The US and UK could elect premiers who have experienced marijuana, menstruation or racism — but it’s a long shot. If things go the way the Cameron (UK) and Obama (US) households are hoping, then, in around 2009, a US-UK summit will take place between the first black president of the USA and the first PM of the UK known to have smoked pot. Of course, this may not happen. It’s possible that the Washington end of the negotiations would be handled by the nation’s first woman leader (Hillary Clinton), first Mormon (Mitt

Romney) or first double divorcee (Rudy Giuliani).

The moral of these fantasies is that definitions of electability seem to be changing. At the start of any campaign, the team sits down and calculates the candidate’s “negatives” (there’s a fine West Wing episode in which Josh writes down the pros and cons on Santos). But the electoral cycles beginning in Britain and America tantalisingly feature serious contenders who represent races, religions, domestic arrangements or student ingestion that would until recently have been considered insurmountable obstacles to office.

Many politicians and political commentators hold the reassuring view that British and American electorates have a record of sensible decisions. Leaving aside personal ideology and looking at the long sweep of history, some on the left would accept that Labour was not fit to govern in the 80s, while right-wingers might agree that Bob Dole and the former leader of the UK Conservative Party, William Hague, were not plausible national leaders when they sought the job. The weakness in this theory of the knowing voter, though, is that electorates have only had the chance to pick from an alarmingly restricted list of possibilities: almost always featuring white male middle-aged Protestants who accepted the bankers’ and the soldiers’ definitions of the national interest.

Even if the two countries are governed later in this decade by people who have experienced menstruation, racism or marijuana, or have taken part in more weddings or fewer baptisms than the political norm, they will all have trimmed to the centre-right to get elected. Even so, it is cheering that some of the traditional negatives seem to be receding. It is, for example, almost impossible to devise a Democrat-Republic stand-off featuring two candidates who will be able to wave happy single marriages at each other.

History suggests that the Cameron-Obama scenario that began this piece also remains a long shot, for electoral reasons far more brutal than the kind of cigarettes they smoked. But another double-Wasp male handshake — choose two from Brown, Cameron, McCain or Senator John Edwards — would be a reminder of how closed the arena of political leadership remains. However, much attitudes may have altered to a candidate’s use of marijuana or tobacco, the kind of leader who is likely to emerge from the smoke-filled rooms of politics has not begun to change enough. — The Guardian