Cameron Counts on Voters’ Memory in Drawing From Obama

Prime Minister David Cameron
David Cameron became the first British prime minister to use the veto last year when he refused to sign up to an EU-wide treaty to enforce fiscal discipline. Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said Barack Obama’s victory provided encouragement for his own re-election chances in a sluggish economy.

While the prime minister won’t face voters until 2015, two years of flat growth and recession have knocked his plan to eliminate the deficit off course, meaning he’ll go into the campaign pledging more spending cuts and tax increases.

“I was very struck by the fact that Barack had been saying it’s a hard road but we’re on the right track,” Cameron told reporters in Amman, Jordan, at the end of a three-day tour of the region. “A government that’s worked hard to deliver economic recovery can be re-elected.”

Obama won re-election Nov. 6 in the face of an unemployment rate of 7.9 percent, around the same level as Britain has had since Cameron won power in 2010. Exit polls in the U.S. showed voters were more likely to blame Obama’s predecessor, something Cameron and his coalition allies are hoping will be true in the U.K. too.

“I think the lesson of the presidential election in the States is that voters’ memories are longer than members opposite seem to think,” Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told opposition Labour Party lawmakers in Parliament in London yesterday. “Voters, when it comes to actually casting votes, remember who created the mess in the first place and who has to do the painstaking, difficult and yes, longer-than-we-hoped job of sorting out that mess.”

‘Hard Road’

While Cameron may adopt what he described as Obama’s “right track, hard road” strategy, the two men have picked different economic policies. Obama was able to point to government interventions to rescue the auto industry. Cameron has gone the opposite way, with a focus on austerity and securing the approval of the bond market.

He also lacks some of Obama’s advantages. Where the president was picked by 53 percent of voters as “more in touch” with people like them, a Populus Ltd. poll in September found “out of touch” was the phrase picked most often to describe the prime minister, by 32 percent of voters. For his Labour opponent, Ed Miliband, the most popular description, picked by 35 percent, was “out of his depth.”

Cameron also took a lesson from the Republican defeat for his own Conservative Party, some of whose members argue that he didn’t win an outright majority in 2010 because he was too focused on reaching out to non-traditional supporters, at the cost of alienating his core vote.

“Elections are won in the common ground, the center ground,” he said. “That is where you need to be, arguing about the things that matter to most people: making sure they can find a good job, they can build a good life for themselves, that if people work hard and try to get on you are behind them and helping them. You win elections in the mainstream.”

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