we live now." In doing so, he acknowledged that the current system is outdated, and he demonstrated a bold commitment to ensuring that the same level of daily modernity, security and convenience enjoyed by US citizens would be reflected in the manner in which they exercise one of their most treasured rights.

President Obama believes that the US can, and should, adopt a more contemporary approach to its election technology. And I couldn't agree with this proposed reform more. As chairman of Smartmatic I have seen how incorporating modern tools into a nation's election process benefits citizens and governments, and it is a practice all nations (not just the US) should adopt. Doing so makes elections more efficient, transparent, accountable and accessible from registration to voting and ultimately helps to strengthen democracy.

Among the many benefits, newer, updated systems reduce polling lines, granting more freedom to people who must leave work to vote. They allow handicapped voters to hear ballot options, voters to select language preferences, election commissions to audit polling stations, and offices to speed up ballot counting. Most important, perhaps, these systems are more secure and more reliable than the outdated machines they should replace.

Regardless of the specific technology, its benefits, and where it's adopted, the type of modern and accessible voting system called for by the President must be founded on several core principles.

Its technology must be simple and easy-to-use both by voters and polling officials alike; it must make life easier for election officials through logistical and management efficiencies; it must provide transparency to third-party validators; and it must be impenetrably secure and affordable to local election bodies and, ultimately, the taxpayer. It may sound novel, but it's not.

Today, systems like these exist and are being used successfully in select nations around the world.

Belgium, for example, adopted a system using stand-alone voting machines that use screens to provide a user-friendly voter experience. With this technology, Belgium conducted the first ever EU Parliamentary elections with paper trail in 2014, helping to ensure greater transparency.

In Brazil, during their last election two years ago, over 141 million voters elected 1,709 officials from 26,131 candidates by way of electronic voting. Doing so, resulted in its national elections registering the lowest cost per vote the country has seen in 16 years.

Belgium and Brazil represent just two of the many countries taking steps to advance efficiencies within their democracy. Adopting electronic and internet voting systems has helped numerous other countries such as the Philippines and Estonia increase voter participation, audit their elections, conduct elections efficiently and affordably and build confidence in their government.

President Obama's call shows a desire to maintain America as the indisputable innovator in democracy. The US--the country that produced Silicon Valley, Google and Facebook--cannot afford a repeat of the infamous "hanging chad" affair of 2000 as such incidents serve to undermine its democratic standing in the world.

How Obama's Changed the Game on the Tampon Tax

Laura Coryton   |   January 22, 2016   12:00 AM ET

President Obama spoke more sense about tampon tax last Friday, than any other leader has in history. During a poignant interview with YouTuber Ingrid Nilsen, the president made some important comments that convinced an extra 24,000 people to sign my 'Stop Taxing Periods. Period' petition in two days, flat. With a total of over 300,000 signatures, we are now more likely to succeed than ever before. But Obama changed the game when he introduced a new frankness to the debate that has sparked a craze to axe the tax that even he deems to be underlying sexist.

Having openly acknowledged that he knew little of tampon tax prior to Nilsen's grilling, he agreed it "fair to say" that dealing with menstruation in the only socially acceptable way possible (with the aid of sanitary products) shouldn't be considered a luxury. He even said that "Michelle would agree with [him] on that". We hope that most Americans would, too.

In admitting that he was not aware of the tax before Nilsen "brought it to [his] attention", Obama highlighted an important problem: there is a menstruation taboo that, in many countries across the world, has prevented us from talking frankly about (and even discovering) issues associated with periods. Crucially, this means we have been unable to solve those issues. Sadly, that includes tampon tax. But there's something we can do about it. In talking about the tax, and acting out against it, we're challenging the period taboo and the oppression that has subsequently silenced women and shamed them for an inevitable function of their body. We're tackling female focused shame by protesting against a female focused tax that many, like Obama, simply haven't been made aware of, leaving him previously unable to join our protest.

In his second comment, Obama dropped one of the biggest tampon tax truth bombs of all time. He said: "I have to tell you I have no idea why states would tax these as luxury items. I suspect it's because men were making laws when these taxes were passed."

