As the Washington clocks strike twelve on 20th January 2009, listen carefully and you might just hear a swooshing sigh of relief travel around the world.
But a critique of what should have been done differently since 2001 is not enough.
This blog is about the new ideas that can change our world and how a 'new multilateralism' can tackle the global challenges of our age.
Change the World, Reports from the Fabian new year conference

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

McCain up, Edwards out, Giuliani never in

John McCain's Florida victory makes the Republican race a two-horse race, and I can't see how Mitt Romney is going to become a more attractive candidate by going more negative. There is plenty to worry the Democrats here - the Republicans look like they might now effectively settle on their nominee first, and they look like they will choose their most electable candidate.

McCain was keen to stress that this was a Republican only primary in his victory speech. Romney won the pro-Bush Republican vote; McCain won Republican voters who are critical of the President.

The excellent Jay Cost makes a very interesting point about this: that this at odds with McCain's championing of the surge in Iraq and Romney's running as a pro-change outsider, but that it chimes with who voters believe the candidates really are.

I think one reason has to do with the long memories of voters. McCain's reputation as an anti-Bush maverick is still quite ingrained in their minds .... There is a lesson in all of this about the limitations of political campaigns. They only do so much to shape the thinking of the American voter. Those who have held opinions about political figures for a long time are not going to be easily disabused of them, despite how many political ads are run or adjustments in messaging are made. I think this hints at a mistake the Romney campaign made - it pivoted too late to a message about fixing Washington.

There is a message in there for Hillary Clinton too.

I don't agree with all of John Edwards' positions - but it was great to see a credible Presidential candidate putting poverty in the US absolutely front and centre of a major campaign.

What happens to John Edwards' supporters is going to be a crucial factor in the Obama-Clinton race, and it is very difficult to call. The candidate was siding with Obama - as 'change' versus the 'status quo' - but the demographics of the Edwards vote could favour Hillary Clinton.

Rudy Giuliani's failed bid will be taught in campaign school as an example of how to get everything wrong. Clearly, it was a mega-flop, and the strategy was too clever by half.

But I am not sure all of the criticism of a miscalculated campaign strategy is fully merited. To argue that Giuliani's later states strategy was the problem depends upon the counter-factual argument that he could have been much better placed had he fought seriously in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Michigan. How well could he have done at best? Would he have gone into Florida with a better shot if he'd somehow squeaked a third place somewhere?

Still, the 2008 race offered the best possible opportunity for this unorthodox approach. And even this race could not stay open enough. It will not be a strategy that anybody will try again.

Even if Giuliani ran the wrong campaign, perhaps the real lesson is a more fundamental one. If you are a pro-life New Yorker, don't make a serious bid for the Republican nomination.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The state of the Presidency

He seems to have become an unperson, never mentioned by the Republican candidates as they campaign in Florida, but President George Bush reminded us that he will still be here for 51 more weeks as political attention switched briefly from the campaign trail to the President's final State of the Union address.

But only briefly. Now that he is a President with little chance of pursuing anything beyond a blocking agenda domestically, Bush is left only with words, not action. And even the rhetoric fell flat as Andrew Stephen notes as he bids goodnight to the President in an online New Statesman commentary.

Even Bush’s best speech writers have now deserted him, and that showed in the 59 minutes he was at the rostrum. The grand, sweeping assertions of how a Bush-led America would transform the world, bringing it democracy and everything else that was both good and American, had gone - replaced by far more feeble, forgettable lines like “we are spreading the hope of freedom”.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Kennedy factor

Does it take a dynasty to beat a dynasty?

That may be the theory behind not one, not two but three Kennedys backing Obama.

Jonathan Cohn makes the case that this could have a significant impact.

Ted Kennedy's enthusiasm for Obama highlights one of the most unusual and interesting features of his candidacy - Obama's ability to combine what appears to be an almost impeccably liberal record with a strong emphasis on reaching out and bipartisan unity.

There is a potential 'Blair factor' here: if everybody can project their own image of what they believes the candidate stands for, it is very difficult to avoid disappoinment. Yet could it also prove a powerful strategy to unlock change in a polarised system?

On that theme. Ezra Klein has an excellent op-ed against unity, and for division in yesterday's LA Times.

Beyond race?

Barack Obama's crushing victory in South Carolina should certainly close down the offensive claim that he "is not black enough" to appeal to African-American voters.

