Saturday, 10 December 2016
No fate but what we make
If I were to explain British politics to a child of ten I would at least attempt to be fair. I would describe our three party system as a balancing act. For the most part we have the Conservative Party as the natural party of government. It is in spirit pro-business, socially conservative but ultimately one which values the dignity of work and self reliance. We can argue the toss over the specifics if you like but we'll be here forever. For the most part this party suffices because it generally favours capitalism while also maintaining a fairly generous welfare state.
Occasionally that party becomes too rigid, too ideological and too corrupt and must be swept aside by the Labour Party. The Labour Party is a necessary corrective to the same tribe having power all the time. The left wing party doesn't really do business. It represents a different type of people who believe in different things where policies should focus on meeting people's basic needs directly instead of nurturing an economy that allows people to do it for themselves.
There have been times in our history when arguably that has been necessary. The Labour Party broadly believes in the redistribution of wealth to ensure that the less well off are looked after. The problem is that there is not always the necessary wealth there in order for it to be redistributed and so the Labour Party will borrow money, not to invest, but to spend. This may serve as a short term fix, which again is sometimes required, but in the longer term creates more problems than it solves.
In the round people will happily accept free stuff. Everybody thinks that something that is important to them is more important than the needs of others and that somebody else should pay for it. Even Conservatives think that. They believe people should generally pay for their own healthcare, except when it means they have to release equity from their own property. Since the property owning middle classes are quite powerful, for the time being, elderly care remains mostly subsidised. The system rests on a lot of hypocrisy.
This becomes problematic when the sum total of business activity cannot compete due to high taxes and so there is a constant battle to find a trade off between business needs and social needs. On the far extremes of each side we find people who simply do not recognise the needs of the other side. Generally speaking it is a bad thing if either extreme is in charge.
As to the third party, we have for as long as I can remember, had a liberal sort of party but in the main it is one that doesn't really believe in anything. It just serves as a vessel for people who can't make their minds up and don't like either of the main parties. It occasionally serves a function in the event of a hung parliament where it acts as a referee.
Because things have been the same for a long time, we have seen Ukip emerge as an insurgent to break the middle ground consensus (the establishment) which prevents either extreme from taking control. Again this is a healthy thing for a democracy. It keeps them on their toes and makes the traditional parties wake up to their own failings. Because of this we have had a referendum on the EU and we are now leaving the European Union.
Because of this, the insurgent party no longer has a uniting grievance. Voters are now returning to their traditional parties. Except for one. The Labour Party. The Labour Party has for more than a century been the main party of the left. Due to its constitutional make up, members are allowed to select their own parliamentary leader. Because of the general decline in party membership, this made it very easy for groups on the extreme left to unite and capture the party. This leaves the Labour parliamentary party out on its own with no infrastructure, no coherent leadership and no possibility of forming a government. And so we are, for a while to come, a one party state to all intents and purposes.
The problem for the Labour Party is poplar conceit on the left. The assumption that the ruling party is extreme and that the majority of people are living in extreme poverty in need of their munificence. This isn't true, everybody thinks they are mad, and they probably are. In fact, in the traditional sense, there is no real need for a Labour Party in that it was formed in an era of mass semi-skilled workforces in tight knit communities which could organise against oppression and injustice. Those communities no longer exist, the oppression does not exist and and though there are injustices, this is not some kind of backward fascist state where people cannot stand up for their rights.
They are right to point out that the rationalisation of our welfare system is happening too quickly without paying proper attention to the fallout of sweeping changes, but that too is based on a conceit that the fringe cases are the norm. This is why nobody listens to them.
Meanwhile, the centrists from the pre-referendum era are badly out of touch with the zeitgeist, they have no uniting ideas and they are reduced to flailing around making populist noises that nobody can really take seriously. Their actions when they were in government directly contradict what they say now. There is every reason not to trust them. Worse still, they are low grade people lacking in charm and competence. It is not a serious proposition for government.
And that puts us all in rather a pickle. It is unhealthy to have a government without effective opposition and it is difficult to see where a new movement will come from in order to challenge it. Ukip has no intellectual base and their message speaks to only one demographic which is barely enough to score an MP let alone form a government.
It would seem that the left will languish in the political wilderness for many many years until it acquires some new faces, fresh leadership and a set of worthwhile goals. There is no sign that they are ready to start that kind of thinking yet. They have yet to come to terms with reality.
What this holds for the future, nobody can really say. Brexit will define much of what happens in the next parliament and it really depends on what kind of deal we get. If it's a bad deal it could well see a serious economic impact which would see a change in Labour's fortunes. They would undoubtedly score more MPs but not enough to form a government. Like the SNP they would likely be a new intake of poorly vetted candidates, largely stupid, venal and shallow. They will have a caretaker leader who is not especially appealing but not nearly as awful as Jeremy Corbyn.
Whether or not Mrs May will still be prime minister by then is anyone's guess, but what we can say is that the incompetence of our exhausted parliamentary system will become increasingly apparent. It will hopefully become clear that we cannot limp on as we are and that there must be some fundamental constitutional changes. With people living longer and having longer political memories, tolerance for the kind of shambolic governance we have seen over the last two decades will expire.
We have a number of crises looming, not least as we reconstitute domestic governance in the wake of Brexit, but also in a number of other areas where years of policy neglect will take its toll. For the remainder of this parliament we will see the government concerned with little else but Brexit, but the next decade will be a time of political turmoil, reinvention and reform. We will see the Tories moving further to the right without effective opposition and Labour fumble in the face of it. We are in for a very interesting time. There's only one thing we can be truly certain of, politics has changed forever. The next decade will be anything other than boring. By that time, we will be asking the ten year olds what to make of it because we won't have a clue.