Impossible as it may seem at the moment, the country needs a fresh political force.
Not everything is born bad. The origin of the hedge fund was an entirely well-meaning way for the smaller investor to play safe. The forerunner of the Liberal Democrat Party was dedicated to reducing State power and promoting free trade as a way of helping ordinary working people. The first Borsa (stock markets) accelerated the expansion of wealth among European populations. The Independent Labour Party founded in 1893 saw itself as a bulwark against both the violent Left and the lazy, greedy Right. The early Tories laid the basis of Parliamentary sovereignty over and above the Monarch. Nye Bevan was horrified by the NHS monster he’d created, and always meant for it to be a community-run system where most of the power was devolved to local level. Without the private capital of vastly powerful bankers, most of the great community projects (from the Suez Canal to the Mont Blanc Tunnel) would never have happened. The Attlee administration of 1945-51 produced more social mobility opportunities than all UK governments since put together. And many of the schemes were designed with the help of wartime coalition Tories.
When we look at the ghastly, dribbling great-grandfathers such ideas and endeavours have become today, there is one lesson above all to learn: however noble the ideals you start with or goals you set, there will be power-mad idiots out there to pervert and perhaps even reverse them. It is when belief systems run out of ideas (or see their ideas proved wrong) that the controlling opportunists take over. Mediaeval Popes, Napoleon, Stalin, Thatcher, Blair and Ahmadinnejhad may have been mad to wildly different degrees, but they all share one overriding feature: an enthusiasm for defending the indefensible.
The Labour Party has now reached this point. That is to say, from having been a force for change, dedicated to defending the rights of the poor against a ruling class and its close ally The State, Labour has morphed over time into a reactionary supporter of all State actions designed to control the vulnerable, and any privileged minority group (religious or economic) that it can use for both votes and financial support.
It is, cliche of the decade, ‘no longer fit for purpose’. Instead, it has a new purpose: to impose politically correct intolerance upon all of us…in the name of liberal values. It won’t succeed in this, and indeed as fast as disgruntled LibDems join its ranks, the quieter end of intellectual Labour has lost interest. Harman is mad, Charlie Whelan devious but stupid, and Ed Miliband an embarrassment. The Labour Party is doomed in the medium term; and so we need to fill the void that remains with something more valuable and just. Yes we do, really.
It seems to me there is a vindictive streak abroad in our media set at present. This I would describe as the desire to wipe out any and all forms of opposition to the concept of a civilisation – if one can honour it with the term – where the only things that matter are material gain, untold wealth, destroying the competition, winning at all costs, and the employment of every last human in it towards the goal of perfect GDP-generating efficiency.
For many of us, this genocidal anti-Left attitude represents an even greater folly than one day electing the present day leadership cabal running Labour to power. Represented by the likes of Toby Young and James Delingpole at present, it would be, I think, a classic example of not just publicly strangling the nation’s favourite dead horse, but also awarding a reprieve to the highwaymen who had ridden the poor nag to its death. Unite and the Harmandrome would have a field-day.
We really are not going to create a fair, moral and united nation by spouting bigoted drivel in the hope of vapourising all opposition to the excesses of capitalism. (Capitalism today is, let’s face it, a sick caricature of itself, unwilling to reform and unable to share.)
Britain has already experienced more than enough tasters of just how nasty a Big Business world might be if untrammeled by opposition or uncontrolled by Government. Between 2000 and 2008, of course, the banks ran riot, performing tricks not even good for business, let alone the society that such business is supposed to serve. But for me, it is the impertinent arrogance and incessant displays of vulgar bragging to which we’ve all been treated since then that are intolerable.
This is old ground not worthy of being trampled further (aside from any other consideration, the smell of excrement on one’s shoes is intolerable) but I mention it briefly to provide the background to what we’ve been suffering on a near-daily basis for much of the latter half of 2010: for like the Labour battalions and bonkers Islamists, the free marketeers simply cannot resist any chance to defend the indefensible.
Yesterday we had the continuing attempt to hound Vince Cable from office, purely because he expresses what most people think: that Murdoch is a deranged nihilistic megalomaniac, and the banking community is devoid of ethics or social responsibility from top to bottom. The sanctimonious poppycock emanating from Wapping (‘shocked and dismayed’) would be risible in a script for a Spanish daytime sitcom: and as for appeals to the Ministerial Code, that is cant of the highest order. Vince Cable wants to represent people trying to restore UK standards of culture, education, ethics, and media reporting – of course he wants to stuff Murdoch. Nye Bevan was on the record many times over as despising private consultants: should this have disqualified him from forming the NHS?
