On Saturday, I was at Victoria station on my way to somewhere else and I saw on Twitter that Barack Obama was just about to arrive at Downing Street to meet Gordon Brown. I decided to take a detour on the no. 24 to check it out – having seen the pictures in Berlin, I assumed that Whitehall would be closed off and we’d be diverted around throngs of the placard-waving Obarmy-army – but actually it was all very quiet.
The pavement is being dug up all along in front of the Treasury and FCO buildings as well as in front of the entrance to Downing Street itself. So although there were the usual tourists milling around there was certainly nothing like a crowd but the prospect of catching a glimpse through the gates was very slim indeed. I walked back towards Westminster and saw that a bunch of people were gathering in King Charles Street, so I wandered down to have a look. It turned out that this included some hardcore supporters including the organisers of the local meetup group formed to focus Londoners (and US expats) on supporting the senator from Illinois. The thinking was that the Obama party would come from Downing Street through the FCO courtyard and along King Charles Street to go to the Palace of Westminster to meet the Tory high command. The hope was that BO himself would go walkabout and stroll down Whitehall.
I settled in to wait and wait. I passed the time on Twitter and Qik – getting the first updates and pictures from @DowningStreet and getting help from @jkerrstevens while spotting the security services talking to their cufflinks. George Osbourne seemed to come out of the Treasury (?) in a Google t-shirt and on his bicycle.
A BBC TV crew said they didn’t know if the party was coming this way either but took their position in front of the crash barrier – when asked, they explained that otherwise they’d only be able to see as much as we could see. We knew that the press conference was due for 11am and so were ready for action when we saw the journo’s come strolling out. The crowd, including some delightful little children, started chanting “Yes! We Can!” and got ready with their cameras and phones for the moment when the man himself would surely follow them and walk towards us. But then suddenly a motorcycle escort and convoy of 4 people carriers zoomed out of the gateway, past us and through the gates onto Whitehall.
Momentarily I looked up from my phone which was *not* taking pictures on burst mode as it was supposed to be and saw the familiar, smiling senatorial face as he gave a little wave to the excited but slightly disappointed crowd. I went over to Parliament but again everything was happening too far away and through grills and railings so left him to meet with a man who can’t look after his own bicycle but may be running the country before too long.
Despite the small turnout I can’t imagine that any presidential candidates in previous election years can have generated such excitement on the streets of London. The papers said that they were keeping the visit low key to avoid Obamamania – I’m sure that if he returns here victorious next year, we’ll settle for nothing less than a decent walkabout. My worry continues to be though that the task of getting him elected and keeping him alive for four years in the face of America’s underlying racism seems to be quite a toughie.