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Michelle Obama and the Americanization of the Britain general election

Prime Minister Gordon Brown dissolved parliament today and set the country on course for a raucous and unusual campaign ahead of the Britain general election on May 6. As candidates jockey, signs of political Americanization abound.

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Soccer 'mums'?

The US-experience has been influential in this regard according to Sarah Lapham, a Texas-born public relations consultant now living in London.

“Many people believe it was a soccer mum vote which pushed Obama over the edge to win the US election, and it’s also a factor here,” she adds.

Sam Baker, editor-in-chief of Red Magazine, one of Britain’s leading women’s magazines, agrees that the influence of Michelle Obama has been a factor in the current election campaign, but adds that attempts to specifically target the votes of women have been a fixture of British politics since at least the mid 90s.

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Then, "Worcester Woman" became shorthand for a type of middle-class female voter that Labour needed to win over to capture formerly solid Tory seats.

“It is true to say though that ever since Blair, campaigns have become a lot more presidential in style and much more about personality,” says Ms. Baker.

Similarities to last year’s US election meanwhile also extend to cyberspace.

In particular, Labour has invested heavily in strategies to help party members access databases that allow them to contact voters and build relationships.

"Historically Labour has used technology as a form of control,” Douglas Alexander, the party’s election co-coordinator told the Guardian in February. “We would use pagers and faxes to send out messages telling people what line to take. The key learning from the Obama campaign is to use technology to empower your supporters."

According to Ms. Lapham, the PR executive, the ways in which both of the main parties have deployed new social media mirrors the way they are approaching the campaign as a whole.

While Labour’s approach has been more “issue specific,” the Conservatives have sought to capitalize on the popularity of their leader through "Webcameron," a video blog which has featured him talking to voters while being filmed doing chores at home in the family kitchen.

Next week will see the advent of Britain’s most conspicuous import from American elections – televised debates.

UK debates? Obama vs. Obama

Brown, Cameron, and Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, will go head to head on April 15 in the first of three separately themed encounters, starting with domestic affairs.

In a bid to get in shape, both the Tories and Labour have once again reached across the Atlantic to borrow some of Barack Obama's election-winning know-how

The Tories are being assisted by Anita Dunn, a former White House communications director, and Bill Knapp, a former adviser to both Obama and Bill Clinton.

Labour has signed up Joel Benenson, Obama's lead campaign pollster and strategist, as well as Michael Sheehan, a speech coach who also worked on the Obama campaign.

Sheehan specializes in “loosening up” politicians who lack charisma under the television lights, such as John Kerry, the failed 2004 Democrat presidential candidate. Most observers in the UK say he has his work cut out for him.

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