Saturday, 26 November 2016
It's time to clip parliament's wings
The former Chancellor Alistair Darling has warned that disillusioned voters who backed Brexit could flock to a populist nationalist movement headed by a Donald Trump-like figure as they turn against Theresa May’s Government.
Darling suggested that Ukip or a similar movement could reap the benefit, reflecting fears among Mr Corbyn’s Labour critics that the party leader is not appealing to its party’s traditional working class supporters. “You can see what’s happened with the rise of Ukip. The orthodox wisdom at the time Ukip came on the scene was it was colonels who read The Daily Telegraph, but where they have been making big gains is up the east coast of England, the North-east and the North,” said Lord Darling.
This is, however, nonsense. The only thing that could revive the insurgent Ukip is parliament somehow blocking Brexit - which seems increasingly unlikely. I know Arron Banks wants to keep the wagon rolling but Ukip is bankrupt and unless he is willing to bankroll the whole show then it's going nowhere.
Worse still, there isn't a holy grail like Brexit to pursue. This tawdry "drain the swamp" nonsense of his is going nowhere. It's quite obviously a Trumpism and it's not going to gain any popular traction. Through Breitbart, they intend to stir up a popular revolt against the Westminster establishment. The problem they've got is that the styling is all wrong. It's brash, gloating and most of all un-British. It can be popular but not popular enough and the more it sings to its fan-base the more repellent it is to everyone else.
What's more, it doesn't work. It doesn't even work in America. Yes Trump is going to be president but that's only because very large numbers of voters simply didn't bother to vote. Trump is an accident of numbers. Had the Democrats put up virtually anyone with a pulse who wasn't Hilary Clinton they would have beaten Trump.
Moreover, Arron Banks hasn't learned the lessons at all. Any upstart movement is going to be under intense scrutiny. Just like Ukip was. What that media scrutiny showed was that Ukip was a rabble without credibility and just as likely to be crooked as those they seek to replace. There is no reason to believe that an operation from the same stable would be any different. Further to this, having so closely aligned himself with Trump and Breitbart they are going to struggle to shake off the smell of the far right.
There is also one other consideration. There really isn't any point. Fielding candidates is entirely the wrong way to go about it. The SNP shows us that much. Through disciplined grunt work at the local level they managed to capture a wave of disillusionment but in a short time their MPs have proven themselves to be infinitely corruptible and unlikely to achieve anything at all. These upstart movements always end up being worse that what they replace.
Part of the problem is the system itself. I don't think any of our MPs went into politics with dishonourable intent and certainly not to get rich. But when you have a system that pays them more than they would ever make in the real world, puts them in charge of a small staff and makes them feel important they start believing their own bullshit and pretty soon start feeling entitled to all the perks and privileges. It's actually no surprise that the working class MPs are the worst when it comes to dodgy expenses claims. Money goes to their heads and they don't know how to use money effectively.
There's one other issue too. The system is corrupt but MPs themselves as a rule are not. A lot of the anonymous back benchers are fairly ordinary, serve a couple of terms, fail to make an impact and then end up working as a consultant or non executive director. It's a bit grubby but hardly grounds for a full blown revolution. Corruption isn't really the issue.
The really affliction of British politics is the bubble effect where the higher you go the more out of touch you are. The bubble has its own narrative and and they exist on another planet entirely. In this the media is even worse than the politicians.
What people are sick of is is having no real say in how they are governed while at the same time being governed by liars and morons. There is no point chucking them out only to replace them with the same or worse. If we want change then it is the system that must change, not the people inside it.
This is ultimately why any new movement from the Ukip stable will ultimately fail. What Banks and Farage have in common is they are both incredibly lazy. They both think they can wing it. Neither have any particular idea of what they want to achieve or how or even what the real problem is. This is common with the rest of our politics. They all have their hobby horse ideas like open primaries and proportional representation - tinkering with the means of electing people to the same system.
None of these remedial activities actually address the root causes of the problem. PR is a pretty terrible idea. For sure it might mean that more ordinary people become MPs but that's actually not the problem. The SNP proves that people they drag in off the street can become MPs. All PR does is give crackpot fringe parties a shot at winning seats. Ultimately it does nothing to correct the problem.
What the Brexit fallout has shown is that parliament does not represent the people and because of the bubble dynamic it never will. Changing the people in parliament doesn't work because parliament is the problem. There are virtually no constitutional constraints as to what they can do in our name or what they can do to us and elections are a completely inadequate means of holding them to account.
Our parliamentary democracy means putting all of the power into the hands of a few who operate in an entirely alien environment where the people have no real power of veto. They have the power, and the natural consequence of that is they use that power to accumulate more powers, sucking power away from councils and handing it to Brussels. While Brexit solves part of the problem, it doesn't really address the fact that we are still governed by a remote centralised system to which we cannot say no. This is what makes Westminster such a magnet for a particular breed of control freak.
Any movement concern with making lasting change needs to be concerned not with the people who wield power but where power resides. Most of what parliament does is busywork that could and should be devolved to the regional level, and if the system was functioning properly we wouldn't need full time MPs as they would only concern themselves with the issues of national significance. As to the larger decisions, we have proved time and again that government cannot be trusted and so we must have more direct democracy.
Politics will always have a degree of corruption. Politicians will always be corruptible and will always a magnet for lobbyists for as long as they hold the power. Politicians are never going to be saints and it doesn't matter how well intentioned new parties might be, they always become what they hate. It's really no use "draining the swamp" unless you're going to concrete over it. It's about time we did.