The British celebrate with Obama

November 7, 2012

LONDON -- The British  don’t need much of an excuse to saunter into their local pub, but the U.S. presidential election was a reason for many to settle in for the entire night.

At the airy Redhook bar in central London, a stone’s throw from the city’s centuries-old meat market, about 200 people, mostly British, packed in to watch around-the-clock coverage and sip on drinks assigned according to political allegiances (for Democrats, a New York sour cocktail; for Republicans, a glass of Chardonnay).

The British were overwhelmingly rooting for President Obama -- one Mitt Romney supporter at the bar said he was “as rare as Bigfoot” -- but praise for the president among many here was qualified.

“I’m satisfied, but intrigued by the outcome,” said Sam Meiklejohn, a 22-year-old Londoner who stayed up all night with two friends from law school to watch the results trickle in. “What will he now achieve?” he mused, adding that the president could no longer blame his predecessor for America’s economic woes. 

While the British aren’t as enthralled with Obama as they were in 2008 when he received rock-star treatment during a week-long foreign tour through Europe, many said they preferred his policies to Romney’s, especially those on social issues.

“The things that fire up the Republican base are regarded as wrong or irrelevant” in Britain, said Peter Kellner, president of the British polling agency YouGov, citing issues such as abortion, gay rights and climate change.

The overwhelming number of the British who were pulling for Obama woke up -- or went to sleep -- with the news they wanted to hear.

“I’m over the moon and relieved,” said Christopher Benjamin, a 22-year-old law school student sipping champagne at an all-night election party in central London. “Obama can now enact his eight-year-plan, and I can now go to bed.”

In its editorial, the Guardian newspaper said the win, which “wasn’t big” and “wasn’t pretty,” was “good for Americans, good for America, and good for the world.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted “warm congratulations” to his “friend” and said he looked forward to working together. He also told reporters on a tour of the Middle East that one of the “first things” he wanted to talk to Obama about was how to solve the crisis in Syria.

But if an Obama victory was the preferred one in Britain, enthusiasm was tempered from that in 2008.

Michael Cox, professor of international relations at London School of Economics, said most British people were “relieved or happy, or quietly satisfied, but I don’t think there’s the sense of elation here from 2008 -- Europe has moved on.”

Polls show that if the British could vote, the large majority would choose Obama over Romney, who did himself no favors when he questioned London’s ability to host a successful Olympic Games during his visit to Britain in July.

Derek Knight, a BBC producer, tweeted: “hey, Mitt, turns out our Olympics worked out fine. How was your election campaign?”

Eliza Mackintosh contributed to this report

Karla Adam is a reporter in the Washington Post’s London bureau. Before joining the Post in 2006, she worked as a freelancer in London for the New York Times and People magazine.
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Max Fisher · November 7, 2012