Editor-At-Large: Where can we find Britain's Barack Obama?

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It's hard not to feel energised by the euphoria surrounding Barack Obama's win. But what is the likelihood of anyone on this side of the Atlantic rekindling our interest in British politics? Zero, I would say. Commentators talked about the "Brown bounce" after Labour unexpectedly won a by-election in Scotland last week, but most of us remain profoundly turned off by politicians and the platitudes they spout. To be blunt, there are very few MPs and even fewer cabinet ministers who are able to connect with ordinary men and women in the way Obama does.

The contrast is stark: the US presidential election saw the highest turnout since 1908, a remarkable 65 per cent of the electorate. And although the number of first-time voters was only slightly higher than in 2004, almost half of that group were from racial or ethnic minorities, and half were full-time students.

Most British MPs seem marooned on Planet Politics, intent on saving their own skins, speaking in weird jargon and only mixing with fellow aliens. They seem not to mind or care that the 2005 general election attracted the second-lowest turnout since 1945, and was only fractionally up on the appalling turnout of 2001.

In short, we're turned off by British political parties and their candidates. Why? Trevor Philips, Head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission reckons that "institutional" racism in the Labour Party prevents any British Obamas rising through the ranks here. A whopping 17 million Brits decided not to vote at our last general election, and among the young and first-time voters, fewer than a third bothered.

Even more worrying is that fact that the highest turnouts were in middle-class areas, proving that many MPs don't connect with lower-income groups. Last week, Hazel Blears, who entered the Commons at 41 in 1997, suggested another reason for voter apathy was the new breed of career MPs who've spent most of their working lives involved in politics.

It's not often that I agree with Ms Blears, but she has a point. David and Ed Miliband, James Purnell and Andy Burnham have never worked outside the hothouse world of politics; seamlessly moving from being researchers to special advisors to MPs. And there are older politicians who aren't that different: Jack Straw joined Labour at 14, and was leader of the National Union of Students before becoming an MP. Gordon Brown spent a very brief period working as a TV producer, but before that he taught politics and was pushing Labour leaflets through letter-boxes at 12. Jacqui Smith joined Labour at 17, studying politics at Oxford before becoming an MP in her early thirties. Harriet Harman worked for the National Council for Civil Liberties before becoming an MP at 32.

All these bigwigs were committed to the party from an early age, but that kind of engagement has ground to a complete halt. The number of working-class kids who relate to the major political parties is negligible, but few politicians care. And, with the number of women in both the Commons and the Lords standing at a pitiful 20 per cent, it's easy to see why young women would feel that becoming an MP is not something for them.

When Gordon Brown talks of understanding the pain felt by ordinary men and women facing increased fuel, mortgage and food bills, we know it's just political rhetoric. And how can Eton-educated David Cameron convince us, either? The fact is that there's a great big hole at the centre of our political system – and it's called real-life experience.

Jo glows: The clear benefits of life without Ronnie Wood

Jo Wood has given her first interviews since her marriage of 23 years ended when Ronnie made a complete fool of himself by running off with a 20-year-old Russian waitress. Jo was promoting her new range of organic fragrances, and refrained from commenting on her errant husband's mid-life crisis, other than to say she had regained her strength and there would be a place for him at the family Christmas lunch.

I adore Jo. She always seems to embody a cheerful optimism many women in the public eye could learn from. Chatting to her at a party at the start of Ronnie's bout of bonkers behaviour, I couldn't help but be impressed by her calm dignity. Unlike the tortured Duchess of York, who now drags her daughters into her endless quest for self-publicity (in an ITV documentary about orphans last week), Jo comes across as refreshingly realistic and well balanced. She says she's got a strong family and is enjoying herself after spending years at home 'cleaning and listening to moaning'– I think we all know what she means.

Men of a certain age are worse than pets, who at least don't whinge and worry about their hair.

That isn't security: it's shambolic

New legislation means employers can be fined up to £10,000 for each illegal immigrant they employ. Recently, Lambeth lost a third of its parking wardens when their paperwork was checked, but that seems trifling compared to the débâcle within the Government. The boss of the Security Industry Authority (SIA), set up to license security guards and bouncers, has left his job after an investigation found that 38 of the people he'd employed to check credentials didn't have the right security clearances and had to be removed from the building. The SIA is a disaster. Last year, more than 7,000 illegal immigrants were allowed to work as security guards (some at the Home Office), and an inquiry has found that the SIA overspent by £17m.

Hands off my dabs, Jacqui

According to Jacqui Smith we're gagging for ID cards. Demand is so high that the Home Office plans a fast-track system so applicants can enter their data on a pre-registration website, enabling them to have an ID card in a year, two years before the original date of 2011. Really? Who's so desperate to hand over all 10 fingerprints and facial scans to the Government? I haven't encountered anyone. The Government is inviting private contractors to collect this biometric data. But saying that the contracts will be awarded to firms that undergo security vetting doesn't make me feel safe. This also applied to the government consultants who've mislaid memory sticks and computer disks in the past few months.

To have your say on this or any other issue visit www.independent.co.uk/IoSblogs