From Bloomsbury to Barack

October 27, 2008 at 2:11 pm / by

I’ve written my first article for the Ham&High about my trip to the US where I will be observing the presidential elections.

It looks like their website hasn’t been updated yet but I’ll scan the article in later today. For now, here’s the text of the article-

“I don’t think there will be a woman Prime Minister in my lifetime” – Margaret Thatcher, BBC interview, 1973

Thatcher was wrong. Change in politics is created when there is a build up of momentum, a desire for a fresh start or a new direction and the Obama campaign has shown the world that many Americans do want a change. But when it really comes to punching the chad, will they vote for Obama? If nothing, I am blunt (just ask my family) so I’ll cut to the chase – are Americans really ready to have a black President in the White House? And let’s not ignore the section of black voters who think that he is just pretending to be ‘Barack from the block’ when in reality he is ‘a white man in blackface.’

At the end of the day we live in a global world which is interconnected. The nature of the world means that the US elections will have an impact on the UK especially for people like me who work in British politics. This is why I’ve decided to use my precious annual leave from work to fly to Ohio and volunteer for Barack Obama’s campaign there, later this month. I leave on the 30th of October and I’ll be there till election day (4th November) and I have been told that I will be working 20 hour days, but frankly, this is an opportunity of a lifetime.

So what if I have to spend five nights in a sleeping bag, survive on take away and queue for hours for a cold shower; it is still the most exciting election of my lifetime and I can’t wait to be at the heart of action during a week when the whole world will have their eyes on America, especially in Ohio, which is a swing state and no Republican President has ever won the election without winning Ohio.

Believe me, I’m not under any illusions – I know that my experience won’t echo the “West Wing” in any way, shape or form. For those of you who are not familiar with campaigning, it involves stuffing envelopes, entering data on enormous spreadsheets, phoning residents while the football is on and knocking on people’s doors on a Saturday morning. It’s a glamorous life, I tell you! But if it helps to get Obama elected, it will all be worth it.

There seems to be a few common assumptions/views in the public discourse in the UK about the American elections and I’m going to test these assumptions while I’m out there. Firstly, as I’ve already mentioned, a lot of people are firm in their belief that White America is not receptive to Obama. Secondly, there is a view that Sarah Palin only appeals to a certain group of people and thirdly, that the key deciding factor in this election lies within economic policy. (Of course there is a group of people who are adamant that Joe Wurzelbacher is the real deciding factor but let’s leave those people for my next column…)

As well as bringing back campaigning tips to the UK, I wanted to go because I wanted to be part of a ‘positive message’ campaign – I think people worldwide are looking for something more from their leaders than being able to beat and outwit their opponents in debates. The ‘change’ and ‘hope’ messages of the campaign really resonate with me as a young person, a woman and someone who is interested in what goes on in the world.

Of course, real and pragmatic policies are essential, and I believe Obama has those, in addition to his charisma and leadership qualities. If he is elected, I, along with the rest of the world, will be closely following his economic policies, his heath care plan, his foreign policy and his stand on immigration and I hope he will continue to combine being a realist without losing sight of his vision; his idealism is key to the change he wishes to instigate. I want to be a part of this change.

Of course I’m not denying that this election campaign has had an abundance of personal attacks on the candidates and I’m keen to find out what people’s attitudes are to this type of negative campaigning and propaganda. As discussed in the third and final presidential debate between McCain and Obama at Hofstra University last week, Obama’s campaign described the Republican candidate as being erratic, angry and claimed that he was ‘losing his bearings’. McCain’s campaign took this mudslinging one step further by calling Obama dangerous and the highly informed Sarah Palin famously stated that he ‘palled around with terrorists’. In this debate Obama also accused McCain of running a campaign where 100 per cent of his ads have been negative. I’m intrigued to find out whether the American voters in Ohio disapprove of these ads or whether it actually has an impact on their vote.

I’ve checked the weather forecast in Ohio for the first week of November and it looks like I’m going to have to swap my high heels for some thick soled boots which will naturally be purple. What?! Just because Maggie wore boring clothes doesn’t mean I have to…..unlike her, I intend on giving politics a makeover.