But that may not be an umnambiguous boon to Obama: his overwhelming lead among black voters while running third among whites does raise questions about a candidacy which promises to transcend race.

Perhaps Bill Clinton's much criticised attacks on Obama may have had the intended strategic effect, even if they cost Hillary votes in this primary. I felt Obama held his own in the most personalised candidates' debate yet - particularly by arguing that he was notsure which Clinton he was running against - but Obama's own campaign strategists may with hindsight they made more of Hillary Clinton's ill judged remarks about Martin Luther King than was wise.

Jay Cost offers his latest excellent analysis at RealClearPolitics. One interesting hypothesis is that Obama is polling more strongly among white voters in generally white areas, but less well among white voters in racially mixed areas.

However, there should be caution against jumping to conclusions. This has been a consistently fluid contest: the different state results haven't simply been about the different demographic groups. There havebeen several examples of similar demographic groups breaking differently in particular states. For example, the lack of a gender gap in Iowa and a strong gender difference between Clinton and Obama in New Hampshire; or Obama having a broader appeal to low income voters in Iowa and a more affluent liberal-left support in losing New Hampshire.

And while John Edwards now looks very much like the third candidate in a two-horse race, his relatively strong appeal having been born in South Carolina, and represented the state next door, offers another complicating factor in trying to extrapolate from the South Carolina result.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Goodbye Fred .. but might McCain put Thompson on his ticket?

Fred Thompson's bid to be President is over. His supporters decided his laid back style could be an asset before his campaign began.

There is a case for small government conservatives not 'giving 110%'. If you believe in government doing less, then the Ronald Reagan style of governing fits the philosophy rather better than the workaholicism of a Margaret Thatcher.

But, when it comes to seeking election, there is laid back, and then there is not turning up.

Still, Thompson's lacklustre campaign might just prove to have played a decisive role in the Republican nomination, should John McCain now kick on to win. Thompson may well have drawn enough conservative votes in coming third to cost Mike Huckabee victory in South Carolina, having attacked Huckabee strongly during the primary campaign. And it could be argued that Rudy Giuliani's campaign strategy would look much more viable had Huckabee beaten McCain last weekend.

Thompson did sterling service for McCain last week - and could provide an obvious way to reassure nervous conservative Republicans about a McCain-led ticket. So might we see Thompson back in the 2008 race as a Vice-Presidential hopeful?

On the other hand, McCain might be looking for a V-P candidate willing to get out and stump for some votes.

Gordon Brown gets the message - and is planning for the world after Bush

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is thinking about how to shape 'the world after Bush', reports The Independent's political editor Andy Grice.

Great idea, Gordon! And its always good to see Fabian ideas getting a hearing in Downing Street.

Grice links the behind the scenes thinking about life after Bush in Downing Street with the world after Bush debate kickstarted by the Fabian Society.

Although aides insist the Prime Minister has a good working relationship with George Bush, the outgoing President is seen as an obstacle to reform.

Since think-tanks need to start thinking ahead, the post-Bush debate we began back in Summer 2006, in the late Blair era, when our Gordon and Hillary cover image offered a wide range of hostages to fortune, with several publications and events ahead of Saturday's Change the World conference.

As Grice says:

it's tricky territory and there's only so much Brown can do above the radar - for now, at least.

But we need to keep the public debate going too.

As I wrote in Tribune this week

If there can only be new thinking on foreign policy behind the scenes or of it can only be discussed in code, this limits the chances to re-engage and repair the political damage.

On which note, its good to see David Lammy quietly rooting for Obama in his Comment is Free blog post on Saturday's conference.

There is part of a series of Comment is Free blogs with contributors reacting to the event.

UPDATE: I've chipped in on the Independent Open House blog site with some advice for Gordon Brown on his world after Bush strategy.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Snapshots from the Fabian conference

Some musings from me on Saturday's 'Change the World' conference over at the excellent OurKingdom blog from OpenDemocracy.

My friend and former colleague Mark Leonard - director of the new European Council on Foreign Relations - made an important point at the event, that there is a danger that an obsession with America “infantilises” Europe:

“We must not let a running commentary on American foreign policy become a substitute for having our own foreign policy”.

The world after Bush debate we need should focus on what we can do - as progressives in Britain and Europe. That is also the best way we can engage with and help America's progressive voices in their own debates.

