Enoch Powell once said that all political careers end in failure. Usefully, despite the regiment of knuckle-draggers posting ‘Enoch was right’ all over the web, he successfully set about proving his own theory. So if failure comes to all politicians, disillusion is its first symptom. With the USA potentially about to elect the guy from the back streets of south Chicago and the UK seemingly certain to elect the guy from the back streets of Eton in 2010, the potential arises for a controlled experiment as to which one lasts the longest before disillusion sets in. Of course, the US could well mess it all up by voting for a 72-year old about whom no one has any illusions in the first place.
So, let’s look at the case for each of our contenders to attempt to judge who will find their voter’s enthusiasm waning first:
The case for Obama: slick salesman; good on rhetoric, low on policy content; will carry with him the unrealistic hopes and expectations of the huge numbers of Americans sickened by the Bush-Cheney years; exiting from Iraq likely to be be more prolonged than his supporters expect; succesful completion of war in Afghanistan likely to be harder and bloodier than his supporters expect; will fail to fulfill the healthcare expectations of erstwhile Clinton supporters; likely to engage in messy compromises on abortion, gay marriage and gun control, satisfying nobody; not proven to have the political strength to push through the necessary Roosevelt-style economic measures to limit the effects of recession; will be unable to obtain international agreement for measures to protect blue-collar American jobs; likely to quickly lose ‘outside of the Beltway’ status once President; may prove to be unable to deliver quick advances on civil rights.
The case for Cameron: slick salesman; good on rhetoric, low on policy content; will find it impossible to fulfil the wishes of both the hard-right and modernising wings of his party; will carry unrealistic expectations of the Daily Mail and Express for an immediate end to immigration, political correctness, liberal do-goodery and bad weather; will follow very similar policies on many areas to current administration; will not be able to shift underlying economic UK difficulties within a short time period; likely to attempt to fudge foreign policy issues, especially Iraq and Afghanistan; unproven and inexperienced frontbench team (which will have to include George Osborne).
Overall, my money is on Obama to be the fastest to disillusion, if given the opportunity. Very few people have illusions about Cameron – his popularity is entirely based on a reaction against Labour. Thus, he has fewer expectations riding on him, providing for a much longer potential honeymoon period. In particular, he does not enthuse those traditionally outside the political process in the way Obama does – and that constituency is much more easily disillusioned than the hardened political classes. Cameron also has time and economic cycles on his side: by 2010, the UK is likely to be slowly picking its way out of recession, allowing Cameron to take some of the credit. Obama, however, could become President in a much more sticky patch economically. The differing party systems will also help Cameron. Following a heavy defeat, Labour is more than likely to engage in an ill-disciplined leadership battle and could well ‘do a Hague’ for Cameron’s first term (although of course, I hope not). Party leadership and discipline matter much less within the American system, so a Republican bloodletting will not be so beneficial to Obama.
My prediction, therefore, for what its worth: Obama, if elected, will last around 18 months before his first negative approval rating; Cameron closer to 36 months.