THE SUNDAY ESSAY: Why we need more ambition in our ideas about reforming Britain.

Bad political science and tired media agendas are getting in the way of New Britain

There has been much analysis of late about our ‘coalition’ Government. The Slog started the analysis early, but confined itself largely to an assessment of direction and competence. I thought the conclusion (directionless and sloppy) was about right, but when I began to read the views of those working at the Guardian and Telegraph, I realised that either I or they must be on a different moon of a square planet far, far away….possibly with the fairies in a seventh dimension.

For entirely different reasons, over the last few years these two press titles have retreated in on themselves, until they now appear stuck in 1972 and 1986 respectively. The Guardian, for example, still espouses a view of welfare, multiculturalism, feminism and the role of the State that decades of empirical data have shown to be well-meaning, but at best flawed – and at worst utterly mistaken.

Our welfare system is poorly targeted and abused, our multiculturalism an inflammatory encouragement to believe in automatic entitlement, feminism in its Harmanite form repels men and bores most women, and in every department of State we have witnessed waste, hubris, graft and self-enrichment on a mind-boggling scale.

The Telegraph (under the influence of a flotilla of boat people previously working at the Mail) has somehow transmuted what was once gold into base-lead. Lacking the stature to see out of the trench created by Thatcher and various other free-market economists, it can see no fault at all in any of the aspects of capitalism in its contemporary format – that is, a model dominated by globalism, multinational merger, investment banking, obscene salary levels and ruthless mercantilism. The only thing it truly does not like is the Coalition.

So it is that the Telegraph has run concerted campaigns to stop banker-bashing, discredit LibDem ministers at every opportunity, talk of ‘jobless’ recoveries as if they might be a sane idea, consistently talk up private sector growth figures while ignoring their tiny percentage of the economy, and run exposes on MP expense-fiddling. This last was an outstanding example of investigative journalism; but what’s notable is the paper’s complete lack of interest in applying the same level of burrowing to banking, bourse finance, professional sport, and the abuse of media ownership.

For the so-called ‘quality’ readership sector, the two titles are at opposite ends of an otherwise empty political spectrum. They share just the two things: a liking for all things Big, and an increasing disregard for the importance of ethics in journalism.

In the Guardian’s case, there is little interrogation of the big, controlling State; at the Telegraph, there is little questioning of the multinational globalist business construct.

As for ethics, well – the Guardian flagrantly censors all blogs and comment threads at odds with its views, and the Telegraph has taken a shine to the idea of innuendo and secret audio taping as the best unelected means of chucking LibDems to the sharks. (Habits, perhaps, they brought with them from the Mail).


Clinging as they do to their own treasured tenets of How Things Work, The Guardian-Observer and Telegraph groups thus perfectly sum up the views of Old Labour and the Conservative Right. ‘But what about the LibDems?’ I hear you think, to which my answer is, “They don’t count”.

I say this for three reasons. One, they have no natural appeal in the electorate (as the recent election and referendum results showed all too well). Two, while they must be pampered here and there with idiotic legislative changes and last-minute compromises, they aren’t setting the real agenda on the Cabinet table: how to get the national finances right, and keep interest rates down. And three, they stand for nothing at all at the Parliamentary level: Clegg, Cable and Huhne in particular are old Left Stateists to the core, but those LibDems outside the tent think they should go further Left still. They are Labour MPs with a Tory thirst for power…an unimaginable nightmare should it ever come to pass.

The dear old Guardian disagreed last May, when it enthusiastically endorsed them as something previously small about to become Big. When the predicted voters didn’t turn up (and Slick Nick made a beeline for Dave) the Guardian was stumped. Now, of course, it hates Nick Clegg.

People largely buy newspapers out of habit, and as a badge. For core readers of the two titles under review here, it would take the Guardian to endorse the Bolsheviks and the Telegraph to rename itself Der Sturmer before they’d look around for another daily read. Also, remember, the vast majority of people are apolitical, and bored by the policy wonks and anoraks infesting all three Parties. So although both papers have a national mass readership, they don’t represent Middle England that much: the Guardian is too fluffy, and the Telegraph too crusty.

Add to this is the fact that newspaper reading per se is a habit increasingly undertaken online, and I reach the conclusion (fairly obvious, really) that neither title is in tune with the bulk of the electorate – given that 56% of them rarely if ever buy a daily newspaper, and fully 62% don’t buy a Sunday newspaper at all..

This is a trait they share with the Parties whose outlooks they reflect. People over forty still also vote largely from habit. Since the debacle of May 2010, most of the polls I’ve seen suggest that an entrenchment is taking place: the LibDems are being squeezed by voters returning to their homelands.

And of course, 35% of the electorate don’t vote at all – a figure that was rising until last year’s turnout. In by-elections leading up to the last General Election, candidates got elected on an average 23% of all voters in the constituency. That isn’t democracy, it’s demapathy.

Much of the electorate’s boredom with politics stems from the same old Left/Right mantras being trotted out  again and again. The terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ may well extend far from the Houses of Parliament, out into the media and over the horizon to local government activists. But I’ve blogged close to exhaustion in the past about the fact that, as descriptors of voter franchises, social problems and future economic opportunities, these one-dimensional words are meaningless in 2011. They probably were the minute Baroness Thatcher won her first election.

