Monday, 17 October 2016

Back to square one

Certitude can be a good thing. It brings direction, clarity and motivation. More than that it brings comfort. Few want to go to the trouble of re-evaluating long held ideas. It is on our intellectual and moral certainties on which we build our identity and to admit fault in ones own intellectual constitution is to admit fault in oneself.

That is where political certitude becomes problematic. All of us at some time in our lives take a look at the variables and make a rough estimation of where things should go and how things should be. It is on that basis political movements are formed.

Where it goes wrong is that political movements are slow building and built up around doctrinal tribal lines. The problem is that variables change over time which alters the narrative by which the tribe lives. The closer a movement comes to achieving its ends, the further it strays from reality.

If I have learned one thing from my dabbling in politics it is that knowledge is not prized. Conformity is. The rules of political progression are thus:

Firstly one must declare publicly an allegiance to an orthodoxy. One must praise it and denounce followers of opposing ideals. One must never deviate because the narrative is a closely guarded continuum. Each tribe has a leader but in each tribe there are cells. There are acolytes who are permitted a certain degree of status so long as they never challenge or contradict the high priest of the tribal orthodoxy. Dissent is punished, conformity is rewarded.

It works the same in any bureaucracy or hierarchical organisation. From the small organisation to the nation state, the dynamics are identical. Individualism is not tolerated. An individual informed by facts is not tolerated. Facts disturb narratives. Disturbing narratives not only challenges the orthodoxy, it also challenges individual identity. There is nothing more intolerable than a new idea.

What is worse than an idea though is a solution to a problem. Many movements or group entities exist for the resolution of problems. Once bedded in no organisation seeks to disband itself. No organisation seeks to diminish in influence. Once it has influence it will do anything protect that influence even if it means not resolving the problem. Solutions then become an existential threat. That is why nothing is ever solved. People prefer to talk about problems than to solve them.

This is so engrained in our political culture that debate has now become a form of entertainment rather than a means to an end. This explains London political culture. A Thursday night debate is less a means of achieving something as it is a means of filling in a week night in the same way one might enjoy Surbiton Amateur Dramatics Society or a Tuesday night book club. It is a London based social ecosystem of intellectual masturbation.

Not for nothing do we call them the chattering classes. It is reflected in London based political publications where we see in full flow the dynamic of prestige and conformity over substance. What we see is the popularised mantras of the leading tribes which attract the most prestige.

We often speak of "the establishment" but there have been very few credible attempts to define what that actually means. To the left, the establishment is the banks, bosses and the "neoliberals", but this is a wholly teenage interpretation of the establishment.

The establishment is difficult to define specifically because it is an amorphous mass of competing influences. It is neither right wing nor left wing. It is simply that which cannot be removed by way of voting.

The purpose of an election is notionally to refresh the powers that be. In reality all we are doing is sending more fresh meat into the grinder into an ancient system whereby the system takes malleable and naive politicians and uses them to gain influence, be it the media, privately funded think tanks or direct political donations.

In modern times the media and think tanks are interchangeable. The media does very little thinking of its own and so there is a nexus between the media and the thinks tanks whereby old money ensures that the orthodox narratives are never challenged. Through either bribery, bullying, ridicule or sabotage, there are no limits to the lengths they will go to to suppress ideas that they themselves do not endorse or did not originate.

In practical terms that means the basest of dogmas prevail and new approaches never see the light of day. The newspaper are in hock to their advertisers and the think tanks are slaves to their old money donors. Be it the paternalistic dogmatic socialists on the left or the hardcore conservatives on the right, the orthodoxies are fiercely guarded.

The reason that Ukip and other challengers have failed to topple this establishment is that they have never understood that you have to play by the same rules. Without prestige you have no political presence. Without an intellectual foundation and a clearly defined statement of aims and a plan then you have no way of conquering the establishment. To simply sing out populist mantras to please those without power cannot prevail.

It is widely recognised that the present system is broken. Everybody knows that the establishment is corrupt and impenetrable. Building a populist movement against it is the easy bit. Taking power is another.

To take power you first have to understand why the establishment exists. As much as it exists to monopolise access to funding it also exists to sustain the status quo. To solve societies ills is to take away their very reason to exist. Therefore to overcome the establishment a movement should ensure that it has the intellectual capital to challenge the status quo.

The system is extremely good at weeding out the amateurs. The media has ruthlessly ridiculed both Ukip and Corbyn. It is relentless and some might say unfair but in the end, that is the mountain that must be climbed. Populist slogans are no basis for the establishment to switch allegiances nor are obsolete and failed ideas from the 1970's.

Revolution can be achieved by way of winning over the establishment. There is a test to pass in order to take power. To do so requires a movement which is ruthless in its discipline but rigorous in its ideas. Ukip failed on both counts. It could accomplish neither. Momentum and the SNP on the other hand have the ruthless discipline of a movement but not the intellectual product.

This goes some way to explaining why the label "fascist" has been applied to all of these upstart movements. Fascism is difficult to define, not least through overuse in popular discourse but the public do recognise that these movements have has the momentum in the same way the Nazis did.

What the Nazis had, which is what any revolutionary movement needs to learn from, is that very same ruthless discipline, an intellectual foundation and a plan. It is a model that any movement with any motivation can use and succeed with. The Nazis had racist ideas but the model is a time honoured one where the rules apply even to this day.

It is for this reason I am saddened to see the implosion of Ukip. Ukip had that momentum, it had the passion and the drive, but it was never built on a foundation that could outlast its leader and the leadership did not nurture the movement to live beyond its leader.

Consequentially, though Ukip may have delivered the EU referendum, it has dissipated by way of having no credible alternative to offer, leaving the old establishment in place to define what Brexit means. That is why Brexit probably isn't the revolutionary device many hoped it would be. The opportunity has been squandered and Brexit will be the process of appeasing the public while maintaining the status quo as far as is possible.

Having failed to produce a plan and a list of post Brexit demands, Ukip has left it to the establishment to deliver Brexit without being able to apply any leverage. That is what makes Farage a failure. Brexit should be a catalyst. Instead it will be a procedural transaction where remedial actions to seize the initiative will fall flat. I fear all that we have done is to make ourselves poorer only to leave the same establishment in charge of who has access to the decision making process.

What has been made apparent is that we do not have a democracy. The people do not wield power. We merely elect people to wield power on our behalf. That would work were there a clear line of access to decision makers without the defenders of orthodoxy standing in the way. Sadly though, we have squandered the opportunity to demolish that establishment. Brexit notwithstanding, we are no better off than when we started. Our hopes and aspirations are back to square one. We may have wrested some power from Brussels, but so long as it remains the domain of London, the establishment and the idle chattering classes, we may as well not have bothered.

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