Central to David Cameron’s “de-toxifying” mission upon becoming leader of the Conservative Party in 2005 was the idea of “localism”. Decisions would be made at the lowest possible level; power would be taken from the beaurocrats of Whitehall and transferred to town halls up and down the country. This was a clever ploy because it appealed to some element in all the great political traditions: Conservatives (especially soft-Tories) liked localism because it stood both in contrast to the all-mighty, centralised state, whilst lacking the divisive radicalism of pure Thatcherism; in other words it rekindled the Burkean flame that had been absent from the Tory party. Socialists liked localism because it implied greater community involvement; Liberals liked it because it combined all the strands of social liberalism: devolving power to individuals through political involvement rather than the free market.
So it was a clever ploy, and together with the photogenic huskies and hug-a-hoodie photo-ops, it gave Cameron a wide appeal based on the rather flaky idea that Conservatism could be less harsh, less divisive and altogether less stupid. It was an illusion that millions would like to believe, and some still do. But the reality is that Cameron’s rhetoric has been proved to be exactly that: just rhetoric.
High ranking Conservatives who today hold ministerial office used to give speeches in which they set out their vision for the day when the running of various services would no longer be their responsibility. (It would be cynical, at this point, to suggest that this was due to their understandable desire to have a ministerial salary whilst simultaneously finding more time to spend at their gentlemen’s club.) The softer, more cuddly, burkean-ised version of Toryism resold to the public under Cameron’s leadership was based on an aversion to the activist state.
But the maxim that power corrupts has never been so thoroughly proven as during the last five years, not to mention the last few months. Given the opportunity, the Tories have not shrunk from imposing their world-view on others (restrained, in part, it should be said, by the Liberal Democrats), and amassing more and more power to themselves. Rather than letting others live their lives as they see fit, which is what Conservatism purports to be about, the Conservatives have indulged in ministerial activism just as their New Labour predecessors used to. The only recognisable difference is that they have wielded their power not in the name of increasing opportunity for all, and enacting legislation to protect the vulnerable from the ravages of a free-market economy, but instead to force pet-projects like HS2- and even worse, fracking- on local authorities whether they like it or not. Because the gentlemen in Whitehall always know best. Even when they are imbeciles with an infantile understanding of economics and a satanic understanding of human nature. Even more disturbing has been the idea that the lower classes should stop breeding quite so much, or else lose their tax credits. In the words of that veritable god, Josh Lyman: “They want a government small enough to fit into our bedrooms”. Rather than getting involved to pursue meaningful change to help people’s lives, this government has taken it upon itself to seek out the root of “pettiness” as a concept, and to absorb into their being whatever they find there, squandering public money throughout.
We have recently learned that the government will take decisions on fracking applications into their own hands if local authorities don’t make the ‘right’ choice. Councils now have 16 weeks to make a decision, or the minister Greg Clark will make the decision for them. In fact he can now do that in any situation he likes. This is in very stark contrast to wind power, which has seen its subsidies cut back viciously, and we were told new wind farms will only be built if the communities involved were very keen for them to go ahead. All this speaks of a government which is not only hypocritical, unprincipled and seemingly the victim of amnesia as to why they are in politics in the first place -apart from perhaps sadism- but also one which fails to understand the country it governs, or the world in which it sits. A government so hopelessly lost and clueless as to the nature of the affairs they meddle with that they might as well not bother.
Speaking of wind turbines, I will be writing a post shortly in response to James Delingpole’s “watermelons”. So that should good.
The latest wild-eyed, shrill shreak of terror and petulance to come from the Blairite wing of the Labour party has been Simon Danczuk’s brilliant intervention into the debate, showing his world-class political mind to be the wonder that it is; when asked in an interview whether Jeremy Corbyn would be ousted on day one, he said: “Yeah, if not before. As soon as the result comes out. People in the PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party] aren’t going to put up with it”. The economically and ideologically clueless, almost universally despised parliamentary representatives of a movement proud in history and achievement will simply not put up with the result of a democratic election if it does not go their way. So there.
And why should they? Don’t these grassroots activists know who’s really in charge here? This is the Labour party for fuck’s sake, not some kind of hippyish democratic cult. In fact the level of contempt shown by Blairite political operators for the ordinary party activists that handed them their election victories, and provided a useful counter balance against the soul-destroying influence of Blair, has never been clearer than now. Blair recently advised party activists who felt that their heart was with Corbyn to get a heart transplant. John McTernan’s contempt for the people of Scotland was made clear in the scandal surrounding the leaking of his emails in 2008, but his description of Corbyn supporters as “morons” I’m sure convinced a good few of them to stop being so silly, get real and vote for some bland machine-man/woman.
In fact the behaviour of the Blairites throughout this election has astounded me, as I know it has many. It’s one thing to favour pragmatism over ideological purity – at least this is logical, sensible and legitimate – it’s quite another to throw what essentially amounts to a political tantrum because their own members are threatening to vote the wrong way.
If Jeremy Corbyn wins, the PLP will stomach his “crazy left-wing” policies. They will cheer him at prime minister’s questions. Their petulant talk of an immediate “coup” will fade away into history. They will do all this, or their total loss of direction as a political movement; as well as the degree to which the leaders of a supposed ”people’s movement” have become so dreadfully estranged from the lives of the ‘people’ they seek to serve, will become painfully clear to everyone with a TV set. The disastrous defeat of 2015 will become so, so much worse: the final death-knoll of a venerable movement. Worse even than my sure knowledge that my above wish list will fail to materialise, is the knowledge that such a movement lived its last days amid the undignified shouts and jeers of ignorant men like Simon Danzcuk, and the attention-seeking hysteria of political nobodies like his enormously breasted ex-wife.