However the fact that diehard adherents still believe in the old ideas is real enough. And for them, to deny the validity of their baseless polemics would be to render them pointless: the King truly would be in the Altogether.

So denial is what keeps them going.

My central thesis here is that the Left is in socio-cultural denial, and the Right is in economic denial. As long as their intellectual bigotry is in place, the West stands no chance at all of avoiding the cliff to which it is heading at an exponential rate of acceleration.

My further thesis is that if this continues, our liberal democracy will be the victim – not them.


There are a myriad of ways in the UK of trying to avoid this outcome, but we are rapidly running out of time.

The first would be for a major Party to grasp how dangerous things have become, and stop pretending that loyalty to heritage is what politics are all about. I see only a very slim chance of this taking place, but if it did, oddly enough I’d expect what is now the Labour Party to do it first.

There is only one person in that movement who has the brains and radical ideas to lead it, and that is the former Work & Pensions secretary, James Purnell. The problem there is that first, he doesn’t even have a seat in the Commons any more – although his interest in the idea of a new, uniting movement is pretty obvious. And second, even he seems to lack the bravery to drop the soubriquet ‘Labour’ – at least for now. The term ‘Blue Labour’ is being bandied around – perhaps because it rhymes with New Labour, I’m not sure. Either way, it’s just another example of bright-eyed, brainstormed bollocks.

There is also a slim chance that what’s left of the anti-Cameroon Tory right might defect to UKIP – or, a much better idea, dump the clown Farage and form a new radical Centre-Right Party. But this would, I’m pretty sure, be simply shires xenophobic Toryism under another name.

The second would be for the electorate to finally snap under the heel of an economic depression, and start stringing up the Establishment on a 1789 scale. It remains my firm belief that a combination of apathy and respect for the law would, between them, render this extremely unlikely. There will be social unrest and there will be religious victimisation, but there will not be a violent revolution. I don’t rule that out among the ClubMeds, but I certainly do here.

The third way is the one I pray will come to pass: that by some means as yet unclear, a major element in our political process changes the game at a stroke. The main Parties might allow this through mistaken calculation, but more than likely it will have to occur in spite of them rather than because of them. The analogy of the 1832 Reform Bill springs to mind, when it took an unelected military man, Lord Wellington, to grasp that there was no other alternative to extending the electoral franchise.

For years, many (myself included) believed this might well involve electoral reform. I didn’t like either of the alternatives on offer in the 2011 referendum – no change there, then – but the electorate having given a loud raspberry to the newer of the two, voting reform clearly isn’t going to be on anyone’s horizon for many years to come. This is a big problem – but surmountable if such reforms were to be presented as part of a coherent package.

I see four contents in such a parcel of ideas to make sense to voters: returning power to ordinary MPs, breaking their links with constituencies, devolving power down to community level, and abolishing the Civil Service in its Whitehall-based role as a direct arm of government.

We could produce the right environment for all those policies by doing the following: constitutionally reducing the Executive’s power, abolishing the Whip system, using a pure, national List system of voting for legislators, mutualising the Civil Service as a commercial entity free of the State, and making community leaders and elections far more important.

This would involve a major shake-up of the way Britain is run – and a lot of metaphorical blood being spilled along the way. Would such root-and-branch change be worth it; and what would it achieve in a practical sense?

I think one needs to express this either in a long and detailed book, or a short resume. My précis would run something like this….

Because we no longer have directional ideals in UK politics – strategies based on sound experience, empirical measurement and a genuine desire for the greatest improvement of the greatest number – we no longer get strategically competent governance.

The ‘Party’ – more accurately, the Establishment – running things at the moment does so on the basis of privilege for them, tired ideas to keep their supporters in the cage, and the questioning of as little as possible in terms of power structures and fiefdoms. They may call themselves ‘progressive’ or ‘big society’ legislators, but in practice their sole aim is the maintenance of power: their power, Trade Union power, banking power, pc power, and unelected power…for media owners, lawyers, Party sponsors and anything too Big to stand up to

What Britain needs is an Opposition to this elite. People talk gaily about voting reform and political reform, but this is to scale down the ambition far too much. This country needs a radical rethink and re-engineering of our culture, ethics and constitution. And that sort of base-level reform needs to have an epidemiological effect on the key areas of our lives: education, the family, business, communities, the structure of our economy, professional standards, celebrity and media behaviour, sport, manners, finance, consumption, respect for the old and deservedly eminent, all creative endeavour, and last but not least, the faith we can put in those institutions dealing with crime, passing judgment on the guilty, and encouraging their redemption.

As long as the Telegraph is owned by a mediaeval fiefdom, the Guardian is the home of potty pc Labour, and the Murdoch press continues to manipulate an Establishment it understands only too well, there will be no interest in genuine change for the better in Britain. The future lies online, and the creation of a movement there to act as the Opposition to vested interests.

Related: Internet independence is fading fast.