A plague o’ both your houses.

Democracy has many problems as the old story of the lamb and two wolves voting on what to have for supper clearly illustrates. However, as Winston Churchill opined ” democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried“. Democratic systems are probably the only way that mankind can live in reasonable harmony and in stable and fair communities. However, for democracy to work a few basic principles need to be observed.

The democratic process needs to be inclusive, so that no-one and their opinion is excluded. It needs to equitable; each person’s vote must carry the same weight are every other persons. There should be a secret ballot so that there is no possibility that others can coerce the voter’s decision, and the democratic unit should be small enough that every vote does count and the system avoids, as far as is possible, the risks of the tyranny of the majority. Finally, the executive of the state must act in accordance of the democratic decisions, it can not pick and chose amongst the outcomes which it agrees with and which it will effect.

Britain’s system had in the main held to these principles and could lay a reasonable claim to the title of “the mother of all parliaments” but over recent times this seems a much less apt description.

I am not simply talking about the reneging on the results of the EU referendum, which three years after the vote has still not been enacted in any form whatsoever, but also of the recent shambles in the house of commons when the constitutional safeguards that we normally relied upon have been sorely, and perhaps fatally, tested.

Firstly we had Boris Johnson attempting to prorogue parliament in such a way as to reduce the amount of time for discussion and scrutiny in the House of Commons. There is also a strong suspicion that he lied when he described the reasons and processes behind this.

Secondly we had John Bercow, the speaker of the house, shamefacedly ignoring the traditions of neutrality of the speaker and being vocally and proudly partial. While this might be seen as useful to some MPs at the moment, as it suits their long-game, we may strongly regret tolerating this precedent in the future when less benign options are being processed.

Thirdly we have our opposition parties trying to avoid an election. Some, like the liberals, have a sizeable component of MP’s who never stood under the banner of the party they now purport to represent. To these parties it is more important to overturn Brexit than it is to even know public opinion, let alone follow it. They clearly think the public has made a mistake and want to correct it but are fearful that the public might not yet have got onboard with the message. Their priority is their agenda, it is not working in agreement with the outcome of a democratic process.

It reminds me of Bertolt Brecht’s poem “Die Lösung (The Solution)

Die Lösung

After the uprising of the 17th of June
The Secretary of the Writers’ Union
Had leaflets distributed on the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could only win it back
By increased work quotas.

Would it not in that case be simpler
for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

Bertolt Brecht 1953

Even if the opposition parties do get around to thinking they should put a democratic veneer on this charade we will still have problems. A second referendum violates the basic democratic principle of “one person – one vote” – they are saying “those of you who voted last time don’t count we want the vote of a new populace“, as Brecht suggests.

When we do this once we can do it again, and we are damaging faith in democracy itself. If the state starts to ignore democratic decisions then the whole basis of democracy is undermined. There has been precious little regard for our political leaders over recent years, it seems there soon will be even less. Why vote when your vote may not count or the system is so rigged that change is not forthcoming ? I think none of the main parties can expect to see their popular base growing and I would be very surprised if we didn’t continue to see populist parties, on the left and the right, who listen to the public (or at least pretend to) growing in strength. The blame for this can squarely be placed at the doors of the existing parties. To misquote Shakespeare :-

A plague on all your houses.

Proroguing Parliament : The shame of the left.

Proroguing Parliament : The shame of the left.

Where have the left gone. At a time when we really need an effective radical left-wing movement to protect the interests of the working class they are nowhere to be seen. There are anti-democratic forces trying to frustrate the outcome of the recent referendum in which the people of Britain voted against increased globalization and increasing power to the corporations. This should have been a first step on a path to create a better Britain, one in which corporate needs would be forced to play second fiddle to the communities needs. It should have been the time when a radical revision of our society and economy started. But the radicals are nowhere to be seen.

The likes of Owen Jones and Paul Mason who, prior to the referendum, clearly knew the dangers that the EU posed to working class communities, and the poor, now happily toe the party line. Jeremy Corbyn has spent three years trying to hide his true opinions in the hope that it will buy him time and power. Like their wealthy friends, the TV executives, the bankers, the business men, the celebrities, the judges and the well-off metropolitan middle class, they sing from the same hymn sheet and tell the people to get back in their box. They tell the working class that they are uneducated and don’t know what is good for them, and they should be thankful for the guidance of their betters. They smear them as elderly racists; ignoring their concerns about youth unemployment, wage levels, and a failing welfare state, claiming they are only concerned about skin colour. An opportunity to create a better, fairer, more open society is being squandered and thwarted by media ‘liberals’ and ‘lefties’ who don’t want to risk turning off the state support that supports their ventures. As long as their lifestyles are safe then to hell with the poor, the unemployed, the elderly and the marginalized .

We seem to be on the cusp of a constitutional crisis : one group want to thwart the will of the majority, in response, another group want to undermine our parliamentary democracy. There can be no happy outcome to this crisis. The flames of a populist revolt are being fanned by both sides but the right is in the position to seize the fire and use it. The previous ‘firebrands’ of the left are now acting as puppets trying to placate the mob and maintain the status quo, any authority they once had will soon evaporate leaving the right with less opposition. It is no wonder that we have witnessed the death of the major socialist parties across Europe, their unwillingness to defend labour against capital means they are largely an irrelevance. This may have been their time to rekindle their relevance but it seems that they have missed their opportunity.

In their place will be the right-wing and the nationalists. The blame for their success can squarely be placed at the door of the current left, they left the majority of us who voted for Brexit with only Boris Johnson to protect our interests – shame on you.

National Populism. The revolt against liberal democracy.

National Populism. The revolt against liberal democracy.

This book, by Roger Eatwell and51PPqhzUq0L._SX305_BO1,204,203,200_ Mathew Goodwin, deserves to be widely read. It is a sober and informed look at the growth of national populist movements  which have occurred all over the globe. It does primary focus on Europe and America and particularly on the surprises, to many, of Donald Trump’s election and the result of the UK’s Brexit referendum. However, its reach is much broader than this and it tracks the growth of this movement much further back, over two centuries, and considers its growth in very many countries.

Roger Eatwell is professor of Politics at Bath University and an acknowledged expert on fascism and the development of right wing politics. Mathew Goodwin (His PhD student) is similarly a Professor of Politics, at the University of Kent, and also a specialist on right-wing politics and Euroscepticism. The book they have produced is well researched and obviously the product of men with academic rigour. The ideas discussed and considered with good historical detail and opinions are not ventured without significant and adequate hard evidence.

This may sound as if the book is going to be data heavy, full of facts and figures, and in many respects this is true. However, in part this is why it is readable. Much of the data given is there to challenge the reader’s presumptions and to make them rethink what they think they know about national populist movements; whether it is Americans stunned by Trump, British people shocked by Brexit or the French worried about the Gilets Jaunes. The authors show that there are very many, largely well-meaning, myths held about these movement and present the data to show why these are wrong.

The myth that these movements are simply angry responses to the economic upheaval that followed the crash in 2008 is belied by their existence and growth well before that event. The myth, or possibly fond hope, that this is a movement of angry old white mean is not supported by the data on the demographics. The hope, likewise, that simply waiting for the more liberal young to grow and displace the more conservative elderly is not supported by the evidence. (There is data in the book to suggest that the degree of difference between the young and elderly in viewpoint is largely accounted for by a rightward shift in people’s outlook as they age. Rather than there being two different cohorts of people). Myths that these movements are simply fascist or racist trends are likely shown not to be in accordance with the known facts.

If we are to understand this movement it is important to know when we are wrong. We will not be able to preserve liberal democracy if we misdiagnose the threats that face it and, as a consequence, apply the wrong remedies. These are the types of failures we have seen happen in recent referenda. For example, in the Brexit referendum a belief that all this resentment stemmed simply from economic damage lead to a campaign primarily warning people they would be worse off (By £4000 a family) if they voted to leave. This was an error, cultural and political factors were far more important in the anger that was being felt, and had people listened they would have known this. There was even polling showing that people who supported Brexit would do so even if they were certain that there would be a negative economic impact to them personally. This lesson hasn’t been learnt and, still today, many of those petitioning for change of direction think that if they just point out economic hazards minds will change – there is little evidence that this strategy has proven any more successful second-time around.

The biggest myth that the book challenges  is that this movement is a temporary disruption and, as things get better (or through things worsening people see the light), shortly the status quo ante will be returned. The myth that this is an aberration and soon we will be back to ‘business as usual‘ is the most dangerous myth the book lays bare. Our political parties are no longer aligned with our populations political beliefs,  and thus the apparatus we have for running our democracies is out of step with the wishes of large swathes of public opinion. There is an increasing loss of connection between the electorate and the politicians, and it is likely populists from either the right or the left that will try and bridge this gap, and we should be surprised when we find that this continues to happen. The negative consequences of globalisation, and there ae many, have given a new fire to the ideas of nationhood and the importance of the nation state.

This book helps the reader understand this important strand of political thought and helps them correct some of the errors they may hold. It is a very valuable read in our continuing volatile political climate.


A growing rift.

We still have a long way to go but we are making some progress in dealing with the poor representation of some groups in government. Although the number of women and those of minority ethnic groups has increased they are still not properly represented in our governing class. Thankfully we are aware of this and are starting to address this. However, there is an area where we are making no progress and, if anything, seem to be going backwards. It is an important area, as it is possibly part of the reason that underpins much of the disengagement and distrust people have with our political class.

The last two generations have witnessed the growth of a professional political class. Our politicians may be a closer mix, in terms of gender and race, to ourselves, but are further away in terms of class and wealth. Over the years our representatives have become less and less like us, when one considers their background, and much more like each other. We may have seen some inadequate improvement in gender and race diversity, we have seen a worsening in terms of social class.

When the Labour Government took power in 1945 and started major works which set up the modern British welfare state half of the member of the cabinet had previously held blue collar jobs. In our most recent cabinets not one member has held such a job. All the parliamentarians have been white collar workers and, more than this, previously worked in law, politics, education or journalism. They are drawn from a very small and apparently select pool of the population.

It is not just in the UK that this trend has occurred. At the time of John F Kennedy 71% of senators held university degrees, by the time of Barack Obama took office the figure was 99%. In France and Germany it is a similar tale. Not only are our ‘rulers. far away from us in terms of their occupations but increasingly also in terms of incomes and wealth. In 2014 all those elected to Congress were in the top 1% of America’s income distribution. It is sobering to think that the median net worth of a senator in 2018 is $3,200,000.

The concerns of the top 1% of the income group and those working in the realms of law, politics,  or journalism are not likely to be reflective of those working in blue collar manual jobs, or the poor without jobs at all. I think this is the reason that our politicians are seen as distant and non-representative; because they are distant and non-representative. They do not live in our communities, nor come from them, they do not share the lives and experience of the majority of us. If this trend continues, and there is little evidence to suggest it won’t, then increasingly populist politicians will be able to tap into this gulf. A rift is developing between the public and those who rule them. This rift could prove a powerful fault line for those who wished to gather and use the growing alienation and anger which exists. Allowing politics to become a specialist pursuit of the wealthy, educated elite could prove to be a very dangerous mistake. We need to push for more involvement of the demos, the crowd, the common people, in our democracy if we are to ensure it stays safe and healthy.