20th January ... just a year to go!

A happy day for those anticipating the Bush countdown.

I have a piece on the 'year to go' theme in this week's Tribune - We can change the world after Bush on why we need to respond to the opportunity with a new British foreign policy.

But I also argue that the debate on foreign policy that we need to begin must take place publicly - and outside government.

Gordon Brown’s Government has shown it understands the need for change on foreign policy .... Brown’s “new multilateralism” must now be developed into concrete plans for how Britain and the EU can contribute to an effective multilateral agenda when the next US President picks up the phone. It must offer new foreign policies which can help to rebuild Labour’s fractured electoral coalition, offering a positive internationalist argument for the next general election manifesto.

One problem is that these two goals may conflict. Diplomacy and democracy do not easily mix. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary will stress the diplomatic reality that they must work with the incumbent US administration for another year, while preparing to work with any successor afterwards. Yet this will prove politically frustrating to many Labour supporters. If there can only be new thinking on foreign policy behind the scenes or of it can only be discussed in code, this limits the chances to re-engage and repair the political damage.

Change the World

The big Fabian 'Change the World' conference on Saturday went very well, with over 700 people spending a day debating the big questions on the global agenda. A relaxed David Miliband was tie-less and jacket-less to give his keynote speech. I was suited and booted, so he got a laugh at the start by asking what the world is coming to when the Fabian General Secretary is better dressed than the Foreign Secretary.

Central to Miliband's argument was that we are experiencing fundamental shifts in power, including a new 'civilian surge'.

The left has talked a lot about the essence of globalization – a new interdependence born of rising flows of people, money, culture and trade across national boundaries. But we have not talked enough about its consequence – fundamental shifts in the distribution of power. Power is shifting from West to East. It is shifting from the national to the international level. But there is a third shift – in the balance of power between government and people.

And there was a big argument - applying to both domestic and foreign policy - about the need to bring together the insights of the social democratic and liberal traditions - the necessity of combining the principles of equality with a commitment to individual freedom.

More on the conference will follow, on the Fabian website and on this blog.

Friday, January 18, 2008

One idea to change the world ...

The final session of the Fabian 'Change the World' conference is a Dragons Den style session, chaired by Ed Miliband who will be writing Gordon Brown's election manifesto for Labour.

We've been inviting ideas from Fabian members, conference attendees and others. Sunny Hundal is one of those who will be pitching - and he has sparked some debate over at Pickled Politics about ideas to change British policy towards South Asia.

Miliband's foreign policy causes

The New Statesman interviews David Miliband ahead of his Fabian conference speech.

There are four great causes in current foreign policy, Miliband says. He lists them: tackle terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, "and that's what we're trying to do in Afghanistan"; try to reduce conflict, "and that's what we're trying to do in the Middle East, Kosovo and Sudan"; tackle inequality through low-carbon, high-growth economic aid and development policies, "and that's what we're trying to do in Bali and elsewhere"; and build durable international institutions that recognise international inter dependence, "and that's what we're trying to do with the EU and the UN". These, he says, "are all great progressive causes".

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Republican free-for-all

Mitt Romney won by a strong margin in Michigan. This is good news for Romney, and a setback for John McCain, for whom victory would have confirmed him as the frontrunner.

It is also good for Mike Huckabee, who benefits from a more open race. It is a particular boost for Rudy Giuliani - whose waiting for Florida strategy risked seeing him look out before he was in. And perhaps the biggest winners are the Democrats.

Romney needed to win to survive. This was a different Romney to that offered in Iowa - with the focus on economics and managerial strengths (a potential USP for his candidacy) rather than the social conservative convictions which he has not held for very long. That suited Michigan well - and Romney made effective use of his 'favourite son' status, his father having been Governor to link to his economic issues.

While Romney's economic argument against McCain was popular in Michigan, it doesn't strike me as credible. McCain said he would tell the truth; that some of the auto and manufacturing jobs would not come back, and the emphasis should be on the skills workers need. It is the argument Bill Clinton used effectively in the 1992 primaries. As his Trade Secretary Robert Reich argued, an effective response to global economic change depends on persuading voters that neither 'save the jobs' (the protectionist left) nor 'let them drown' (the free market right) works. 'Train the workers' is an effective middle

Romney challenged the idea that some of these jobs won't be comong back as defeatist. From the self-styled inheritor of the Reagan coalition, this is pure opportunism.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Musharaff's last stand

Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek is, I think, one of the best commentators on international affairs. I am a big fan of his book 'The future of freedom', which makes a nuanced case for democracy promotion but warns against illiberal democracy.

