Après Brown, le deluge?
Nobody should be sorry to see Brown go – but the elitist cliques now trying to carve up power In The National Interest would be even worse for politics.
Gordon Brown was never fit to be UK prime minister and will not be missed when he has gone. But after Brown announced plans to step down as Labour leader, the hard truth is that the government that follows him is likely to be even worse for politics.
While the cliques of party leaders tout and tart themselves for post-election power in the most shameless fashion, claiming that every stunt and sleight of hand they pull is In The National Interest, we are locked out of democracy. The electorate is supposed to sit and watch its fate decided on television, as if we were waiting for the smoke to arise from the Vatican when the cardinals appoint a new Pope to do God’s will on Earth.
An election campaign that was hailed as the rise of ‘people power’ has ended with the people rendered powerless. An indecisive election result has become the excuse for an attempted coup by cross-party cabals of faceless officials. Acting In The National Interest has been redefined as grabbing power at any price, while ‘creating a new politics’ now seems to be the excuse for doing whatever is necessary to placate the financial markets, the City tail wagging the democratic dog.
In circumstances where nothing seems as it did a short while ago, there is a lot of confusion about what is happening and why. Yet these unpredictable turns of events mark the culmination of two historical trends that spiked has identified for some time.
The first is the end of the old party politics. The election powerfully demonstrated that this is an age less of three-party politics than of no-party politics. The Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats are now political parties in name alone, without the political principles, roots in society or solid support of old. That is why they all effectively lost the 2010 election, and got exactly what they deserved.
The end of the exhausted old politics need not necessarily be any great loss today. Yet the danger lies in the other trend long identified on spiked: the emergence of a new political elite, disconnected and isolated from society as never before, attempting to consolidate its power on the ruins of the old. That is what all of the post-election manoeuvring in smoke-free rooms really represents.
The character of the new non-political elite is symbolised by their blandly interchangeable leaders – David Cameron of the Conservatives, Nick Clegg of the Lib Dems and, after Brown finally goes, perhaps David Miliband of New Labour. Who could tell them apart in a blindfold test? That is not simply, as some critics claim, because they all went to posh private schools (Miliband went to posh state schools anyway). It is because they are all out of the same managerial mould, having risen without trace through careers as PR consultants, Euro-bureaucrats or policy wonks that involved no political campaigning or contact with normal people, before being dropped into parliamentary seats from on high like medieval lords being granted land by the king.
Now they have the nerve to claim that an election which nobody won gives them a mandate to make any deal they like among themselves. The electorate that voted for none of them is now in danger of being stuck with two or more. And it is all being done In The National Interest, of course – a far cry from the days when that was a ruling-class battle cry to unite the nation in times of crisis.
It is most telling that the one response to the indecisive election that all of the leaders have completely ruled out is letting the people vote again in another General Election. The parties claim that this is impossible because they don’t have any money. But it also shows their bankruptcy at a more profound political level. The elite is so alienated from the public, so filled with fear and loathing for the electorate, that the idea of submitting itself to the votes of the great uninformed again fills it with dread. Better by far to make politics a closed shop for the few.
How will this unstable situation unfold? Nothing is certain yet, but there remain several possibilities, not all of them bad news by any means.
One possibility is that we might be witnessing the start of the final disintegration of the party political system. The empty electoral machines now masquerading as political parties have no real ideological coherence or social anchors to carry them through a full-blown crisis. The tensions among rival cliques or between the old guard and the new in all of the parties were clear enough even during the election campaign, and have come bursting out in response to the wheeling and dealing since. Perhaps the historical continuity of British political institutions means we will not see a collapse on the Italian model just yet, where old parties simply disappeared and were replaced by shifting new alliances. But the creaking UK parties are coming apart at the seams.
How will the new power elites try to handle the crisis of the old political system? The signs so far are that they will attempt to cling together for security in new governmental arrangements, pull up the drawbridge to keep the masses at bay and try to carry on somehow. Parliamentary affairs will be even less about political debate or public life and more about managing the state as a private matter. The extent to which they get away with this, and prove capable of holding themselves together, is likely to depend in part on how they handle the economic crisis.
It will also depend on how people outside respond to their shenanigans. To date there has been little public response to the exclusion and effective disenfranchisement of the electorate from the process of choosing a new government, beyond the shrill noise of a few self-appointed ‘voice of the people’ supporters of electoral reform. Even the media, the exclusive forum for political life these days, has largely been kept out of talks, much to the chagrin of the self-important chatterati.
The lack of public pressure on the party cabals gives them more room to duck and dive for a shabby deal. No doubt all of this can only increase the already-deep-enough popular cynicism about the worth of anything political. Yet at the same time, the election campaign revealed that more people want to engage in politics, if only there was something worth engaging with. Might it be possible that there could be some space for something fresh in reaction to the death of the old politics and the consolidation of the new elite?
The phrase ‘Après moi, le deluge’ (‘After me, the deluge’) is credited to the eighteenth-century King Louis XV of France, implying that when he was gone from the centre of the French system, chaos and a political storm would follow. It already seems likely that, after Brown, we will be hit with a storm of the brown stuff and a political free-for-all. Fifteen years after Louis XV died, the 1789 French Revolution broke out and changed the world forever. The prospect of anything similar here seems, sadly, an unlikely one at present. But that should not stop us arguing, to coin an over-used phrase, for real political change. Surely the case for it is has never been more pressing.
We might start by suggesting that whatever government emerges from the current mess should immediately call another General Election. After all, they will have no proper mandate to govern or to implement any economic policies that were not put before the electorate in the first place. Another election campaign like the last one is hardly, of course, an exciting prospect. But it could give people the chance to tell the elitist cliques what we think of their sordid power games and to start discussing alternatives – which is precisely why our oh-so-democratically sensitive leaders will try to avoid an election at all costs. In The National Interest, of course.
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