writer, broadcaster, portfolio woman

The rise and rise of the 'Oberons'

The Independent, July 22nd 2010

Political cross-dressing on this side of the Atlantic

Watching David Cameron and Barack Obama in matching blue ties at the podium, I realised we were witnessing a new political phenomenon, a sort of political cross-dressing. For here we had a Democrat President and a Conservative Prime Minister, whose followers could happily root for the other guy at election time.

When has that happened before? Tony Blair might have admired George W Bush, but no one else in the Labour Party did. Bill Clinton mistrusted John Major, and Margaret Thatcher was mightily relieved when her soulmate Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter in 1980.

This time, though, a whole bunch of Tories – you could call them Oberons, as they backed both Obama and Cameron – went out to the States during the primaries wearing their Obama buttons. Afterwards Steve Hilton, Cameron’s guru, flew to the Democrat Convention along with Matthew Hancock and Nick Boles, then working for Cameron and George Osborne, but now newly elected Conservative MPs. Boles was so enthused that he later paid out of his own pocket to travel to Obama’s inauguration, got up at 5am and walked six hours in the freezing cold to get a crowd’s-eye view.

It was Osborne who brokered a deal to persuade Anita Dunn, Obama’s ex-communications director, and Bill Knapp, who made TV ads for the Obama campaign, to work as advisers to Cameron in the run-up to the election. That was unprecedented: normally, Democrat aides come over to work for Labour and Republicans for the Tories.

Of course, with the rapid waning of Obama’s popularity, it is the 2008 version that these British Tories adore: the inspirational, election-winning candidate, rather than the flagging-in-the-polls, hated-by-half-the-country President. And with austerity and hard grind being today’s political watchwords, the Conservatives can no longer expect to be sprinkled with the old “hopey-changey” stardust.

But they still see Obama as intelligent, sophisticated, subtle and cool – in both senses of the word. And they are much happier with him than the alternative. It’s not as if this Democrat President is particularly conservative. The problem lies with the Republicans. Since the election, the Tories around Cameron have watched with dismay as the Republicans have become more and more strident. As one top aide told me: “The Republican party is now heading down some of the roads that the Conservative party travelled and thank God we’ve managed to come back from.”

And if Sarah Palin wins the 2012 nomination? Don’t expect many Tories at the Republican Convention in Tampa.

I don’t want to share my idols with the world

A year or two ago, my older daughter introduced me to a fabulous but obscure Mancunian band called I Am Kloot. I swiftly downloaded “Storm Warning”, “Twist” and “Coincidence” on to my iPod. Then, this year, we went to see them at the small Queen’s Head stage at Glastonbury, in the company of a couple of hundred people at most.

They were magical. John Bramwell, the singer and guitarist, has an elegiac voice, and his melodies are as haunting as their lyrics. But their small-scale, acoustic sound works best in intimate venues. Now their latest album, Sky at Night, has been nominated for the Mercury Prize. And, as a fan, I’m torn. Of course they deserve to win, but I don’t want this delicious secret to be widely shared. What will it be next year? A slot on the Pyramid stage, when we’ll only be able to see three small dots in the distance?

Meditation’s no longer for special occasions

I’m a late convert to Twitter, having only signed up during the election campaign. It’s a very good way of being kept abreast of political events. And yes, it is addictive – not necessarily Tweeting but reading other people’s Tweets.

I do it at the bus stop, on the Tube, in the queue for the till, sometimes even in bed at night. And the result is that, by the end of the day, my head feels as if it’s been filled by a flock of noisy starlings.

A lot has been written about the shortening of our concentration spans by endlessly toggling from email to Facebook to Twitter and back again. Not a lot, though, has been written about the frazzled over-stimulation it produces in our brains.

The only antidote, I have found, has been meditation. How annoying, though, to have to use meditation as a way of merely coming back down to normal, rather than inducing a properly profound sense of calm.

One Response to “The rise and rise of the 'Oberons'”

  1. Cody Laware says:

    Many thanks, this article has been quite interesting, I look forward to reading through much more of your blog.

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