He has an excellent piece on the future of Musharaff in Pakistan, and how the west's ally has lost his raison d'etre.

But over the past year, Musharraf has embarked on a series of moves that have destroyed his claims to being a modernizer, his reputation as a statesman and his popularity with his own people. Many outside Pakistan do not quite realize the sea change that has taken place ... Musharraf's struggle to stay in power has also reinforced his alliance with thoroughly illiberal forces. Having packed the courts, amended the Constitution, muzzled the media and battled with the major political parties, Musharraf has alienated all the modern, secular and liberal forces in Pakistan, with the exception of some businessmen and his own community of "mohajirs" (refugees from India) in Sindh. He now relies for his support on the military, an assortment of feudal politicians and some friendly fundamentalists.

Zakaria believes Musharaff could still defuse the crisis, by gradually stepping away from power after the elections, now due next month.

There is a solution to Pakistan's political crisis, one that will allow Musharraf to leave on a high note. First, he must hold free and fair elections. Musharraf's current plan is to wield power as part of a troika—the Army chief, the prime minister and himself as president. This will work only if he is the weakest leg of that stool. He has already appointed a decent man as head of the Army, and he can allow a stable parliamentary coalition to elect a prime minister who can run the country. Musharraf should recognize that he has become far too controversial to be able to lead his nation and should instead recede from power. The example to follow is Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, now universally feted for bringing democracy to that country. Musharraf is said to be convinced that he is indispensable to Pakistan's future. He should remember the words of another general turned politician, Charles de Gaulle, who, when told he was indispensable to France, is said to have replied, "The graveyards are filled with indispensable people."

David Miliband to headline Fabian Change the World conference

We have announced that Foreign Secretary David Miliband will be the keynote speaker at Saturday's Change the World Fabian conference.

He gives some of the best and most nuanced speeches of any Cabinet Minister - his speech for us in his last job, as Environment Secretary, on the future of red-green politics was one of the most challenging ministerial speeches we have hosted.

I will be interested to see to what extent Miliband can make a strong pro-European argument in the speech.

Life after Bush at the New Statesman

The New Statesman is running an online series on Life after Bush.

Contributors who are taking part in Saturday's Fabian Change the World conference include former Ambassador to the US, Christopher Meyer, who doubts that much will change, Shirley Williams, European Commissioner Margot Wallstrom who finds cause for optimism about an emerging transatlantic partnership of equals, and Parag Khanna from the US, who is advising the Obama campaign, on how the next President will have to deal with the Bush legacy.

I have a piece on how British foreign policy should change, and my colleague Rachael Jolley has an interview with Jo Stiglitz.

The New Statesman is our media partner for the event, alongside the Guardian.

Over here

The British weekend papers found little new to say about the race in the US, awaiting the next twists and turns. So the focus was on the impact on British politics. Saturday's Times reported that David Cameron tried but failed to meet Obama on his Washington trip last year, because he sees him as the US politician who embodies 'change'.

John Rentoul in the Independent on Saturday notes some rhetorical borrowings from JFK in George Osborne's latest speech, and notes that the New Tories will be flexible enough to learn from any winner:

The Clinton campaign was the big moment in the export to Britain of US political language, ideas and tactics. The formative event in New Labour history was the visit by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to the victorious Democrat campaign team after the election.

Cameron and Osborne are trying to emulate them, but they don't yet know which candidate will win. When they do, we can be sure that they will try to copy the winning campaign.

Andrew Rawnsley continues the Gordon Brown/Hillary Clinton comparison - even giving my piece on Friday a plug - and wondering if our Prime Minister has now back-tracked on the change message.

The race factor

Hillary Clinton on Meet the Press on Sunday:

I don't think this campaign is about gender, and I sure hope it's not about race.

This responds to a tension which has been simmering since the Iowa result.

Clinton was accusing the Obama campaign of distorting her remarks to make race an issue; others have found the Clintons' remarks ill-judged, particularly her comments that 'it took a President', contrasting the impact of Martin Luther King with that of LBJ in passing the Civil Rights Act. (Video clip). But isn't Obama running for President too, not to be leader of a new civil rights campaign?.

