I spent the morning yesterday talking to people on doorsteps in my constituency, as I often do on a Saturday. It reminded me of the appeal of Barack Obama, sweeping to victory in three more states this weekend, taking his tally to 18 out of the 28 contested so far. Hillary Clinton is still in the race because she has won in the more heavily populated states by the sea in both the east and the west, where there are more delegate votes for the Convention. Obamaâ€™s appeal is that he is the anti Washington, anti establishment candidate â€“ the man who tells the USA that unless they vote for change politics will remain as frustrating as it is today.
On the doorsteps in the UK there is a feeling of powerlessness. Here people are fed up with their government. They are resigned to having to put up with another couple of years of its tax grabbing, it wasteful spending, its crude authoritarianism, and its unwillingness to be honest about everything from the EU to the wars it makes us fight. I was told by several that their incomes are badly squeezed by high taxes. I heard a litany of complaints about waste in the NHS, in quangoland and in other public services. Some said they did not vote when there was an election on and saw no point in talking about political matters when there is no election. The growing army of single people are often out when you call, scurrying around to do the shopping in between their time at work or with friends.
People here hate big money politics. They hate the way the main political parties raise their money, and they hate the way they spend it. They are fed up with slick spin doctors making politicians play back to them their own views, sieved through polling and focus groups. They are fed up with people in power saying some of the right things but delivering nothing. They doubt the politicians are in charge, and are not sure any longer they care about them being in charge.
Here in the UK we want lower taxes, so we get higher taxes. We want the money to be spent better on our priorities in health and education, only to wake up to find so much of the money has been wasted on Metronet, Northern Rock, cancelled computerisation schemes, ID cards and Network Rail. We want our local Post Offices to be available to serve us, only to find that after the government has taken much of their government business away so they have to close. We want the best of our institutions preserved and cared for, only to find this government destroys so much of its inheritance in its desperate bid to bring us into line with the EU. We want fair minded and competent administration. Instead we get a benefits and tax credit system that lets so many people down â€“by overpayment and underpayment on a grand scale â€“ and an amalgamated Revenue and Customs that seeks to maximise its tax take by any means.
The irony of the Obama campaign is that no doubt his fine words are crafted by expensive advisers. It is doubtless based on considerable polling and research. He can articulate the sense of frustration many Americans feel about the old firms, Bush and Clinton, who have dominated US politics for two decades as if it were an inheritance based system. He can point to the disillusion with Iraq, the anger with the sub prime crisis, the sense that there are still too many Americans who do not get the most out of the great society. He may be able to forge a coalition from the dispossessed and those who hate Washington, but he will be fighting apathy for many will think he too will become part of the problem should he be elected. I like his anti government rhetoric, but I doubt I would like his policies. The problem for the anti government campaigner is how would he make change stick? What changes would he make? Creating slimmer, better,more responsive government out of the huge bureaucracies the great democracies have now grown is not going to be an easy task.