When David Cameron visits the United States this week, he will find a country whose national political argument has become more like our own in Britain than probably he – and certainly I – would ever have imagined. For America has learned, thanks to Barack Obama’s crash course in European-style government, about the titanic force of class differences. The president’s determination to transform the US into a social democracy, complete with a centrally run healthcare programme and a redistributive tax system, has collided rather magnificently with America’s history as a nation of displaced people who were prepared to risk their futures on a bid to be free from the power of the state.
They are talking a lot about this in the US now. Suddenly the phenomenon of class resentment is a live political issue. Some commentators describe it as the Democrats’ “middle-class problem”, which means that there has been a spectacular collapse of support for the administration among the core blue-collar voters who should constitute its base. (This terminology may be confusing: the “middle class” in the US means the skilled working, or lower middle, class. University-educated professionals are described as the “upper middle class” which, in this country, tends to mean a notch or two below titled aristocracy.)