One view is that, if a backlash to sexism helped Clinton in New Hampshire, then Obama might be helped by a sense that the race card is in play. The Obama campaign's approach suggests they may think this.

As Joe Klein writes, this is not an argument which the Obama camp should want to have. He is not running on race - while he is consciously pitching a unifying candidacy which allows America to heal the race tensions of past decades. There is not much evidence that a 'Bradley effect' was a factor in Hillary Clinton's New Hampshire win, but the discussion of that in the media has again put race at the centre, and the Obama campaign have not discouraged that.

There have also been a few references to the 'Do the Right Thing' factor, the Spike Lee movie about inter-racial tensions. As Ryan Lizza writes in the New Yorker, the Clinton camp are confident of strong support from Hispanics, in part because Hispanic voters are thought less likely to support a black candidate.

The electoral demographics of race will be a key theme in South Carolina and Nevada. Race and gender are unavoidably part of the story which makes this a compelling race. But it will be damaging for the Democrats if the two campaigns continue these skirmishes. The Clintons' record on race is strong. Obama's better argument is not that attacks on his experience have racial undertones, but that they are examples of a negative approach to campaigning that he rejects.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The West Wing comes to Westminster

The US election is part of British politics too.

What can Gordon Brown learn from Hillary Clinton? Does David Cameron think he can create Obamamania in Britain - or is he really Mitt Romney? I have a West Wing comes to Westminster piece on Comment is Free.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Clinton comeback numbers

Hillary Clinton's New Hampshire victory is no less dramatic than Obama's in Iowa.

There are clear contrasts in the support for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, essentially between the materialist and post-materialist left. With Obama ahead among Independents, we now have a Clinton running as 'the Democratic candidate for the Democratic nomination', and seeking to create suspicion among Democrats about why non-Democrats prefer Obama. Remember the third way anyone?

Massive turnout for the Democrats was assumed to be an Obama factor. The overall turnout suggests that that Hillary is mobilising traditional Democrats, Obama is bringing in new people, and that the voters are mobilising themselves too. The Democrats are hyper-mobilised for November's race. Bill Clinton's outburst over the Obama 'fairytale' (video)is a sign of how a close race could get very heated. But the Democrats strike me as much better placed to unite around their nominee.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Obama the frontrunner, Hillary the underdog

Hillary Clinton is fighting for her political life in New Hampshire. A number of factors have made Obama the frontrunner.

(1) The betting. Who is favourite at any one moment is a matter of fact. Follow the money. Overnight, Saturday night/Sunday morning, the mantle shifted as the markets tipped from Hillary to Obama.

(2) The New Hampshire polls. A 10 point Obama lead caught the headlines, though other polls are tighter. He has the big mo.

(3) John Edwards: His debate strategy - defending Obama against Hillary - revealed that he believes his best hope is to knock Clinton out and go head-to-head over change.

(4) The debate dynamics. Obama was comfortable in the role of front-runner. The strategic dilemma for the Clinton camp in adapting to their new underdog status - how to draw contrasts, aware of the price to be paid for going negative - was on display. Obama parried the contrasts effectively, particularly his answer on why 'words do inspire'

(5) The media narrative. Each of these factors has played into the media narrative that Iowa is giving Obama immense momentum. (It is not giving Mike Huckabee momentum on anything like the same scale).

There is some rationale to this, which the media reinforces and strengthens: the Iowa demographics were exceptionally good for Huckabee, as New Hampshire's are not. But there is nothing about Iowa that made it particularly promising Obama territory. The Iowa number-crunching Obama's turnout success and appeal to independents, and his ability to defeat Clinton among women, suggests he will do well in New Hampshire, given the high number of registered Independents. And there is also evidence of Obamamania on the ground in New Hampshire.

Hillary Clinton's problem is the loss of inevitability. There is one big Clinton argument. That the Democrats need to win - and that running Obama against McCain would be the greater risk in November. Hillary has negatives, but they are known. We don't know whether or not he has a glass jaw.

But the Clinton campaign are not going to get a hearing for that argument over the next 48 hours, and look likely to go nil-three in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

The problem with a hope squashing 'reality check' strategy is that if Obama is possible, Democrats want him to be possible. He is asking voters to suspend their disbelief. And, if they do so, he wins.

