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Gary Younge


The Sun channelled Barack Obama
Obama's 'Yes we can' slogan: a strange choice for Brooks and Cameron

As texts go it was devastating, arguably one of the most revealing pieces of evidence to emerge from the Leveson inquiry into phone hacking.

The message from the former CEO of Rupert Murdoch's News International Rebekah Brooks, to the now British prime minister, David Cameron, is perhaps the clearest evidence thus far of class collusion, influence peddling and naked partisan bias. But it's the sign-off that intrigues. For on the eve of Cameron's crucial speech to the Conservative party conference, Brooks bids a gushing farewell with the words: "Yes we Cam."

And so it was that Cameron went to deliver his pitch for austerity – "No you can't" – with a mutation of Obama's campaign slogan lingering in his inbox.

This would not be the last time News International would seek to channel Obama's message of empowerment (let's leave aside for a second his record of delivery) through the Conservatives.

On election day in 2010 the Sun's front page was a mock-up of the iconic Obama poster with a picture of Cameron and the slogan: "Our only hope".

The notion that Obama's campaign tactics would be copied should come as no surprise. It was a brilliant campaign, and was copied everywhere. In Ghana, John Atta Mills produced posters of himself standing next to a life-size cut-out of Obama. In Brazil, at least eight black candidates took advantage of a quirk in electoral laws so they could stand as "Barack Obama" in elections.

Even the French were giddy. "America is a New World again," said Rama Yade, France's junior minister for human rights, and France's only non-white government member at the time. "On this morning, we all want to be American so we can take a bite of this dream unfolding before our eyes."

What's strange is that it would be used by these people in this way. The phrase "Yes we can" gained currency just a couple years before during the Latino-led demonstrations for immigrant rights in 2006 in Spanish: "Si se puede" – hardly a cause championed for the anti-immigrant Murdoch press.

As an election slogan, its genius lay in its mixture of vacuity and acuity, depending on what you needed. It said little but implied a great deal – yes we can elect a black president, yes we can turn our country around, yes we can defeat the Republicans. It molded itself to fit your aspirations: simultaneously it could mean almost anything to anybody and nothing at all.

But for all its flexibility, its resonance lay in the notion that something improbable was afoot. That hardly fits the bill for a Cameron victory. With the help of corporate media, the Conservatives can put an Eton-educated prime minister into Number 10 to slash the living standards of the poor. Yes. We. Cam.

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