We have been waiting for almost half a century for a political leader to publicly connect male agenda setting to the existence of policies such as tampon tax and finally the wait is over. Yes. There is a logic behind the taxation of tampons and the simultaneous tax exemption of maintaining private helicopters or eating exotic meats. It stems from a perception of essentiality that has come from men at the top. Sadly, these men didn't seem to view tampons with the same love as they did their taste for crocodile meat. Hence, in 1973, a male dominated parliament passed a law in the UK that enabled them to tax tampons, mooncups and sanitary products as luxury items, and exempt other, more essential goods. Women and trans men aside, all was well.

In making this short but powerful statement, Obama highlighted another very important issue that tampon tax has become a symptom of. Female political underrepresentation. When women become underrepresented in parliament, like they are in the vast majority of countries across the world, their visibility and voices suffer. Obama pointed out that this sexist tax may well have been created due to an issue that is still alive today. Women were politically underrepresented in 1973, and that undoubtedly helped the passing of tampon tax trough parliament, but the important point is that women continue to be outnumbered in Westminster, alongside other parliaments, today.

The Westminster MPs who have made a personal effort to connect with this campaign and help us to end tampon tax have been exclusively female. Even after meeting with Andy Burnham's team during the Labour leadership race, we were told that other issues had taken his focus away from tampons. Including women in politics shouldn't be a political tool to win votes. It should be a necessity of a functional parliament. Obama explained why and his words can be summed up in one simple sentence: a world-wide tax on menstruation.


Paul Waugh   |   January 20, 2016    6:22 PM ET

The Tory party spent nearly £3m on polling and strategy provided by American and Australian campaign chiefs in the last general election, new figures reveal.

In its final analysis of the 2015 election’s financing, the Electoral Commission said that the Conservatives paid £2.4m to CTF, the political strategy company run by the ‘Wizard of Oz’, Sir Lynton Crosby.

It also spent £369,000 on market research by Barack Obama’s polling guru Jim Messina, who had vowed before the campaign that he had never lost an election.

axelrod messina

David Axelrod and Jim Messina, in 2009, when they both worked for Barack Obama

The Tories’ election victory meant that Messina won his own fierce battle with former fellow Obama staffer, David Axelrod, who worked for the rival Labour party.

Axelrod, who was criticised for rarely visiting Britain during the election campaign, saw his firm AKPD paid £223,572 for its services.

Sir Lynton, who was credited with pushing the relentless focus on Labour's economic weakness and the threat of the SNP in a hung Parliament, was awarded a knighthood by David Cameron in the New Year’s Honours List in recognition of his role in winning the election.

Overall, the Commission found that the Conservatives spent £3 million more than Labour on its campaign, clocking up expenses of £15 million to their rivals’ £12 million.

Buried in the accounts is a £577 payment Labour made to hire ‘chicken suits’ used to accuse Mr Cameron of avoiding TV debates.

But the party blamed an ‘administrative error’ for failing to include receipts for its infamous ‘Ed Stone’, the list of policy pledges unveiled by Ed Miliband to widespread ridicule.

Mr Miliband unveiled the eight foot stone carving on the final weekend of the campaign, saying that it would be installed in the garden of Downing Street to remind the party to honour its six main election promises.

A party spokesman said: “Due to an administrative error these invoices were not included with other items of campaign spend. We have informed the Electoral Commission and will seek to rectify this error as soon as possible."

In the year upto polling day, the Tories massively outspent Labour on adverts with a cool £1.2m on advertising on Facebook – and £250,000 during the election campaign itself - compared to Labour’s £16,000.

However, the Conservatives’ spending on social media adverts was dwarfed by its spending on direct mail, with one firm paid more than £4 million to deliver election leaflets.

UKIP got most value for money, spending an average of 73p per vote compared to the Lib Dems’ £1.46 per vote.

Ukip also spent £10,000 on copies of Nigel Farage's book, the Purple Revolution.

Paul Vale   |   January 13, 2016    3:31 AM ET

NEW YORK -- Barack Obama used his final State of the Union address on Tuesday to mock Americans that still deny climate change, while railing against the xenophobia peddled by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

“If anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change… you’ll be pretty lonely,” Obama told the joint session of Congress in Washington.

Looking towards the Republicans in the chamber, the president said climate change deniers are “debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it."

state of the union

Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker Paul Ryan applaud President Obama during the State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016

Talking about innovation, the president invoked the Cold War space race to highlight the opportunities for building a clean energy future. "Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there," he said. "We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight, and twelve years later, we were walking on the moon."

