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.