Michelle Obama and the Americanization of the Britain General Election

By Quinn, Ben | The Christian Science Monitor, April 6, 2010 | Go to article overview

Michelle Obama and the Americanization of the Britain General Election


Quinn, Ben, The Christian Science Monitor


Prime Minister Gordon Brown dissolved parliament today and set the country on course for a raucous and unusual campaign ahead of the Britain general election on May 6. As candidates jockey, signs of political Americanization abound.

Michelle Obama's popularity hasn't gone unnoticed by British political spin-doctors. Well before Prime Minister Gordon Brown fired the starting gun Tuesday for the Britain general election campaign, the wives of both the Labour and Conservative leaders had been playing increasingly important roles designed to enhance their partners' appeal to voters. The unprecedented importance of political spouses - Tory leader David Cameron calls his wife Samantha his "secret weapon" - is just one of the ways in which the campaign resembles a US presidential election like none before.

Like a political version of the WWII film The Americanization of Emily, in which a roguish James Garner plies English rose Julie Andrews with pilfered US chocolate and nylons, Britain's politicians are reaching across the Atlantic to woo voters. Tactics and strategies include the use of Obama-style Internet campaigning to harness grassroots activists, negative campaigning offensives which target specific personalities, US-style presidential debates -- and political consultants on both sides who assisted the successful 2008 Obama campaign. The focus on personalities demonstrates how British general elections have started to resemble presidential-style races rather than battles between competing power blocs, even though there is clear blue water between both of the main parties on economic issues in this campaign. Why the change? UK voters want it that way. "This is the first election where the individual leaders have actually been as high as the policies in terms of priorities identified by voters," says Roger Mortimore, Head of Political Research at pollsters Ipsos MORI.

Charisma matters

No surprise then that the Tories have been hammering away at Brown, as woefully lacking the charisma and communication skills of his predecessor, Tony Blair. Mr. Brown's wife, Sarah, has been playing a key role in efforts to humanize the Labour Party leader's often distant and dour image, introducing him at last year's Labour Party conference as "My husband, my hero." Formerly a formidable public relations executive who chose to focus on her family and charity work after marrying Brown, her public profile has grown over the past year while her one million plus followers on the social networking site Twitter amount to six times the membership of the Labour party. Conservative activists are hoping that her success can be emulated by Samantha Cameron, the creative director of a luxury goods company and blue-blooded descendant of King Charles II. The postures, pronouncements and - most of all the clothes - worn by both women have become permanent daily fixtures of press coverage, something which both Cameron and Brown seem to be in no hurry to stop. Why? The answer may be the crucial importance all parties are attaching to female voters, a demographic who favored Labour in the past two elections but who currently back the Conservatives in polls by 37 points to 29.

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