During his hour-long speech, Obama also repudiated those accusing his administration of being soft on terrorism. Using another term for the members of the Islamic State group, he warned: “ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them. If you doubt America's commitment -- or mine -- to see that justice is done, ask Osama bin Laden."

"Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell," he added. "When you come after Americans, we go after you. It may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limit."

The address was made against the backdrop of the 2016 election race, and the spectre of Donald Trump’s populist campaign. In a rebuke to the nativism preached by the New York property mogul, who in December called for Muslims to be banned from the US, Obama said voters must "reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion."

"When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalised, or a kid bullied, that doesn’t make us safer,” he added. “That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. And it betrays who we are as a country."

“As frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into our respective tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do or share the same background," Obama continued. "We can’t afford to go down that path.”

Trump responded to the speech with his standard dismissal:

More surprising was the Republican Party's immediate response to the address, which this year was delivered by South Carolina Republican Governor Nikki Haley, widely tipped as a potential vice-presidential candidate.

Amid the standard rebukes of the president's message, Haley also gave an unsubtle admonishment to Trump. “During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices,” said the governor, who is the daughter of Indian immigrants. “We must resist that temptation. No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country."

For context, that's the Republican Party using their response to the president's address to lambast their own party's presidential frontrunner. Trump supporters responded swiftly and with bluster:

Obama's Parenting Advice

Natasha Mahtani   |   January 12, 2016    8:15 PM ET

If you're a regular on Facebook, you would have most likely come across this video where President Obama gives family/parenting advice to his interns. It's great advice. My favourite line was "If you're going to be home, be home!"

And this is something I've struggled with over the holidays. I work from home and with S being home, he'd see me on my phone often. Now I've got to be honest. On many occasions it was work but on many it was just Facebook/Instagram browsing. As a blogger I think we're even more guilty of this because Twitter and Instagram move so fast, take your eye off the ball and you'll miss something.

Over the holidays I also noticed S getting more whiney. It was most likely a combination of his age, the fact that he had no routine and not always having my full attention when we were at home.

Yesterday was his last day off and I decided we were going to have a phone free afternoon. We went down to our local high street, ran some errands and then went to Wagamama for lunch. Once we ordered our food, I engaged S in conversation by asking him what we did over the Christmas holidays and then asking him to tell me about people in his class, their names, etc. He sat down chatting to me, asked the waitress for children's chopsticks, asked her for some more water and finished all his food. I can tell you there was a huge difference in him when he had my undivided attention vs. when he didn't.

If you have to be honest with yourself, how much time do you really spend on the phone? How much of that time is really necessary? This is something I'm going to repeatedly ask myself in 2016.

This evening a friend posted an article on Facebook about being married to your phone. And as I read it, I couldn't help but nod my head in agreement. But it also made me feel sad. Since when did our phones become more important than our families? Why do spouses find it easier to message each other rather than have a simple conversation? And the worst thing is that so much is misunderstood on whatsapp/messenger/any other mode of text communication.

Last year sometime I had dinner with a friend I hadn't seen in years and half way through the meal, she takes out her phone and starts messaging someone. First she said it was her mum and she was letting her know what time she'd be home, so I gave her that. Then 5 minutes later I realised she was messaging a friend. A couple of minutes later, she takes a picture of some ratty looking bracelet on her arm to send to her friend to say "Ha! I took your bracelet when I was at yours and you didn't realise." (She told me this). A few minutes later and other guests started whispering and looking in our direction. I wasn't offended, I know I'm not a boring dinner date, but I was shocked! Why go to dinner?! It goes without saying that I haven't seen her since.

While I'm grateful for technology and the ability to stay in touch with friends who live on the other side of the world, I also believe phones are killing conversation. More importantly, I believe our children mirror us and if they constantly see us head down in our phones, it won't be long before they're doing exactly the same thing.

The next time I'm on my phone and S calls out to me, I will ask myself what's more important? "This chat/picture/status...or my son?"

This post first appeared on

  |   January 12, 2016    7:38 PM ET

Politicians! Want to know how the public see you? Why, simply type your name into Google followed by the word "is"!

Yes, we've been doing just that - and while there's a lot of " an idiot" (and worse), there are a few surprising results, too. Did you know, for example, that some people wonder if Donald Trump is Batman? Or that many Brits have strange (although not unreasonable) ideas about Danny Alexander?

