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

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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The London Symphony Orchestra, led by Valery Gergiev, performs a free open-air concert in Trafalgar Square  

Help! London has been conquered by Event Security and nobody is safe from its pointless screens

Howard Jacobson
 

The people of Iraq cannot be left to suffer alone

Dominik Stillhart
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

The end of an era across the continent

It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

'Focus on killing American people'

Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

Same-sex marriage

As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

The Mafia is going freelance

Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable