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Entrepreneurs Panel

Laura Tenison
Michael Oliver
Julie Meyer
Richard O'Sullivan
Brian Hay
David Pollock
Charlie Mullins
Debbie Pierce
Jennie Johnson
Tony Caldeira
Jeremy Roberts
Steve Purdham

Barack to the future

Did you tire of television reporters finding ever more extravagant ways to express their ill-disguised pleasure at the election of Barack Obama?

Don't get me wrong – 150 years after slavery and only 40 years since segregation the election of a black President of the United States is an historic event. The campaign inspired America's ethnic minorities, many of whom still believed that the democratic process was not for them.

It also had millions of young people queuing to vote. Oh for that in Britain.

Two things worry me about the euphoria surrounding Barack Obama's victory. One is the media coverage and the other, more substantial, issue is the dangerously high level of expectation that now surrounds the President-elect.

On the matter of the media, I don't subscribe to the view that most journalists are inveterate liberals, although the desire to expose, question and campaign attracts some people with a radical mindset to the profession.

Journalists (particularly on TV) should and normally do suppress their personal views. But there was no disguising the glee of the army of BBC and other journalists who decamped to the States as they reported Obama's march to power.

It was a colourful story, and an outcome that will lead to an intriguing narrative as the new President takes up office. A victory for John McCain, even with the moose-shooting Sarah Palin at his side, would not have filled the column inches weeks after the event in the same way Obama's triumph has.

Turning to the euphoria surrounding the new President, we need to remember that Barack Obama is a one-term senator. He has achieved little except winning elections. Almost as soon as he got into the Senate in 2004 he was plotting his path to the White House.

This does not mean he won't do a good job, but his call for change has now got to be matched by concrete measures in office. Jack Kennedy rode to power in 1960 on a similar wave of euphoria, but it needed Lyndon Johnson's knowledge of Congress to get through the anti-race laws from which Obama has benefited.

Internally he has appointed the experienced Tom Daschle to implement something like our National Health Service. A similar task defeated Hillary Clinton.

Now let's turn to the policies likely to have more impact on us. How is Obama going to deal with his country's economic meltdown and with the Bush legacy abroad? A debate is raging about how protectionist Obama is going to
be.

Gordon Brown has made clear his view that it is vital that countries don't retreat into isolationism to solve the global financial crisis. Whilst it would be fanciful to suggest that Obama would contemplate such a move, he has been critical of the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement.

One of his biggest challenges is going to be the American car industry. Now which other country comes to mind that had a motor industry which had lost its customers but was bailed out by the government?

Surely Obama is not going down the route of Britain in the seventies? But he could find it difficult to wriggle out of his “something must be done” rhetoric.

On the world stage, the main priority is to restore respect for America. The appointment of Hillary Clinton is magnanimous, but not without risk. I can't imagine Bill will want to stay at home twiddling his thumbs...

Will we finally see the establishment of a full Palestinian state? It will require the full attention of the new President and his Secretary of State and courage to stand up to influential opponents. But if you can't do it when you have a fresh mandate, when can you deliver?

Hopefully the withdrawal from Iraq will not be the momentous event it once threatened to be. More problematic is the situation in Afghanistan where Obama has pledged to invest more American troops. And what happens if the Pakistani Government is destabilised by fundamentalists?

We may have a Roosevelt on our hands, but the challenges are massive and the wide-eyed reporters need to calm expectations.

 

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