By Gerry Bill
Manchester, U.K.—Observing the U.S. election from British soil was a new experience for me, and it turned out to be much more exciting to watch things from this side of the pond than I would have imagined. I was surprised to see the degree to which the Brits were obsessed with the campaign and with the eventual outcome of the election. One Labour Party activist told me she could not sleep at all Tuesday night while awaiting the results, which were not available until about 5 a.m. in the morning U.K. time.
For the week leading up to the election it dominated the news in the United Kingdom, typically being the lead story both in the papers and the television news. Then, on election night, the BBC provided special live coverage of the results from about midnight until about 9 a.m., crowding out most of the U.K. news. I hadn’t dreamed that so many Brits would stay up all night on pins and needles awaiting the outcome of a U.S. election. The U.S. media certainly do not cover the U.K. elections with that kind of fervor.
Obama’s victory became a huge story in the United Kingdom. Romney’s concession speech was broadcast live, as was Obama’s victory speech. The front pages of the papers had giant pictures of Obama on stage with Michelle and their daughters, in some cases taking up more than half the front page. Inside all the papers there were 10–20 pages of background and analysis. This went on for a couple of days after the election.
The British take on the outcome was also quite interesting to me. All the papers and virtually all the pundits—left, right and center—attributed Obama’s victory to his support among women and non-White voters. The consensus was that Romney’s fatal flaw was relying too much on the White male vote while at the same time alienating almost everyone else.
Spokespeople for the three main parties here—the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, which are in the ruling coalition, and Labour, which is in opposition—all said that changing demographics in the United States mean that no future candidate can hope to achieve victory without a much broader appeal to women and minorities than Romney had mounted. The demographics in the United Kingdom also are changing, so all three parties here are looking at how not to repeat Romney’s mistakes.
Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron is said to be secretly delighted that Obama won. Even though he is a conservative by British standards, he joked that in the United States he would be considered a socialist, much as Obama is often (wrongly) accused of being a socialist. Cameron has developed a close relationship with Obama, and he was put off by Romney’s visit to the United Kingdom earlier this year. Romney had insulted the Brits while over here by claiming that they were ill prepared to carry out a successful Olympics. Actually, the Olympics went quite smoothly and the Brits are proud of their accomplishment; Romney came off looking like a pompous fool.
Cameron is pleased with Romney’s defeat for another reason as well. He is facing pressure to move further to the right from a faction in his own party called the Conservative Voice. They are the British equivalent to the Republican Tea Party in the United States. The defeat of Romney, as well as of some prominent Tea Party–backed Republicans, in this election will help insulate Cameron from attacks by his own right flank, and he is happy about that.
My experience in the United Kingdom during the week after the election was that everyone greeted me with a grin and said something like “How about that election?” Even though Romney did have his supporters over here, they are clearly in the minority. Romney, despite his last minute move toward the center, was too far to the right for most Brits, even a lot of the more conservative ones.
There are lots of smiles here on this side of the pond, including a smile on my face. Seeing things through British eyes helped me to appreciate how much this election was really about race and gender, and the real victors, more than anything else, seem to have been inclusiveness and diversity.
Gerry Bill is emeritus professor of sociology and American studies at Fresno City College. He is on the boards of the Fresno Free College Foundation, Peace Fresno, the Fresno Center for Nonviolence and the Eco Village Project, and is co-chair of the Central California Criminal Justice Committee. He was in the United Kingdom from Oct. 24 through Nov. 12 of this year.