David Maddox: inside the US embassy on election night

The outside US Embassy in London is decorated in the 'Stars and Stripes'
The outside US Embassy in London is decorated in the 'Stars and Stripes'
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ELECTION night for the US Embassy in London has significance beyond who runs America and is “leader of the free world”.

Jobs are on the line. Many of the appointments from the Ambassador downwards are political ones and rewards for services rendered are the call of the victorious party.

But given how much was on the line, the election night at the US Embassy was a remarkably cordial affair which somehow partly put the politics aside and became a celebration of American patriotism.

Revellers at the US Embassy in central London

Revellers at the US Embassy in central London

Everywhere people wore Stars and Stripes hats and flashing badges and American music played while an Elvis impersonator and walking Statue of Liberty could be seen wandering among the crowd.

The event was proudly sponsored by McDonalds who provided the canopes of chicken nuggets, Big Macs, fries and later McFlurries. Starbucks provided the coffee to fuel people through the night but the beer came from the Spring Goose brewery in Chicago, the campaign HQ of President Obama.

The question was whether the beer was the bitter taste of defeat for Mitt Romney or Obama.

The magnificent building in Grosvenor Square was probably hosting its last election night party before the US Embassy moves lock, stock and barrel to a new purpose-built accommodation across London.


The event was packed with journalists and prominent members of British political society including a healthy Scottish contingent - former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell, shadow Labour Scottish Secretary Margaret Curran, former Nato General Secretary Lord George Robertson and SNP Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil.

“I’ve worked out that they have invited the great and the good,” said Mr MacNeil. “I’m with the good.”

But the majority of guests were attached to the Republicans Abroad or Democrats Abroad groups, all wearing badges for their man.

The night was hosted by Ambassador Louis Susman, a Chicago operator and former banker, who helped Obama win in 2008.

He welcomed the guests before the US National Anthem was sung, a little like at the start of a ball game in the states before the contest begins.

Both sides started the night confident of victory although the smiles on the faces of the Democrats seemed more certain.

One lady who had been manning the phones from the Democrats Abroad office in London for the election said: “Of course he will win. We haven’t done all this work to think otherwise.”

But the Republican Mike Magan, former National Security advisor to George W. Bush, said: “Romney will win. This is an early poll and I think we have it where it counts.”

But he added: “I might be eating crow tomorrow, but I do think we’ll win.”


But not all was well in the Republican camp not least because of Romney’s gaffes during the campaign.

One Conservative M.P, who was a senior figure in George Bush’s foreign press team in 2000, said she was no fan of Romney because of the way he dismissed a large proportion of the electorate who do not pay income tax.

She said: “I am a Republican but one with a heavy heart I think I would have spoilt my ballot paper.

“If you don’t have a message for the whole country then you are good enough.”

However, there was some early hope for them when Virginia, a key swing state, was declared too close to call.

And as the various guests ate, drank, danced and smoozed, the serious political anoraks gathered in a massive media room to watch the night unfold. The real nerds went to an auditorium where PBS’s analytical coverage was broadcast on a cinema screen.

And as the night went on it became clear even across the Atlantic that it was the President who had won another four years.

The Republican faces became glummer and they drifted away quickly. Meanwhile there were regular loud cheers from the Democrats as projections came in.

Amidst the cheer there was a cautionary note from Lord Robertson who reminded us he was at the Embassy in 2000 when everyone though Al Gore had beaten Bush.

But by 4am the last stragglers at the party were made up of happy Democrats and the most hardcore of the political anoraks. It was at this point that the embassy called time, just before the result was confirmed.

But by then everybody knew who would be leading America for the next four years and there may have been a few relieved employees at the embassy.