Game, set and match

He may have lost to one of the best known politicians for a generation, but Mitt Romney’s name is now worth ten times that of his former rival to candidates on the campaign trail. That certainly won’t change in the run-up to the next presidential election as Romney, for all his faults, remains popular. And I use the word remains for a reason; he got sixty million people to vote for him two years ago. Half a nation. Nearly fifty percent of a divided America. Yet, the politics that defined that election remain ever present, and not just on the other side of the Atlantic. We’re told we hate rich people, yet we carry on voting for them. 

But whatever the speculation over his future, I’m not sure I believe for a second that in two years time we’ll be saying the words ‘President-elect’ before the name of former Massachusetts Governor, but although it has been a while since someone who lost the last general election, whether in America or here in Britain, has been seen as the solution to the next, I wouldn't rule out someone like Mitt Romney going the whole way.

Romney in a Staples store, a company he built. Whilst the Governor may have fallen short in 2012, don't rule out someone doing the same in the future
Photo: Reuters

Much of Romney’s fortune these days is less to do with the money in his wallet and probably more to do with the fact that if history was to serve us up a Republican nominee in 2016, Rick Santorum should be the next standard bearer; a man who reminds us just how lucky we were to have Romney in 2012.

For Santorum believes gay relationships are equal to that of me having one with a dog. He calls Mormonism a cult yet wants to relive the crusades and, yes, wants to promote marriage to women and girls as a way out of poverty. For these reasons alone should the Grand Old Party look again at dear Mitt, perhaps we should for once consider that they have found some sense and some reason.

Back in 2008, he was arguably more exciting than John McCain, more progressive than Mike Huckabee and far more impressive than Rudy Giuliani. And yes, Mitt Romney might have been just another multi-millionaire white businessman but in a field of multi-millionaire white men. But if the question is ‘But why Mitt Romney?’ then the answer surely had to be ‘Why not Mitt Romney’. For if the choice was to be between men who all earned money off the back of years in politics or the media, then whilst Romney’s story did not sound too dissimilar, at least his career in business gave him something to distinguish himself, alongside McCain’s war hero status. And if the Democrats can choose a multi-millionaire to go up against George Bush in 2004 and defend it, then if the post-Bush Republican party was to move away from the entitlement that political families held over the White House, all whilst the Democrats look towards it in Hillary Clinton, then perhaps there were less obstacles to Romney ending up President than first thought.

But Romney is a loser.

Because he was a politician, and acted like a politician. He changed his positions again and again, he ran away from statements he’d made in the past. The flip-flops. He made gaffes that proved much of his persona was an act, rather than feeling authentic and as he made mistakes, he tried to cover his ass as opposed to owning up when he was caught out.

In 2008, he did everything that was expected of a presidential candidate who looked more like a president from a movie makers dreams than any other and he ultimately wound up coming second to a more genuine and more maverick John McCain who didn’t shy away from singing offensive songs about bombing Iran. Romney then did it all again four years later and ended up as the nominee but losing this time to a dented version of this generation’s most revered politician.

Whether it was because of his slightly awkward image, whether because of his gaffes or the scare factor about his party, he lost, and probably lost for the last time. But both times he tried to become president there was at least one thing Mitt Romney was consistent about, other than losing.

His career.

Romney ran as half politician and governor, half businessman

When challenged on his wealth and when criticised for his actions – Romney unleashed a passionate defence of what he defines as free enterprise. At times his campaign stretched it to the limit, taking quotes out of context and bashing his opponent as the man who wanted to bring America to its knees, nationalise private companies, take away peoples self-made wealth and as a man who didn’t understand the American economy that secured people jobs and gave people security. And ironically, 47% of the nation bought what he was selling. It was when he was at his most genuine, probably because he had lived it and spoke from his own experience.

Try and say the same for any other frontline politician today on either end of the spectrum. You’re not spoilt for choice.

It’s with that in mind that Romney would be spinning in his electoral grave should he be following political events over here in the UK.

Ed Miliband this weekend turned his ‘vested interests’ campaign towards Sports Direct – a company he said “has stores on many high streets where many people shop” aka a company that employs around 20,000 people and one of Britain’s best known retail brands. For Miliband, his attack on Sports Direct is designed to make him a man of the working people struggling to get by. Yet for Romney, an almost identical company was at the heart of his defence of American prosperity for working people. Sports Authority – a company in the same market as Sports Direct, employing almost the same amount of people today, in around the same number of stores - was Romney and America’s success story; jobs, an economic turnaround, American entrepreneurism and wealth.

Sports Authority? A champion of American success and jobs creation.

Sports Direct? A predator.

Yet Miliband cannot speak with half the sincerity of Romney. Ed’s attack on the multi-million pound business, centres around his pledge to outlaw zero hours contracts; a contract of employment that when Miliband talks about it reads only like he’s heard about it in a briefing paper.

He can’t speak from experience – he can just about manage to speak from the heart. Because Miliband talks about zero hours contracts in the same way that Len McCluskey talks about the self-employed. ‘Look at these people over here on these things without understanding what they’re doing, we really must do something about that – these poor people.’ And I like the rest of the public are so bored of having lectures from people who seemingly seem so distant from the experiences of real life.

