Wednesday, February 06, 2008

What does the Obama phenomenon tell us about the coming changes in our world?

What an exciting night in the US primaries. Mrs Clinton seems to have held her own in the populous New York, New Jersey, Massachussets and California despite wall-to-wall Obama mania in the press combined with attacks on her. A tough woman. But Obama did really well too, cleaning up the mid-west and north-west and taking more states than Mrs Clinton.

Even if Mrs Clinton wins the nomination and becomes President, it is clear that something very important is happening in the USA and it is personified by Obama. In my last post I wrote about the shifts that occur when new generations come of age. Obama is sort of the left-wing marker that Barry Goldwater was for the right-wing in 1964. It's important to remember that the Boomers, born 1946 to 1960, did not vote for John F Kennedy. They were too young to vote for him, he was just before their time. Their first insurgent election was 1964, when they supported Goldwater. They were far too few in 1964 to make a difference - but the Goldwater phenomenon was realised with Reagan in the 80's when the Boomers had come of age in sufficient numbers to dominate.

Obama is a similar marker of the views of a new generation. The Millenials in the US are really keen on voting, they trend leftwards and seem quite civic minded - they can't bear torture, they are quite internationalist and are thinking about universal health-care, a big shift for the US. And we are at the early stages of this phenomenon - the US Millenial generation is very big (twice the size of Generation X) and only about eight years of this generation is currently old enough to vote - we won't see their full power till about 2018, when lots more of them come of age. This is a very exciting and important change and we will experience it this side of the Atlantic too.

The UK Millenial generation is much smaller than the US one, but they are still bigger than our Generation X. They also seem to be trending leftwards and it remains to be seen what effect this has. It's quite possible they will move politics in general and the Labour party leftwards slightly, because while the cynical non-ideological Gen X demanded pragmatism, triangulation and steady economics from their politics (which New Labour duly supplied), the Millenials seem to be more interested in fairness, civics, human rights, citizens rights. The good news is that polls show this generation is trending left, they believe in government, regulation and the welfare state and are internationalist, so it will be difficult for "smaller-state" conservatives to win them over - indeed polls show that most Tory support currently comes from the 50+ Boomer generation who seem nostalgic for the 1980's. The Tory hatred of the Human Rights Act, Europe and the world, doesn't chime with the Millenials either.

We live in very interesting times because I believe the Labour party will need to reinvent itself again - possibly into Civic Labour and shed the authoritarian impulses that we've inherited from Blair. And we need to do this before 2012 at the latest, or the Lib Dems will move into this space. People like Caroline Flint need to take note - times are a-changing and pandering to the Daily Mail won't cut it anymore, as the Mail represents the Boomer generation whose influence is waning.

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