The Editor argues that we need a period of antipolitics until such time as realpolitik can make a comeback.
When the term ‘new politics’ was coined, it was almost as if a baby’s first word had been ‘spin’. Not only did it hark back to New Labour and all the arid thinking of Gould, Campbell & Co, it came out of the ether freshly-minted for the age of sound-bites. In short, it had obviously emanated from the Establishment.
Genuinely new politics needs a new name, and a new aim. And then people need to consider the basis upon which new Parties in that politics might compete.
We are pack animals, and so there will always be political Parties. The things that need to be changed are first, the function of ordinary MPs (more power) and second, the reining in of the Executive and the Whips (less power). Governments will always say they couldn’t govern properly if that situation pertained – to which my response is ‘And the last forty years have been ones of good government?’ (The same nonsense is applied to PR as an obstacle to ‘strong’ government.)
What I mean by the basis for Party competition is what factions, interest groups and socio-economic approaches would the Parties represent? The terms Left and Right have been outdated for a good twenty years, but as of two years ago they have become surreal – pretty much in the same way that argument about the bourgeoisie versus the aristocracy was irrelevant during the years 1780-1810 in revolutionary France. The issue is no longer one of a choice between Friedmanism and Socialism: they are both so obviously flawed, it is positively dangerous to think of our problems in those terms. As it was in the 1950s, I suspect the economy will become less ‘political’ over the next decade. Crises in energy supply and water conservation alone will force a more mixed economy upon us – to join a banking system which (whatever Darling says) is going to be at least partly owned by the taxpayer for a good few years yet.
Social upheaval and technological advance tend to be the most powerful catalysts for genuine political change…..after economic disaster. We are about a third of the way through that last disaster now and (to exemplify the ‘dangerous’ point above) it has already reached the point where a sterile Left/Right deficit/monetarist debate has achieved nothing beyond making foreign lenders even more nervous about Britannia than they were before the Budget. The next stage will involve arriving at a general consensus that we’re broke: hence my contention that, for many years thereafter, the economy will not be a Party battleground. The issues are going to be more socio-technological for the time being.
Socially, there is a very clear dividing line between those who want a multicultural approach, and those who say that being British first and last is the better route. There is also a massive canyon between those people getting nowhere except poorer and more feral, and those very few at the top end of the social hierarchy getting richer and richer. There is a fundamental impasse between those who want more rules, legal processes and quangos, and those who think people need to re-learn personal responsibility alongside respect for others. And finally, there is a marked contrast between the political elite on the one hand (keen to control and centralise) and those communitarians believing more power devolved locally will revive genuine social values. (The poor, the feral and the young, by the way, aren’t engaged in any of these debates: they’re too alienated or desperate to care.)
The greatest technological change has been in the ability of everyone now to archive electronically and observe digitally – coupled with the growth of easy interactivity between two communication points. The overwhelmingly important issue to emerge from this is that of State power, and its potential for further curtailment of individual liberty via non-stop surveillance. What makes it truly dangerous in the medium term is that first, Islamic terrorism has provided a ready-made excuse for more illiberal laws; and second, the subject is of no interest at all to most of the electorate. David Davies resigned on the issue of 42-Day detention without trial, but most UK citizens would’ve been quite happy to make it 42 years.
There is also a purely legal dimension to the issue which impinges upon a broader definition of liberty, and that is the privileged status of the legal profession itself. This is not a minor point: the over-representation of lawyers among MPs was just over 800% in the Parliament about to be dissolved; among Cabinet Ministers it was nearer to 2200%. Not only does this produce an inbuilt predilection for passing laws as the solution to every problem, it also ensures that the Judiciary enjoy an unhealthy amount of arbitrary power, certain in the knowledge that the political Jack Straws of this world will look after them in the end.
The growing power of legal firms generally – via the issuance of ridiculous gagging orders, and employment of marketing departments gaily encouraging a litigious mindset in Daytime television commercials – loops back directly into the social point about personal responsibility being replaced by blaming somebody else; but it also has relevance for the curtailment of free speech. The law in 2010 is no longer a blind arbiter dealing equally with all before the law: it is an instrument of repression on behalf of vested interests from billionaires to local councils, most of whom are determined to shape the lives of ordinary people – whether they like it or not.