Sports Direct would not be my chosen model of business and I’m not holding it up as a pillar of exemplary behaviour; nobody should be at risk of losing work for good if they’re not ready to jump immediately to an employer’s demands whilst on a zero hours contract. But we need to have a frank and honest conversation that denying companies like Sports Direct and McDonald’s, who lose more than 20% of their workforce a year, the right to hold vast quantities of staff on their books as short-notice workers is not good business.

Not when our economy is fragile. Certainly not whilst hundreds of thousands want to be in work and are denied it and not whilst companies want to grow, but can’t afford the risk of permanent contracts.

In his conference speech, Miliband announced ‘equal rights’ for the self-employed; and in the worst message you could ever send to people in business the small print read; ‘details to follow’.

It just feels like Miliband has nothing positive to say about business. He apparently loves small ones, but can’t bear to see them grow into big monsters and create jobs along the way and it all feels wrong, inauthentic and awkward to be laying down the law when he, just like Cameron, Osborne, Boris, and Balls, doesn’t seem to have done a day’s work out of politics, yet has a small fortune to his name.

You can say we’re “not anti-business” until you’re blue in the face, but the fact is nobody is going to buy it; we have now gone beyond the point of no return. We believe that business and entrepreneurship is the preserve of an elite, and the values that business espouses don’t have a relevance to how people want to get on, get up and get by. The fact is people are just pissed off. We’ll make things slightly cheaper for you, but ambition? Screw that; only rich people get to dream of that. Be happy with what you have.

You may or may not have built it, but by god we’re going to ban it.

You can ban different types of contracts, you can clamp down on airbnb and you can keep teaching me how to write a CV, but the sad fact is you still don’t get it.

Because whilst our economy is changing, politicians have at best ignored it, and at worst tried to stop it.

Mitt Romney isn't all that, but when people are pissed off with politicians, his recipe could sell

It’s true that my generation feels robbed by the fact we can’t buy a house and it’s unlikely we’ll have a retirement - but why is nobody is talking about the fact that many don’t want a career in an old fashioned sense? We want to job share, we want to try new things, go new places, we want to work for more than one company at once and we want to rent out resources that we’re not using and get hired because of our skills not because of our qualifications.

Zero hours contracts, or whatever they get rebranded as after 2015, are not disappearing from our economy and they have represented a growing part of it for decades. Yes, they may have grown since the recession but it’s almost as if we’ve got back into the business of pretending we can get back to where we were in 2007, or pretending there won’t be another recession one day. Labour are about four years too late to start a fightback on the economy – so why not ramp the attacks up on business and call for the revolution if that’s all you’ve got left?

I really don’t think Mitt Romney is all that. I don’t think he wants to talk about what happens when people reach for the stars and don’t quite get there – he is not a progressive. But right now my party doesn’t sound like it even wants people to try and get to the stars in the first place.

We have got to start talking about a flexible economy that can deal with a rapidly changing world environment.

A retail worker on a zero-hours contract doesn’t need a politician hell-bent on forcing them into a permanent contract so HMRC find it easier to tax them or because we can’t cope with the fact that a company is based on the premise of hiring a short-term workforce. We badly need a government that will champion other forms of business and give tax incentives to companies and entrepreneurs who start cooperatives and partnerships but so too I need a politics that is willing to discuss how to get me on the housing ladder without needing to hold down one permanent job; because they are disappearing from the horizon and we shouldn’t pretend we can stop the world from changing.

Ed Miliband says companies based on zero hours contracts have “no place in the 21st Century” – well I’m sorry Ed, they are the 21st Century and if anything is a Victorian practice then it’s our political system that enables people to make a living off doing frankly, nothing.

It’s exactly these feelings out there in real life Britain that Nigel Farage is leeching off. People feeling let down and lectured by a political class made rich off the back of a career in politics, media and lobbying.

They don’t get your crowing about media bias – because you used to work there yourself.

They don’t believe you when you say you’re going to make things better for ‘ordinary’ people unlike that millionaire David Cameron - because you’re a millionaire yourself.

They don’t see why you’re lecturing them on hard work and think saying you understand businesses – because you’ve never worked in one let alone even started one.

If the perception wasn’t that you hated business you might get away with it, but this latest move on Sports Direct feels like the moment, in context or not, Barack Obama uttered the words “if you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

That moment fired up a Republican party not all that excited about Mitt Romney. It made it seem like the President didn’t understand how people felt about politicians and their sense of entitlement. It gave Romney an authenticity to talk about his own experiences, a life that he’d led outside of politics - running the olympics, building businesses.

Yes, that's in the context of Romney being a man, old, slightly dated, stuck in the last century, boring, dull, awkward, uncomfortable, white, straight and university educated.

But I wouldn't rule out his style winning in the future.

Meanwhile, we may well be headed back to the entitlement of a political dynasty over the pond, and holding out for the revolution on this side.

Nothing more than game, set and match to another five years of 'you hate me, I hate you', division and small minded shambles.