From British MPs - and former MPs - to foreign leaders, take a look at our screenshots below to see how these politicians are perceived by the Googling public...

The Happy Face of Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo

Liza Bel   |   January 11, 2016    9:16 PM ET

"Goma is seen as a place with no life, where everyone is in desperate need of foreign aid; a place in need of pity", tells me Arsène Tungali. This 25-year old is fresh out of his Young African Leaders Initiative training in Washington - Obama's flagship program where a selected few from across the African continent are chosen yearly to learn what it takes to lead their countries towards positive change in a sustainable, responsible way.

Back in his native Goma, a city on the Eastern boarder of the Democratic Republic of Congo, ravaged by civil wars and refugee crisis following the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda, escape is not on his mind but a master plan of how to reverse the negative trajectory of the young population of his hometown.

With the YALI program opening doors, Arsène is travelling the world, building the network of like-minded game changers, yet Goma is always on his mind. "I miss the people, the hardworking mother on the corner of my street, the vibrancy of the city especially on the main road: you hear different types of music everywhere, from small shops to cars with open windows. Despite everything, Goma people will always show you a smile on their face."

When I arrived in Goma for the first time in GPS-tracked 4x4 jeeps, reassuring my mother that security measures were monitored on the highest level, I was anticipating a UN-patrolled ghost town. Little did I expect to be gripped by the energy of this place, sandwiched between a majestic Nyiragongo volcano and the breathtaking silky blue of the Lake Kivu.

This city charges you with its truly unique landscape, its youthful, vibrant atmosphere and passionate people who are keen to step out of the difficult past like a lizard out of its old skin. Arsène is one of many inspirational people who I met during my stays in Goma that prove that one individual can bring about change - a phenomenon slowly dying out on our side of the world.

"Growing in an unstable region has given me the kind of courage no one can imagine. I have witnessed poverty, killings, murder, destruction and all those consequences of war, which has led some of my pairs to lose hope. Most of them have decided to do nothing but I have had the opportunity to think differently. I am driven by a big desire because I don't want to see my kids and future generations live in the same situation like the one we grew up in. I always work hard so that I don't have to be asked by my kids Dad, what have you done to change things around you? and have no answer"

Community outreach programs and forums where future leaders exchange ideas are some of the most common projects that young people set up to drive change. In 2011, Arsène started an organization called Rudi International after vising a school where he asked children How do you see your future? and seeing confusion on their faces. They give to primary and secondary kids the opportunity to go to school by paying their school fees and supporting them with various developing after school activities and camps.

Building the future for its youthful population is at the heart of Goma's current development and not only through empowerment projects but also culture initiatives. Festivals, dance competitions, art galleries and youth centres created by locals and international organisations are spreading across the city as mushrooms, building on the creative talent of the city. Even musicians from the capital, Kinshasa, cannot ignore the youthful fan base of Goma. The lively spirit, perfect antidote too all the stereotypes, is captured in this Goma-produced version of Pharrell Williams "Happy"

Despite the absence of roads and western-type infrastructures, Goma isn't a place that requires pity, if anything it is an inspiration and a reminder of the force of the human spirit. I almost don't believe I'm writing this but Goma is a happy place, and I'm yet to unlock the puzzle of this mystery. Perhaps it's the vitality of people there, particularly the younger generations, like Arsène who make us, the sulking Europeans preoccupied with "first world problems", feel like there is a greater purpose in life.

"Young people in African countries are driving change and I can say there is hope for the future. So many of those I have worked with are tired of and are against the way things are being managed by current leaders, and are eager to work differently when they will be taking power. I am optimistic that in the next 20 years or so, Africa will look differently because so many positive plans of actions are being developed by the younger generation today."

The optimistic speak is right off the Young African Leaders Initiative handbook - the skill of talking about the future of the African continent with this fluid confidence. It seems like Arsène has mastered both worlds - a youth leader in his community and an ambassador of his people to the rest of the world. The more I meet people like him through my work across the continent, the more I realise that this dormant volcano of young initiative and passion will erupt soon and change our perceptions of the African continent.

How did it feel sitting 5 feet away from President Obama and listening to his speech, I ask Arsene. "It helped me understand that everything is possible and that nothing should prevent me from reaching my dream. There is hope."