Yes we can… find our own solutions

When Barack Obama stood before his adoring supporters in Chicago as president-elect of the US, few people would have missed the sense of history unfolding.

As the saying goes, however, history is yesterday’s news, and before long the rest of the world will be looking at the 44th president and asking itself ‘what does he mean for us?’

So let’s try to understand how Obama and his policies may affect the UK and those of us with an interest in its engineering and technology base.

The overriding theme of Obama’s campaign was a new start for America, and the voters who backed him want that new start to begin with their fractured economy. In practice, that means putting their economic interests first — and who could sensibly blame them for that?

One of the words that was bandied around freely by Obama’s critics (and even some of his supporters) in the run-up to polling day was ‘protectionism’.

The spectre of America raising the economic drawbridge by prioritising domestic trade at the expense of global commerce was held up as a reason for all those who do business with the US to fear a Democrat victory.

In reality, Obama is certainly too smart and the US economy far too intertwined with the rest of the world’s for us to see the type of lockdown predicted by some.

We will certainly see change, however, and some of it will directly affect UK engineering and technology. Expect to see more rhetoric of the type that has been flying around for some time between Boeing and Airbus, the world’s big two aircraft manufacturers. Boeing has for years resented what it sees as the subsidising of its European rival by the nations that created it, arguing that it leaves it and its US workforce competing on an uneven playing field. In an era of ‘America-first’ economics, expect ever more scrutiny of companies doing business in the States over their benefit to the US Main Street.

The defence sector is another example. As one of the UK’s most important technology-led industries it has no more important market than the home of the world’s biggest defence infrastructure.

Again, however, will the pressure increase to spend US defence tax dollars within the US itself? And under a president with a public commitment to diplomacy over conflict, will the US defence spending bonanza under George Bush go into reverse?

Big questions, then, for the US’s historic partners in trade and much else. We should not, however, overstate our dependence on the other side of the Atlantic.

The UK has its own economic problems to solve, and our own formidable track record in technological innovation is part of that solution.

This is true nowhere more than in the areas of energy and the environment, where those that develop the technical solutions to the huge issues facing the world will find their services much in demand, from the US and everywhere else on the planet.

As the US shapes its future under a new president, we must make sure we have the industries and the expertise to have as big a say as possible in our own destiny.

Andrew Lee, editor