A presidential distraction

By Alex Stevenson

MPs have a healthy sense of their own importance in the general scheme of things and are often, as a result, uninterested by anything happening outside British politics. Barack Obama’s inauguration proved an exception to the rule.

The House of Commons was busy debating the financial emergency as Mr Obama swore his oath of office in Washington DC.

And, while several MPs dutifully made their points in the chamber, attention in the Palace of Westminster was most definitely elsewhere.

Tory veteran Sir Patrick Cormack brushed aside politics.co.uk‘s advances as he strode to watch the inauguration address. On his return he was deeply pleased with what he had seen.

“That was an extraordinarily powerful, moving speech,” he said. “It was not just directed at the millions gathered in Washington but to a much wider audience. It was an assertion of leadership.

“We must hope and pray that he succeeds. We have to build a strong friendship with this man and must try to move forward.”

Move forward from what, Sir Patrick? “Parochial strife” was the tactfully-worded reply.

Fellow Conservative John Hayes was just as complimentary, praising the United States’ 44th president for his commitment to the “politics of hope” rather than the “dull utilitarianism” commonplace to politics.

“What Obama got right was to inject into his rhetoric an optimistic integrity which chimed with the heart of the American dream,” he explained.

“When we have a reductionist approach to politics. people switch off. The question now is: can Barack Obama turn this rhetoric into reality?”

Labour MP Katy Clark agreed there was a “huge amount of hope” placed on Mr Obama’s shoulders by the “wildly enthusiastic” American people.

“For millions of American people, it is their dream come true. I think it will mean a huge amount to ethnic minorities – even here, in Britain.”

When asked about US-UK relations and the prospects for a flourishing special relationship, her comments were tinged by regrets about the previous eight years under George Bush.

“Unfortunately the British government has prioritised good relations at the cost of content in previous years,” she added.

Conservative Greg Knight, perhaps looking ahead to after the next general election, offered some soothing words in response.

“They’ll always be a special relationship – even with a Democratic president and a Conservative prime minister.

“We share a common language, history and an interest in seeing democracy prevail around the world. Although to some extent it does ebb and flow, it will always be there.”

The Liberal Democrats’ Bob Russell made clear he will not be missing the previous White House administration.

He said Mr Obama “follows the worst president anybody can recall so he starts with a huge advantage”.

“He cannot be anywhere as bad as George W. Bush, but with it come expectations which may be beyond him or anyone else.

“He has the best wishes of the entire world. he’s a new start, a new beginning.”

Quite how Mr Obama will deal with the rest of the world remains to be seen but most MPs politics.co.uk spoke to were enthusiastic about the chance of a fresh start.

Mr Russell added: “I would hope the United States of America would. [realise] it cannot bully its way around. It is a superpower but with that comes responsibility. hopefully Obama will be more understanding of the need for the US to be respected rather than just feared.”

MPs will be carefully watching the president’s progress over the coming weeks and months – politics.co.uk will keep you updated on how long Obama’s honeymoon, in the Commons at least, lasts.