Friday, January 4, 2008

After Iowa: Obamamania

The magic of the TV digibox meant I was able to see the candidate's victory and concession speeches this morning without staying up. Huckabee's was a reminder of how much better he comes across in person than if you read what he is actually saying. Obama's was quite a speech, especially if you watch it. It was textbook Obama - reprising his 2004 Convention theme - while creating that sense of occasion, momentum and the participation of voters in making the improbable possible.

I was struck by three things.

First, if he moves to national prominence as a co-frontunner, it will become clear that he is already running against Rudy Giuliani in his hope versus fear pitch.

I'll be a president who ends this war in Iraq and finally brings our troops home who restores our moral standing, who understands that 9/11 is not a way to scare up votes but a challenge that should unite America and the world against the common threats of the 21st century.

But that can also play to the concern among the Democrat base of a Hillary Clinton foreign policy risking being 'Bush-Cheney lite' without having to go too negative.

Second, that Obama's response to the Hillary Clinton argument on different approaches to change is to claim to represent and unify the Obama-Clinton-Edwards strategies, of hoping, working for and fighting for change.

For many months, we've been teased, even derided for talking about hope. But we always knew that hope is not blind optimism. It's not ignoring the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path.

It's not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it and to work for it and to fight for it.

Third, that he is making the space to challenge the Clinton campaign if they change strategy and go negative.

That is what we started here in Iowa and that is the message we can now carry to New Hampshire and beyond. The same message we had when we were up and when we were down

Authenticity matters in politics - and Obama has it.

After Iowa: Hillary's challenge

Both races are more open this morning than they were last night - but that also means it was a much, much better night for the Democrats than the Republicans.

It was difficult to see how the Republican race could prove decisive. The impact has been to make it more confused, though with one clear casualty. The Mitt Romney campaign looks fatally wounded. (John Ellis has a brilliant robust dissection of what went wrong with the most 'politics as usual' campaign offered to Iowans; while Michael Tomasky points out that his $6.5 million Iowa campaign comes out at $300 a vote).

I very much doubt Mike Huckabee will make the nomination in the end - nor how there could be a winning electoral coalition for Huckabee in November, as his economic approach is unacceptable to a large part of the Republican party, while his social agenda will scare off key groups of swing voters. This is good news for the absent Rudy Giuliani and for John McCain, though McCain did not do particularly well. But there is no Republican unity candidate - and that is going to affect their ability to mobilise in November.

Obama won big - by a striking seven point margin, exceeding expectations. The concentrated burst of primaries make timing matter more in 2008 than ever before. They may not pull it off, but right now, the Obama campaign have got everything right.

John Edwards edged Clinton for second place: a strong showing in such a competitive race. But it may prove the high point of his campaign, and may not be enough to keep his candidacy going into the Southern primaries after New Hampshire. Clinton-Obama will become a compelling media frame and Edwards will struggle to stay visible. What happens to Edwards fairly strong base of support in the South is an important unknown factor.

It is far, far too early to write Hillary Clinton off. This morning, she is probably still the favourite and frontrunner for the nomination. But for how long? I can see three strategic problems for the Clinton pitch, going into the next round of contests.

(1) Both results strengthen the sense that this is a 'change' election. The famous right track/wrong track indicator is at record levels, showing 7 out of 10 Americans believe the country is going in the wrong direction.

Hillary presented two main 'closing' arguments on the eve of the poll and returned to these in her post-caucus concession speech.
- First, that she can win in November; she has been tested and presents less electoral risk;
- Second, that she is the President who will be 'ready of day one'.

So Hillary wants to stand for 'the experience to deliver change'. But the contrast with Obama risks making her 'the Establishment' against the risk of 'Change', in a race with no other status quo candidate.

(2) The high turnout and Obama's crossover appeal to independents may strengthen his core 'uniter, not a divider' argument. The risk of Obama is reduced if he demonstrates the ability to deliver. Over the next week, a sense of what these results and New Hampshire mean on 'electability' will emerge, from detailed number crunching and how that then turns into a new common sense among the commentators, bloggers and activists. That is a primary consideration for many Democrats this year, and will be the substance at stake in the post-match spin and counter-spin.

