|Posted - 17/05/2009 : 08:52
THE INGLORIOUS REVOLUTION?
It’s always instructive to be able to observe people functioning outside their comfort zone when the support of their preferred environment is stripped away. We have had this privilege in the last few days watching elected and ‘honourable’ members of Parliament trying to defend the indefensible. The general impression has been either supreme arrogance or more likely bumbling ineptitude and this got me to wondering how effective they have been as representatives of the people. The most usual excuse has been that they were prisoners of a decrepit and totally outmoded set of rules administered by civil servants whose only function was to apply the law, larded no doubt by a certain misplaced reverence for authority and accepted practice. I have no argument against this, it is patently true, what got them into trouble was their lack of moral rectitude (and in some cases simple laziness) in making expense claims. This ‘Nuremberg’ defence is of course no defence at all and hopefully those found guilty will pay the price.
Meanwhile we have the perfect political storm bearing down on us, the June 4th elections for many local councils and the European Parliament. 18 days is too short a time span to effect any sort of repair to the damage to the system caused by the small earthquake inside the Houses of Parliament. A chain reaction has started which will result in some very strange shifts in voting patterns which is going to be a massive deviation from what could have been expected. It remains to be seen what the effect of these changes will be, at the very least they will change the face of politics for the next ten years.
We would do well to ask ourselves why it is that a relatively small internal matter like MPs pay and expenses can cause such a shift in the body politic. A good analogy might be a minor earth tremor which of itself, if it happened in open country or in an environment where the structures were well-built and maintained, would cause only minor damage. However, if the structures are inherently unstable or weak there can be a major disaster. Why is this minor matter causing such damage?
I have to tell you that it is my belief that we ain’t seen nothing yet. This scandal is the detonator for a far larger body of discontent which has been growing in the ranks of the voters for years. I’m old enough to look back sixty years and make some comparisons. At the end of WW2 there was an immense feeling of relief in a country steeped in unity against a common foe. This unity enabled reforming government to take radical measures to improve the collective lot. Not every initiative succeeded but nobody can argue that improvement didn’t follow despite a shattered economy desperately trying to get into step with massive technological change. In spite the mistakes and set backs we laid the foundations for a modern state.
This was a success but it perhaps contained the seeds of its own destruction. Once the immediate problems had been addressed and ‘normality’ returned, government in general and politics in particular had more freedom to indulge in divisive policies which saw us return to the major fault line of Inter War politics. A growing gap in distribution of wealth and power. Despite loss of empire and the advance of global influences the hidden establishment of this country reasserted its grip on the system. Opportunity and advancement for the under class was restricted, overt attacks were mounted on what levers of power the under class held, North Sea oil revenues were used to finance a massive pool of unemployment, Friedman economics were embraced with more fervour than the Ten Commandments, the ‘markets’ were given carte blanche and manufacturing industry and the basic infrastructure was neglected to the point of destruction. All these policies shifted economic and political power from the mass of the voters to whoever controlled Downing Street. Even Parliament was devalued. From Thatcher onwards the style of government became quasi-presidential but without the checks and balances of a proper constitution. The parliamentary structure remained frozen in the 19th century.
There were many mistakes but the culmination was the personal decision by Blair to go to war with the US against Iraq which was based on specious evidence, lies and manipulation and was directly contrary to the will of the people. Arrogance had won and the populace seemed powerless. Pressures that were already there in the system began to build. As the presidential grip from Downing Street started to falter we saw glimmers of a resurgence of Parliament, at long last we seemed to be moving towards smaller majorities in the House and there was a chance that some of the insanely expensive initiatives of the last twenty years might be reversed.
Then came the so-called Credit Crunch, the collapse of the house of cards which resulted from blind adherence to pure market economics, deregulation of the finance industry and the neglect of industries and infrastructure which added value to the economy, solid wealth, not the smoke and mirrors money of the markets. The chorus went up from the bankers and senior politicians, ‘Not me Guv, it’s a global problem’. The public immediately recognised that this was not a defence and reacted vociferously in condemning the failed policies, venal bankers and lack of regulation from a government that believed its own publicity. Our masters really did believe that we had found the Holy Grail of economics ‘The New Economy’ where money could be had for minimum effort.
Apart from the anger against the system building in the populace, there was a growing realisation at grass roots that there was something wrong somewhere because at the bottom of the pyramid we knew that you only got what you earned by hard work. We began to see the erosion of anchor points like the price of food, energy and essential goods, we saw unemployment rising while unimaginable sums were pumped into the banks to bail them out. We saw the basic flaw of PFI and eventually realised that the price of all this incompetence and mismanagement was going to be squeezed out of us and our children for at least fifty years. Then came the trigger for outright revolt, the knowledge that at the heart of government there was, in some elected members, a complete lack of restraint and moral leadership. As I said, a relatively trivial internal matter which should have been addressed twenty years ago but this was the tremor which shook the foundations. What we are looking at now is structures crumbling, 19th century institutions dissolving in front of our eyes. Immense damage to the party system which will take years to work out of the system. As always in times of stress the first people to gain will be the far right wing followed by the single issue parties whose policies are easily understood. This will result in a political shift comparable to 1997 when the consensus was ‘Change’. Not all change is for the better, it remains to be seen if the basic common sense of the electorate will prevail or whether blind rage will surface and dominate voting.
There will be further repercussions. Like any shift in the tectonic plates of perceived certainty, eventually the tremors will subside, the landscape will stabilise and it is anybody’s guess what will survive of the present system. Think outmoded ‘tradition, think Establishment, think Established Church, think even Monarchy. No wonder the Queen is angry, she is an old dog like me and can see the dangers. Who knows, in the end it might all be a good thing, we might end up with a modern system of government with a constitution and proper checks and balances. If so the historians will look back and see 2009 as a revolutionary year. The Inglorious Revolution?
SCG/17 May 2009
Stanley Challenger Graham
stanley at barnoldswick.freeserve.co.uk