This week, the Telegraph has run four columns condemning ‘banker-bashing’, and saying we should ‘get behind’ the banks. No explanation is offered as to why we should chant in support of very rich people whose achievements to date are (a) emptying the Treasury (b) starving small business of much-needed capital (c) cheating, overcharging and mis-selling customers at every opportunity (d) poking us all in the face by continuing to award themselves bonuses with our money (e) lying to every stress-test on every continent (f) lending money rashly to sovereign and private borrowers (g) laundering money for terrorists and (h) forcing almost every worthwhile institution in Britain to cut back on social and health programmes, some of which might at least do some good. The only thing I’d ever get behind big banking is the largest steel-tipped boot I could find….followed by a demand for our $23 trillion back.
But at the top of the Coalition itself, all is dilution and fudge on the issue. The banking leaders filibuster by saying they want ‘clarification’ on the subject of bonuses. Clarification? Why would any intelligent, normal human being need clarification of the duty to forego bonuses until a disaster they created has passed?
There is an issue here that simply won’t go away, and it isn’t the invention of some Guardian or Mirror hack. It is this: like it or not, all three of the top Tories running things today – Cameron, Osborne and Letwin – are deeply involved in and connected to senior banking institutions. All three went to Eton. All went to Oxbridge. If you put those facts in a pulp conspiracy novel, the editor would ask his author to tone it down several notches.
This is not to make accusations of graft or wrongdoing against any of this troika: their wealth alone (and sense of public service which, astonishingly, they do have) are good guarantees against that. But whichever way you look at the current Coalition – and the Establishment in general – they are almost all incredibly privileged. Clegg, Harman, Blair, Clarke, May, Maude, Young, Grieve…..on and on goes the list of blue-bloods, Old Baileys, City firms and dreaming spires. In this sense, they suffer from precisely the same social worker, Party apparatchik, Union organiser, local councillor and ‘professional politician’ mould of Labour: they are all, every one of them, cut off from the everyday thoughts, observations, aspirations, anxieties and frustrated sense of exclusion felt by real people.
This isn’t resentment at being excluded from involvement: the truth is that most people run a mile from political and community involvement. Rather, it is the hermetic exclusion from the elite’s radar and, more specifically, an exclusion of their opinions from any mainstream considerations in relation to future policy. I have been present on dozens of occasions when focus group findings have been presented to Ministers and Mandarins. I cannot remember a voter opinion at total variance with the Minister’s ever being given as much as a second’s consideration. The reaction was never “Should we listen to this?” but rather, “Let’s just ignore it” or – more commonly – “Let’s pretend we’re doing something about it”.
In this way did the political class stumble headlong into a hundred elephant traps from the Poll Tax to the immigration issue, and they are doing it now as regards the bitter and growing hostility towards the EU. It took endless phone-bashing with the MPs I know personally before any of them would take the expenses issue seriously. Below a superficial level, most of them still don’t. Quite a few of them resigned ‘in protest’. Give me strength.
The point here isn’t the brass neck of it all: I gave up long ago trying to penetrate that. The argument I’m advancing is very simple: we are dealing with an oligarchy here. Its members refuse to believe they are oligarchs for the same reason that the dragon with no mirror refused to believe he was a dragon. As one acquaintance after another was immolated to a crisp with his every exhalation, the dragon kept on saying, “All these people are burning to death and people accuse me of being a dragon, but I’m not. It’s not fair.”
I don’t want to replace the Party of business, because without one of those, well…..see 1997-2010. But while I’m a through and through commercially-minded bloke, I left that world in 200o. A decade of fending for myself (with more time to think) has made me downright suspicious of the motives behind every sell from a bank, supermarket, life assurance, software or internet provision company. The reason is that they’ve all swindled me (and millions of others) in a myriad of ways – and then taken the fast lift down to the silo many miles below the surface of the Earth. And all in all, I have no faith that the business and financial community any longer has the social sense of responsibility or guilt to be trusted.
So it’s the Labour Party we need to replace. Not just because its bigwigs also lack the spine required to take on monied interests, but chiefly because they don’t like anything small, vital or creative. They’ve become hardline priests who feel ill at ease preaching in anything smaller than a cathedral. In fact, my final conclusion about the Left – a Left captured by the middle class over fifty years ago – is that they don’t like ordinary people, full stop.
The choice being between a bunch of rich spivs who want to exploit people, and a host of pompous wannabe saints desperate to order people around, you don’t have to be a marketing genius to spot where the gap is in the British political spectrum. No, the real genius required is working out how to motivate and radicalise all those law-abiding folk whose very political philosophy means that they just want to be left alone.
Even more tricky will be attracting and engaging society’s miles-behind bottom end – the 5+million identified by The Slog last week as actively in need of loan-sharks….even before any financial strictures hit the home-owning sector.
Wikileaks has shown the internet’s ability to galvanise support quickly, but Assange and his barmier followers are both atypical and unedifying.
A few of you have threaded about things you’re starting up, but what we need here is a nationally organised force driven and united by the belief in representing the little man, re-educating our kids to think for themselves and take responsibility, and curbing the financial and surveillance powers of the State and its allies.
My working title for this is The Citizens.
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