(3) If the momentum of Iowa and the media focus propel Obama to victory in New Hampshire, Obama would become the favourite. The Hillary Clinton campaign has been a 'safety first' campaign of the frontrunner. Could she emulate her husband's 'comeback kid' reputation? They are very different politicians.

Time magazine is already this morning reporting talk of a change of strategy but I doubt she could change her argument significantly without it looking like panic, and costing her in authenticity. If, as Time's report suggests, this means 'going negative' it would backfire and play to Obama's strengths.

The Obama campaign is still an unlikely insurgency - yet that is precisely its appeal if it can be shown to be a viable one. Hillary Clinton will have to hold her nerve, but she may find that she is in the campaign race on the terms that her opponent wanted to define.

Before the spin comes in ...

Every campaign will want to declare that they are on the road to victory.

Real Clear Politics has a good ready reckoner as to what they really need

And here's a good spin explaining the thinking behind the campaign strategy we won't find out anything about tonight - Rudy Giuliani's unconventional bid for the Republican nomination.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Whose theory of change?

The Democrats have perhaps their strongest, and most progressive, field for generations. The party looks more able to unite around its nominee than after most hotly contested nomination races historically, and has the unusual experience of being much more cohesive than the Republicans this time around.

So what is the difference between the candidates? One of the most interesting pieces of analysis previewing the primary contests has been Mark Schmitt's essay in the American Prospect on the 'theory of change primary'.

This is not a primary about ideological differences, or electability, but rather one about a difference in candidates' implicit assumptions about the current circumstance and how the levers of power can be used to get the country back on track. It's the first "theory of change" primary I can think of.

Hillary Clinton's stump speech is built around the speechwriter's rule of three, applied to theories of change: one candidate believes you achieve change by "demanding" it, another thinks you "hope for it," while she alone knows that you have to "work for it."

That's accurate as a rendering of the candidates' language: Her message of experience and hard work, Obama's language of hope and common purpose, Edwards' insistence that those with power will never give it up willingly.

But Schmitt goes on to offer a deeper analysis of Obama's pitch - and helps to explain how Obama manages to reconcile being probably the most conventionally 'liberal' of the major Democrats seem with his bipartisan appeal to independents and Republicans.

His piece has been much praised by commentators and bloggers. While this is a little late, this seems a good moment to link to it, just before we begin to find out which theory chimes most with the voters.

Kenya should face suspension from the Commonwealth

I have a piece on Comment is Free arguing that a multilateral diplomatic effort could be crucial in pressing both sides to negotiate a peaceful political solution following the deeply controversial Presidential election and the violence since.

The Commonwealth is playing a useful mediation role. But if the Kibaki government resists international pressure to negotiate a political solution, then Kenya should face suspension from the Commonwealth.

Richard Bourne, the best informed observer of Commonwealth politics and founder of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, argues that the Commonwealth can contribute to a political settlement but also suggests that suspension would be on the agenda if this fails.

The Commonwealth has been a pioneer among international institutions in basing membership of principles of democracy, but this could prove a difficult test of its internal cohesion. Suspension would be largely symbolic. But symbolism matters in international politics - and this would be an appropriate way to signal the lack of legitimacy of the Kibaki government.

I have a long-standing interest in the Commonwealth, and co-wrote a couple of Foreign Policy Centre pamphlets in 1999, launched at the Commonwealth summit in South Africa in 1999. At the time, the report was rubbished by Zimbabwe's Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge who called it "the toilet paper of the summit", though our warning about the need for earlier action to prevent crises was borne about by events since.

The Republican race

I want the Democrats to win in November. But there is widespread dissatisfaction among Republicans at the choices they have, and how the race has failed to crystallise.

It is difficult to know what to make of tonight's Republican contest in Iowa. The Mitt Romney - Mike Huckabee contest for first place may best be seen as a potential eliminator from which the right-wing contender for the nomination will emerge.

Somehow, the Mike Huckabee campaign is giving the impression of having turned into a serious Presidential bid. It shouldn't be. Huckabee has some charm, some startlingly absolutist right-wing views and no Presidential credentials at all, especially on foreign policy. Picking the low point of his campaign to date is difficult.

Was it attributing his poll surge to divine intervention?

There's only one explanation for it, and it's not a human one. It's the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of 5,000 people.

Not having heard of the Iran intelligence report the day after it had dominated the news agenda was worrying.

