[Last night Hillary Clinton finally conceded defeat and endorsed Barack Obama's campaign for the US presidency]
There’s something of Gordon Brown in Hillary Clinton. Hard-faced, stubborn, aloof, poor speaking skills, rampant personal ambition hidden for years within the shadow of a more attractive, charismatic partner.
If Clinton had won the Democratic Party nomination, Gordon Brown might now be taking some comfort from the fact that, even with an electorate desperate for change, experience and a safe pair of hands can still win through. But instead Clinton, thanks to a combination of arrogance and ineptitude, now finds herself facing a political wilderness. Brown should learn from her mistakes.
This was a battle between the new generation, carrying no baggage from the past, and the old school, with the previous headmaster still on board. A few months ago the polls suggested Clinton could win by a landslide. There were many reasons for her failure, aside from the general incompetence of her campaign advisers.
Bill was a major factor, a loose cannon roaring around the primaries taking cheap shots at his wife’s opponent. He suggested Obama lied over Iraq, and outrageously played the race card, hinting he could only win because of his colour.
Even when Bill was brought under control (largely by being muzzled altogether) Hillary was brought down by her own mistakes and inadequacies. America won’t easily forgive the lie of the sniper bullets she didn’t face in Bosnia. On stage, she appeared wooden and her smile looked false. Worst of all, she made a series of mean personal attacks against America’s first credible black candidate. She thought she was being strong and uncompromising. But Americans don’t like their women to look tough and mean, so she ended up looking plain nasty against a family man with a naturally friendly demeanour.
Even in defeat, she appears not to have completely given up hope. She’s only “suspended” her campaign, giving Obama her endorsement, but not yet her 18 million voters. Perhaps she wants to trade them for the vice-presidency, or maybe she’s waiting for some terrible Obama slip-up between now and the election. It’s true that Obama needs to win over the women and the lower middle class white voters who voted for Clinton and who could easily cross over to McCain. But Hillary overestimates her own power and influence, and has done so from the start.
To many Americans, Barack Obama represents a break from the past. He’s offering a new style of government unencumbered by old dogma. Tony Blair did this eleven years ago. David Cameron is trying to hitch his wagon to the same star. But there the similarity ends.
Obama actually has policies. If Cameron has any, he’s not sharing them with us. Obama looks trustworthy and believable. By contrast, Cameron looks smarmy – his face looks as though it were made out of dough. Cameron is old Tory, true and blue. Just take a look at his “webcameron”, which on Friday launched a new initiative, “Cameron Direct”. It brings the party leader straight to your door, or, rather, to a village hall near you, stuffed full of Tory supporters asking pre-prepared questions leading to pat, rehearsed answers. Despite his “Direct” approach, Cameron looks just as out of touch with real people as Brown – you can almost smell the expensive aftershave through your computer screen. And just as Obama will have huge problems persuading working class white Americans to put away their prejudices at the ballot box, so it’ll take a lot for working class Brits to put Mr Smarmy into Number Ten. Even if the alternative is indecisive, stubborn old Mr Gloomy.
Cameron is young, but he is no Obama. So Brown should start heeding the lessons of the Clinton failure. Take nothing for granted; listen to the people; get some social and speaking skills; tell the truth. And learn how to smile.