Page last updated at 07:57 GMT, Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Labour 'has to learn from Obama'

By Justin Parkinson
BBC News political reporter

Barack Obama
Mr Obama was praised for his level of grassroots support

Labour must learn from Barack Obama's campaign to become US president if the party is to "rediscover, renew and refresh" itself, a minister has said.

David Lammy, a friend of Mr Obama, said next week's election could see "something very special".

He praised the campaign for its high level of "grassroots" support.

Mr Lammy warned that if Labour did not reconnect with voters in a similar way, the BNP could gain seats at next year's European elections.

Downturn

The higher education minister, addressing a Westminster meeting organised by the Young Fabians and the European Parliamentary Labour Party, said the party had sometimes failed to address white working-class people directly enough.

This, he argued, could result in disenchantment which, combined with the economic downturn, would see the far right prosper in next June's European elections.

David Lammy
The Obama campaign has brought people together in really a genuine coalition of interests
David Lammy, Labour

Mr Lammy said that, as a minister, he was not allowed to publicly say whether he would prefer Mr Obama, for the Democrats, or John McCain, for the Republicans, to win the US presidency.

But he added: "It's my sincere hope that next week in America we will see the culmination of something very special."

He added: "We need desperately in the Labour Party to rediscover, renew and refresh our sense that we are a movement...

"If we are to be the force that I want us to be and to be in power more than 24 years [in the 21st Century, unlike the 20th], then we need that kind of grassroots organisation...

"The really interesting thing that the Obama campaign has succeeded in doing is it's brought people together in really a genuine coalition of interests."

'More challenging'

University students, trade unionists and those unhappy at the war in Iraq were among the groups Mr Obama had united, the minister said.

He added: "New Labour may have been many things, but it was never a grass-roots movement."

Mr Lammy, the MP for Tottenham, said the European elections would be "more challenging" than the London Assembly contest earlier year, in which the BNP succeeded in having a member elected.

He went on: "We have to fight it and fight it hard and fight it with organised, active campaigning."

Otherwise, the BNP could become an established force within the European Parliament like Jean Marie Le Pen's Front National in France, Mr Lammy said.

The MP met Mr Obama in 2005 at an alumni event for students of Harvard Law School, which both had attended.

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SEE ALSO
Obama 'unity' plea in final week
27 Oct 08 |  US Elections 2008
Focus on BNP as economy weakens
24 Oct 08 |  UK Politics

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