Adam Afriyie can only be regarded as Britain's answer to Barack Obama if you ignore his politics

Yes, they share a birthday and have similar heritages. But their differences are far more instructive than their superficial similarities, inconvenient though that may be

Share
Related Topics

Two years ago I was sat on the House of Commons balcony having an ale with a Tory MP who, not being particularly ambitious or favoured by the pompous elite who run his party, was free to speak his mind. A tall, chiselled, feline fellow in a beautifully cut suit walked past, not saying hello, after which my drinking partner said: “Do you know Adam? Weirdest ****** I’ve ever met.”

Disservice

In all the speculation about Adam Afriyie’s destiny as Britain’s first non-white leader, leaked to a bunch of pliant, eager-to-please Sunday political correspondents, the fact that some of his comrades in Westminster think him a distinctly curious fish has been missed. This is because the story fits several convenient narratives for journalists who adore rumours and plots. Unfortunately, the fact that Mr Afriyie’s evident ambition is now in the open actually reduces his threat to the Tory leadership, though it’s true that he’ll bask in the glory of his new found fame over the coming weeks. Expect to see him on Question Time soon.

What intrigued me was the speed with which most journalists, including many of my colleagues, referred to Afriyie as “the British Obama”. This is a disservice to both men. Naturally I can see why the label instinctively appeals: if Afriyie did make to Prime Minister, it would strike a blow for equality here in a way that Obama has in America. But anoraks like me who have studied Obama closely – you really must read David Remnick’s biography, The Bridge – will be more struck by the differences than similarities.

It’s true that Afriyie’s English mother and (absent) Ghanaian father recall Obama’s American mother and (absent) Kenyan father. It’s also true that they both have many siblings. And yes, they were both born on August 4. But Mr Afriyie started very poor, on a council estate in Peckham – attending the same primary school that Damilola Taylor later went to – and became very rich, with his wealth rumoured to be between £50-100m. Obama started lower middle class and became upper middle class, educated at a bunch of elite institutions (Occidental College, Columbia, Harvard) along the way.

Then there is the difference between their careers. Obama’s formative years were spent on the streets of Chicago as a community organizer, and later doing public law. Afriyie is a digital entrepreneur who oozes corporate zeal. Perhaps in part because of these heritages, their politics are very different. Obama is essentially a reformist Whig (like me, incidentally). Afriyie is Thatcherite. Nor has he shown any evidence of the eloquent oratory, political courage, or campaigning brilliance of Obama – yet.

Labour's version

So be aware, as this chap becomes a fixture in your life, of the limits to any claim that he is “the British Obama”. The same goes for Labour’s Chukka Umunna, a privately educated chap from Streatham, but we’ll save that for another day. It just rather irks me how quickly we journalists ascribe convenient labels as a substitute for real thinking. The Obama brand, which means so much, is here being imported to mean so little.

After all, if being an ethnic minority and hailing from south London was sufficient qualification for the highest office, I’d be a shoo-in myself. Come to think of it…           

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Etch, a Sketch

Jane Merrick
 

Something wrong with the Conservative Party’s game plan

John Rentoul
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing