Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Our political class is out of ideas

Steve Hilton, former adviser to David Cameron is surprised to find that Brexit is not turning the UK into a more outward-looking, pro-enterprise country.
It certainly seems as if Theresa May understands the resentment against the ruling class and its agenda in a way that her predecessor did not. But, as ever in politics, the real test lies in what you do, not what you say. And it does not seem to me as if radical change is on the horizon. The Prime Minister’s pig-headed embrace of a narrow, mean-spirited Brexit instead of an optimistic, pro-enterprise, outward-looking one, is deeply alarming.
It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone really. Brexit is not of itself a revolutionary act. It has the potential to be a catalyst but could just as easily be managed away into neat boxes as though it never happened. In that regard you can see why Brexit hardliners are keen to see the hardest Brexit possible. A negotiated exit more than likely takes the revolutionary sting out of Brexit.

The problem is that the Brexit vote was not a revolutionary movement. There was no plan or a coherent set of demands, nor was the campaign a coalition of the people. It was very much a Tory marketing campaign which actively excluded the people. Consequently there is only a generic demand for change with no intellectual foundation. This leaves the incumbents to decypher what will ameliorate public sentiment.

In that regard we can hardly expect Mrs May to deliver the Brexit revolution. She is the very personification of upper middle class England. She has no more idea what the problem is than David Cameron. This latest wheeze of putting workers on company boards has quickly transmogrified into something even less coherent and will be quietly dropped - faster even than Mr Cameron's "big society". As far as that goes, Big Society was actually ten times more visionary than Mrs May's gimmick.

If anything happens at all in response to Mrs May's initiative it will be yet another tiresome piece of bureaucracy that business has to find a workaround for and it will have zero impact. The basic problem is that the political establishments across the West are completely out of ideas. And in this we can include Ukip and all the minnow parties we have seen popping up in the last decade. The most ambitious idea they can muster between them is proportional representation, itself a dismal bit of tinkering to ensure their mouth-breathers have a shot at the green benches. Given that the bar is already on the floor, what is the point of lowering it?

In the wake of the referendum Brexiteers are keen to keep the momentum going and Arron Banks has ideas of a populist campaign to "drain the swamp" but this is a cultural import that didn't even work particularly well in the USA. The "left behind" constituency in the will respond to that message, but nobody else will. Consequently between the two options; the dismal managerial status quo and the gruntings of some kipper malcontents, you can see why the Brexit revolution is falling flat.

Steve Hilton has it that "to really bring about the revolution we need I believe we need far deeper change than we have seen this year. We need a whole new set of people who believe in radical change to stand for office at every level and take back the levers of power — here in the UK, in Congress and state government in America, and in every other democracy too".

This is precisely what won't work. The disaffection is about the same now as it was twenty years ago. That spawned Ukip and where did that get us? As much as the party system is on its last legs a new party really can't change anything. The system is of a particular nature whereby the closer a party gets to its goals the more it becomes what it seeks to replace. It achieves nothing. 

In the end it's ideas that bring change but we are not living in an era of ideas. We live in the era of quick fixes and political gimmicks. Even Brexit is a symptom of that where leaving the EU became the dreamboat that would solve every problem under the sun. What we now find is that, unless we can make it a catalyst, even Brexit changes very little.

To have that revolution there needs to be a coherent set of ideas and based on a thorough analysis of the problem - which is more than just economic. As much as anything the West suffers from a cultural and spiritual ennui where we have all but made politics and politicians redundant, which is why many of them are in a dismal repeat cycle, drawing their ideas from the 1980s when politics last mattered. The creaking system of parliamentary democracy we have is utterly spent and has degenerated into a three ring circus between the Lords, the Commons and the media. It is in a lingering death spiral, desperately in need of replenishment. 

In this we can already see people switching off from mainstream media and I am far from alone in lamenting the low grade content of online politics and the tedious and dishonest games they play. All the while decision making is being moved away from parliament and into the courts as though the creche needs adult supervision. 

Though there are more spectators than ever, the power is increasingly in the hands of fewer but deep inside a toxic feedback loop between the media and the politicians where the perspectives of those who live in the real world are excluded. It seems to me that exchanging one gaggle for another brings no remedy. For as long as the power resides in Westminster and not with the people we can only ever expect more of the same. 

This, however, is not to say that Brexit is not part of the solution. It is is necessary to expose just how ill-equipped our politicians are and how utterly incapable the system is. On present form it's working a treat. Before we can have real change we must first make it abundantly clear why change is necessary. By the time they've finished making a pigs ear of Brexit, nobody will be in any doubt that we must take the power back. The answers are not to be found by shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic. 

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