The march right encircles the pond

Is there a size attributed to Government? Does it reach to the edges of a country’s territory or does it only define the ten letters that make up the word itself? In many cases the parameters of government become more important than a politician’s rhetoric or their mission statements that propel them to office or condemn them to the bleakness of opposition. In the centre of the debate is the question: Should governmental control supersede that of the region or individual? This of course is a blanket term; control is different depending on what aspect of government is being discussed. Many will concede that the military is within the central government’s remit as to protect the country as a whole, while many will debate and criticise the government’s role in initiating tax, health care or funding structures. Due to its overarching structure this is an issue that defines all forms of western democracy, including both Europe and the United States of America.

In Britain, after a New Labour government that developed a centralised, top-down government that sought to control all aspects of national government from the centre, we have moved in a different direction with a Lib-Con coalition government. Cameron has championed a more decentralised approach giving control to regional bodies for aspects as diverse as healthcare and the formation of free school to land rights and development. In a distinct move away from the government that lay before it, the new government sees a rampaging government as the first symptom of a failing system and something we can ill-afford.

In the US however, the discussion of governmental size has taken on a far more venomous tone. Faced with vast reforms in the healthcare, tax and benefits systems, and bank bail outs that totalled over $700 billion, many on the Right have marshalled their forces to condemn Barack Obama and the Democrats. Well known commentators and politicians, from Glenn Beck to Sarah Palin have chided the President for extending government into peoples’ homes, where apparently it is unwelcome. The ‘hostile’ encroachment of government has become the figurehead behind which, the Republicans are marching toward the November midterms.

Where has this forceful restriction come from? Much of it comes from the public’s inability to understand how important the government is in their day to day life. In his Guardian blog, Michael Tomasky hits the nail on the head:  “If they’re small business people, they depend on the freight rails and the roadways and the utilities and the regulation of interstate commerce and the laws that keep their crooked competitors from undercutting them and the courts’ abilities to enforce those laws.” Small business is the example bandied around by the Right when demonstrating the ‘devastating’ damage of the government. Was the US to implement a national minimum wage like we enjoy in the UK for example, we are told by many Republicans that it will be small businesses that will suffer. While this may be true, they ignore the aforementioned benefits that businesses enjoy, because, it doesn’t fit the carefully manufactured image of a big and cumbersome government.

But what has caused this? There are many reasons that are specific to each country. The US was founded on principles to protect individual freedoms from anything that encroaches on this, be it, a foreign invading body or their own government. It is from this that Sarah Palin states: “We must restore America and restore her honour.” It is a move backwards, towards the great American tradition of liberty, freedom and the self-motivating ‘American Dream’. In the UK, however, it can be seen to stem from a far more recent development. In part, it stems from a disillusionment with politicians and the governmental system that ignited with the MP expense scandal. The public trust, or lack thereof, has demonised the Labour image of a controlling, competent and trustworthy band of politician’s working on the public’s behalf, preferring a system that is tailored for their individual area. Working on the idea that they want to see every step being taken, much like a mischievous child being told to remain within the parent’s line of sight. You will never know what he gets up to.      

But if there is one aspect that connects both countries, it is the punishing economic climate. Uncertainty as we see now in the market place punishes liberal and progressive tax systems and financial policies that offer recovery for the country as a whole. People demand that their money is protected above all else, even sacrificing a faster recovery for the peace of mind. With very little money to share around, people will demand their share. It’s the scene from every disaster, survival or zombie film: The lowly band of survivors comes across a hoarder, barricaded in his house, boxes of cash n carry grade tinned soups or fruit pieces in syrup obscuring the windows. The hoarder in question is wary to share, measuring his survival in this time of chaos on all that he himself could obtain. Faced with this band of needy strangers the word that will cross is mind is that of strangers and he will evaluate the benefit of his sharing with that of his own survival. Faced with less money, unsettled employment and job insecurity, many people will prefer a closer relationship with that which is owed to them. It’s easier to share out funding, benefits and resources with those you know, with those whose kids got to the same school, with those you bump into at the chemist or supermarket, not the near-abstract idea of an entire nation.

From George Osborne’s public service cuts and the great ‘quango’ hunt to Nicolas Sarkozy’s move to uproot Roma camps in France, the question of how far money will stretch, and how much is spent outside the public’s view or situation, supersedes any other issue such as the uproar by many human rights organisations and the UN targeted at the French President’s policies.

For now a large government is the enemy and many in the US are preparing for the November midterms, with this target firmly in their sights. While the UK does not have the deeply historic conflict between national and individual freedoms to confuse and intensify matters, David Cameron and the Tory party will have you believe that it won’t be long until the much championed New Labour image of a central government will exist only in history text books alongside the Battle of Independence and the Boston Tea Party. We can only hope that like the Battle of Independence, a central government that operates for everyone’s benefit will inflect, affect and shape future political movements beyond this particular government.

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