Can Britain Elect Its Own Barack Obama?

  • One week ago, the U.S. reached a milestone of electing a black president; could Britain match this achievement and elect a black Prime Minister? Opinions vary. Trevor Phillips, head of Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission, told The Times: “If Barack Obama had lived here I would be very surprised if even somebody as brilliant as him would have been able to break through the institutional stranglehold that there is on power within the Labour Party…The parties and unions and think-tanks are all very happy to sign up to the general idea of advancing the cause of minorities but in practice they would like somebody else to do the business. It’s institutional racism.”
  • MP Adam Afriyie, who, like Obama, is biracial, concurs that there are institutional barriers to a black Prime Minister: “In the U.S. a fresh face like Obama can make it in one electoral cycle. In Britain it’s generally a gradual process of service and promotion over many years, and often decades, before leading a political party. An MP needs to get within an electable distance of the leadership of their party and that usually means a successful stint in Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet.”
  • Alex Orr of The Herald says, “The prospect of a British Obama seems plausible, given the racial mix in London alone. But differences between Britain and America explain why it may take a while, and why it may take even longer in Scotland. Only 8% of Britons are non-white, and the percentage in Scotland, at 2%, is even less, whereas blacks on their own account for 12% of the American population.” Plus, “Mr. Obama has broad appeal partly because he tries to make race less, not more, of an issue. British multiculturalism, with its emphasis on differences, may make things harder for this kind of post-racial politician.”
  • 93 percent of Britons would vote for a black leader, polls reveal.(Telegraph)
  • The Guardian‘s Linda Colley adds faith and gender to the discussion: “To appreciate the diversity on show in [the 2008 U.S.] campaign, one has only to glance at the state of British politics. Benjamin Disraeli, Margaret Thatcher, and John Major were able to become prime minister despite the obstacles of being, respectively, Jewish by birth, female, and minus a university degree – but at present the Westminster system does not appear strikingly productive of diversity at the very top. No UK party seems to possess a non-white MP of Obama’s caliber. Post-Thatcher, the female candidates who have stood in leadership elections for the three main political parties have been dismally few in number and not overwhelming in talent; and if the Conservatives win the next general election, the proportion of women in the Commons, like the proportion of non-whites, will almost certainly decline.”
  • Desiree Weston of Britain’s The Voice says odds of a black leader in Europe are low: “When will Europe have its own Barack Obama? For now, most would say no time soon. The number of ethnic minorities in mainstream politics across Western Europe is diminutive. In the UK, only 15 of the 646 parliamentary seats are held by a person of color. Out of the top three UK political parties, only the Conservative party has an Asian female, Sayeed Warsi, in a cabinet position. Across Western Europe the figures are just as bleak. ”
  • 22-year-old Lewis Iwu, the first black president of Oxford University’s Student Union is more optimistic, “There are barriers but that should not stop you from going for it. I think Obama is a massively inspirational man and last week gave us all an incredibly symbolic moment. A lot of people were moved by it in Britain, but to have a success like that over here would really give the country a massive boost for generations to come.”(Daily Mail)
  • The Daily Mail‘s Derek Laud, a black former candidate for Parliament himself, looks at some of the black politicians Britain has produced – and the struggles they faced.
  • Madonna‘s “12 rules” for Guy Ritchie when he’s looking after the kids. Sample: “All water [the children] drink, even when it is to dilute organic juice, should be Kabbalah water (mountain spring water blessed by leaders of the Kabbalah religion she follows.”(Daily Mail)
  • Michelle Ryan steps out au naturale and actually looks…great. (Daily Mail)
  • Amy WInehouse trades in her beehive for a Jewfro.(The Sun)
  • Mark Wahlberg didn’t find Kate Moss attractive when they did those Calvin Klein ads back in 1992: “She kind of looked like my nephew. I mean she’s beautiful – she’s a very pretty nephew – but I’m more into curvy women.”(The Sun)
  • Which British and Aussie actors have the most convincing American accents? (Boston.com)

Kevin Wicks

Kevin Wicks founded BBCAmerica.com's Anglophenia blog back in 2005 and has been translating British culture for an American audience ever since. While not British himself - he was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri - he once received inordinate hospitality in London for sharing the name of a dead but beloved EastEnders character. His Anglophilia stems from a high school love of Morrissey, whom he calls his "gateway drug" into British culture.

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