Just like the USA, it seems we are in danger of forgetting our history and turning our back on its complications with hypocritical absurdity. Britain, just like the US, is a country of immigrants. Our country as we know it today has been formed by wave after wave of immigrants bringing new culture and language, and collectively enriching this “sceptered isle”. What makes me so angry about the current immigration debate, is not even the lack of understanding that the people coming here from the developing world are trying to escape poverty, war, famine and hardship – a great deal of which we gave them – and to seek a modest slice of the wealth we stole from them. What irritates me most is not the dehumanizing language (the Prime Minister recently refered to human beings as a “swarm”) and the frustration that our political debate has been so pointlessly sidetracked away from things that actually matter; what annoys me most is the idea that the Pakistani families coming to live in Bradford, Glasgow or London are really any different from the Anglo-Saxon settlers who practically wiped out Celtic England, or the blood-thirsty Vikings who come to rape and pillage in Scotland and northern England. For all the talk of Islamic extremism, their wave of immigration has been incomparably less violent than that of previous settlers.
However, I have a Conservative disposition which leads me to abhor sudden change, especially cultural. Which is why I would favour slower migration, with proper checks. And I imagine that most people in Britain are pretty much on the same wavelength. And so it would be great if the government could find time on its legislative agenda to begin to solve the problem; by no means should it dominate the political discourse in the way it does. By no means should we turn a cold shoulder to the thousands of desperate, hungry and hopeless wretches trying to enter the channel tunnel. Surely this is the one issue on which the EU should take action, if on nothing else? What other situation is more suited to EU interfering than one which requires mature, sensible dialogue and collective decision-making across all the European states?
Speaking of my conservative disposition, the constant attacks on the “indefensible” House of Lords (quickened in the wake of the Lord Sewel revelations) are beginning to grind my cheese.
Surely there can be no greater example of “the public doesn’t know what it wants” than when people whine and whine about an alienated political class, with no experience of the real world, and then bemoan a chamber which collectively represents the inherited experience and wisdom of Britain and all its professions? The quality of debate is much improved in the House of Lords than in the Commons – not least because the members are busy snoozing rather than braying like donkeys – which is what you would expect, because the people who sit there carry exactly the kind of real world experience that our political discourse so desperately needs.
Another elected chamber would be daft – the final victory of the career politician.
The reason it gets progressives so hot under the collar is because it exists as a useful part of Britain’s political machinery despite Enlightenment ideals – just like the monarchy. Although it provides the much needed scrutiny that the Commons so woefully lacks, it is an outrage: without democratic legitimacy. Kezia Dugdale’s recent article in the Guardian makes the case for moving the Lords to Glasgow, very cleverly without stating outright that it should be elected: ” Who could say in all honesty that if we were starting from scratch we would draw the current system?”. And right there in a nutshell is what is wrong with the progressive understanding of the British constitution. As a crusading force, left-wingers are wired to think they can change things for the better. Sometimes this is welcome and necessary, but it’s always an arrogant way to look at things, and it sometimes leads them to destroy useful institutions simply because they don’t fit in with their ideals. Conservatism used to be about fighting that kind of utopianism, but it has recently converted to an even more twisted utopianism of its own.
You simply can’t start from scratch. Constitutions – like societies – are complex, organic, and the result of slow, careful evolution; although our’s isn’t perfect, I’d challenge you to find one anywhere in the world that is, and we should pride ourselves on having one that’s better than most.
There has been furore aplenty in the media following Jeremy Corbyn’s surprise lead in the Labour leadership race. Blairite grandees have come out in force, decrying their intention to overturn a democratic decision and depose Corbyn immediately if by some freak of fate Labour Party members are stupid enough to elect him. What we are effectively seeing is a revolt against the parliamentary labour party by its grassroots members. For years now, the best kept secret in politics has been that the majority of the public, let alone the Labour party, are economically to the left of the Labour leadership at any time (constantly validated by opinion polls showing high levels of support for renationalisation etc). Despite this, Blairites, with arrogance and glowing self-admiration that still hasn’t worn off since 1997, go about crying havoc, and expatiating on how electing Jeremy Corbyn would be electoral suicide. The facts are these: Jeremy Corbyn’s inclusion in the race has been a healthy thing for British democracy, not just the Labour party. He has raised issues that matter to the vast majority of people, he has aired opinions that so desperately needed airing, and he has reminded the Labour party of why it exists. In the face of this the other leadership candidates have offered a bland mixture of platitudes and status-quo jargon, and they deserve the kicking they are currently getting in the polls. The result of his campaign has been to mobilise a huge amount of public frustration which has so far not been given a vehicle- the Labour party should have been its vehicle- and given Labour a chance of winning back its heartlands in Scotland and re-awakening the social democratic spirit in working class communities that haven’t voted for a long time, and which are more likely to hold the key to winning the election and retaining our principles than the imaginary phantom of “middle England”.
Lastly, I want to tackle this idea that Corbyn is somehow “far left” or extreme. On the contrary, he is what a social democrat looks like. Blairites like to define themselves as “social democrats” in contrast to Bennites who they brand as “socialist” and “far left”. Blairism offers at best a watered down social liberalism. By the standards of the 1970s, Jeremy Corbyn would be considered moderate. The only thing that makes him “loony left” and therefore “unelectable” is the newspapers deciding that he is; the Blairites might have destroyed Labour’s soul, but they don’t have to give Rupert Murdoch a helping hand in redefining the parameters of debate in this country.