But he topped that this week as his spat with Mitt Romney got nastier. Huckabee's decision to defend John McCain from negative Romney attacks - John McCain is a hero - was a smart move. Somewhat, less smart was declaring that he was resisting the temptation to go negative himself in retaliation - before showing the negative attack ad he had decided not to air at his press conference. Huckabee is putting himself beyond satire.

Mitt Romney is deeply unimpressive. Apart from the high profile issue of his being a Mormon, he stirkes me as a something of an identikit Republican, running a nasty, negative campaign from the Lee Atwater-Karl Rove textbook. ( Joe Klein's Tale of Two Romneys nails this). His credentials to be President don't seem to stretch that far beyond running the Winter Olympics. He has already struggled with his various campaign misstatements.

I haven't been able to work out what Fred Thompson is for. Neither, I think, has the candidate.

For a long time, Rudy Giuliani seemed the Republican most likely to threaten the Democrats in November. He is a worrying prospect as President. Nuance would not be the watchword of his foreign policy. But the Democrats have not yet worked out how to counter their vulnerability on national security in the General Election - and a single issue 9/11 Giuliani campaign could exploit that. Giuliani's problem has always been the strategy to secure the nomination, given that he is beyond the pale for a significant part of the Republican base. He is rewriting the rules of the primary contest. It will be another month before we know whether his unconventional gameplan of marginalising the early contests has paid off, or has cost him his frontrunner status.

My Republican pick is John McCain. He has the credibility and experience to be President, as the (London) Times set out in a well argued editorial this week. I don't agree with his views on foreign policy - and he has done much to bolster President Bush - but he is a candidate who commands respect. McCain has problems with the Republican base but perhaps also, by trying to reposition towards them, with the independent voters he appealed to in 2000. He has struggled for momentum, but seems to be picking up as the voters think seriously about the Presidency.

I suspect Huckabee or Romney would be easier for the Democrats to defeat in November. But Clinton, Obama or Edwards are capable of winning against any of the Republican nominees. And, given that the US Presidency is at stake, it might be a good idea for both parties to put up somebody who could do the job.

The race is on ...

The race for both nominations remains incredibly open as the first votes are cast. Firm predictions are probably foolish.

I have felt that John Edwards would do better in Iowa than many expect. He could come through to top the poll on the night. His union support and strong appeal to the Democrat base on economic inequality should help him in a caucus. It is less clear whether, even if it happened, that would make the nomination a genuine three way race for long.

The influential Des Moines Register poll was very good for Barack Obama. Still, that might not help him in the expectations game. (A lower profile CNN poll had Clinton ahead). That Obama's lead was based on his appeal to independent voters strengthens his claims to electability in November. But will they caucus tonight? (The New Republic blogunpicks the numbers).

Obama's chances depend on increasing the caucus turnout. The university holidays don't help him. (However, Time says his strategy is to 'campaign young, but organize gray'). First place would be a remarkable achievement. It is still an outsider insurgency campaign, but victory could give Obama the momentum into a closely contested New Hampshire primary to make the February 5th contest too close to call.

Hillary Clinton is still the frontrunner with a strong national lead, and remains the most likely Democratic nominee. She is electable in November, particularly this year. The experience and credibility cards are her strongest suit. But this is a 'change' election: standing for 'change' and for 'less risk' is a balancing act. With no President or Vice-President in the race, there are dangers in Clnton becoming the establishment 'continuity' candidate, despite being a Democrat bidding to succeed a Republican President. But a credible bid to be the first female President will mobilise support (as well as anti-Clinton opposition). The 'big bang' nationwide contest in 22 states on February 5th is good news for her campaign, but she needs to win one of the first three contests to prevent the campaign dynamic changing against her.

So I have a feeling its still going to be Hillary - but quite probably not tonight. And there is still everything to play for.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Ten steps to a better world after Bush

I have a new year's day commentary ten steps to a better world on the Guardian's Comment is Free website.

This is extracted from my 'Manifesto for the World After Bush' in the new year Fabian Review, published on Thursday.

As the Washington clocks strike twelve on 20th January 2009, listen carefully and you might just hear a swooshing sigh of relief travel around the world. The Bush Presidency will not leave the legacy its architects intended. But a critique of what should have been done differently since 2001 is not enough. This blog is about the new ideas which can create a 'new multilateralism' to tackle the global challenges we face.