In this context, we have Parties which are Left, Labour, Right or Tory in name only; in exact terms, we haven’t had those divisions in reality since around 1929 – and we haven’t had them at all since 1990.
The biggest Party by some distance after 1997 was the Nanny State Party (NSP). Employing and supporting as it does getting on for 48% of the population – and riding on the back of an education system explaining how right pc Nanny always is – it was assured at the time of a solid 120-seat majority, based on the age-old truism that turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. The Party had shed all things Left-wing in order to get elected. And it has never been anything except matrician – obsessed with good behaviour as defined by Nanny – and risk averse.
But the Nanny State is about to be dismantled by a force majeur called national bankruptcy. This will inevitably eat away at the NSP’s franchise.
And so in the coming five weeks before May 6th, the ruling NSP will be primarily opposed in the General Election not by the Right-Wing Conservative Party, but by the Caring Toffs’ Alliance (CTA), a hastily-arranged reformulation of what used to be the SDP wing of the old Labour Party, and Heathite Tories or ‘wets’. It has shed all things truly Right Wing in the hope that it might get elected. And it will never be anything other than patrician – which, brought up to date, means always being absent when the discipline needs to be dished out, and completely unfaithful to the wife as and when the need arises.
These oddly mangled and largely irrelevant ‘main’ Parties only maintain their hegemony at all thanks to antediluvian electoral rules fiercely defended by a spectrum of the Establishment. The last-stand defence runs from Brown to Osborne, and from Cameron to Mandelson. And as I have written many times before, things will stay exactly as they are until – first and foremost – the voting system changes.
If it does (and it must) then the battle lines may well be drawn very differently. They would be more naturally based on the cultural and technological factors outlined earlier. That is to say, on the libertarian dimension:
The Central (supra-national) State v The manageable (local) Community
The State Employer v The Entrepreneur
The Secret State v The Private Individual
The Controlling State v The Responsible Individual
The Supreme Executive v The Balancing Legislature
…..and on the justice dimension:
The Multicultural State v The Unicultural Multiethnic Electorate
The Wealthy Few v The Greatest Social Contentment
The Privileged Politico-Economic elite v Equality before the Law
The State as Educational Target-setter v An inspirational Teaching Profession
The State-Judiciary Collusion v An accountable Legal Profession
While this might look somewhat complex and up itself, it isn’t really. The bottom line is a likely replacement of Left v Right with Big Interests v Small Aspirations. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be a multi-Party system, but rather, a one-Party ‘Big Interests’ State being opposed by a largely powerless (and somewhat splintered) tendency representing ‘Small Aspirations’. It won’t be labelled like that of course – spin will ensure another more benign-sounding name – but that’s what it will be. And if not given more of an outlet for its very real voice, further economic collapse will ensure that the Wat Tylerist Little Man ‘resistance’ could turn very nasty indeed….and eventually produce one Very Big Brother.
However, I have a suggestion to make – and I may spend my declining years regretting I ever made it. It is this: to launch a Party which would appeal to the vast majority of apolitical folks on the basis of commonsense and utilitarianism. But it would be antipolitical rather than apolitical.
Utilitarianism is just another politico-jargon word meaning ‘only ever passing laws that can demonstrate a clear benefit for the majority, and repealing all the other nonsense’. Its founding father was a bloke called John Stuart Mill, and along with another clear thinker, Jeremy Bentham (‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’) left us a body of thought proclaiming benign effectiveness and accountable leadership as the best way to progress as a nation.
My working title for this Party is Pendulum. Pendulum’s primary contention would be that on almost all issues – economic, social, financial, policing, immigration, the Law, health, welfare insurance, the penal code and so forth – the pendulum has swung too far towards Silly from a place previously known as Nasty. It needs therefore to be put back to a place called Fair & Practical: not in a ‘boring’ bland Centre, but to a position where good, empirical governance replaces loopy polemics based on wishful thinking and bigotry.
This would mean (probably) the Decade of Antipolitics….but without creating a totalitarian State. Because inevitably, the mass support for such an idea would soon – and quite rightly – break up into factions with different ideas about the best means to the end.
This is what politics used to be before media trainers, spin doctors and brainless ‘professional’ apparatchiks got hold of it. And it must return there if we are not to stroll distractedly into perpetual serfdom.