“Now, we have the prospect that the US will again become a force for good”

Barack ObamaAt a time when the predominant mood in politics and public life is one of pessimism, I join others in conveying our congratulations to President-elect Obama. It is a moment of considerable optimism, which is an antidote to the deep pessimism we all see around us with regard to our economy and the world economy. It is a fantastic moment and it is truly the end of an era.

It is not just the end of the Bush era but of a somewhat longer era in American politics, which has an impact on world politics. I see it as the end of the Reagan era, an end to the neo-liberal model of capitalism, which was fostered by President Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and which has its apostles in this country, or at least it used to, although they are disappearing. It is truly a political moment of considerable importance.

There was an overwhelming sense of joy on the part of many millions of people that we saw last night on television. In many cases these people felt in the past that they never had a stake in their own country or in the political system, society and communities of which they were part. Now they feel this is their moment and they can truly engage with their society and their country.

I have criticised the US in the past, as have other Members of the House. Sometimes we are accused of being anti-American when we criticise American foreign policy. I never thought there was anything so absurd as the suggestion that because one criticises the foreign policy of a country, one is against that country in some way or is guilty of being anti-American.

It was nonsensical. We have criticised the US, but this is a moment to remind ourselves of its considerable achievements and the democratic experiment under its constitution. It is an amazing and extraordinary achievement, and this moment is one to relish, not just for the US but also for us.

This may not be a moment simply to calculate the gains and losses for this country. Illegal Irish immigrants and foreign direct investment are important issues, but we might reflect on the larger international picture. This is a huge story. Unfortunately, the contribution of the US in recent years to the international stage has not been good and has often been divisive. There is now real hope that there will be a reversal in that contribution because the great institutions of the United Nations, its human rights achievements and other institutions are nothing without the support of the US.

They are, and have been, seriously undermined by the US in recent years, and we now have the prospect that the US will again become a force for good.