Governed by Our Inferiors
How the political class lost its class
I, like many Brits, have spent the week watching events unfold in our Parliament, with a mixture of displeasure, resignation and the occasional fleeting bout of optimism.
Over three days, MPs voted (again) on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, on whether to prevent a no deal Brexit, and whether to extend the Article 50 negotiation process, among other things.
As a staunch remainer, you’d think I’d be reasonably happy with the result of these three key votes. Theresa May’s Brexit deal was defeated, no deal was taken off the table and the negotiation period will hopefully be extended — leaving open the door to another referendum, in spite of that being voted against this week also.
And though, thanks to the constitutional and legal nonsense that makes up the British political system, none of these votes were binding — and right now the default course of is for us to leave without a deal on March 29th, regardless of how MPs voted — I was left with some hope that we may be saved from the mess of Brexit after all. Hence the fleeting optimism.
But once the dust settled on the various votes, I was left with a nasty taste in my mouth.
Because though we may have steered back on course, I, like at least half of the population, am left wondering how on earth we got to this point in the first place.
It’s easy to blame the Russians, and their treasonous co-conspirators (the likes of Banks, Wigmore and Farage), for effectively rigging and illegally interfering in the vote.
There is no doubt that this played a role, a big role, in the outcome.
You could also foot much of the blame with the British media, who have spent the last 40 years bloviating nonsense on the follies and foibles (real or imaginary) of the EU, with such drip-feeding regularity it sometimes surprises me the result wasn’t an even bigger win for Leave.
But when it comes down to it, the biggest offender, the greatest cause of Brexit, is the ineptitude, arrogance, ignorance and downright mendacity of our political class.
It is they who called the vote. They who campaigned feebly for the status quo. They who trotted out the lies and spurious claims and soundbites that convinced and coerced. They who prematurely ejaculated Article 50 onto the discussion. They who have proceeded to spend almost three years squabbling about trade deals, borders, and semantics. They who have done nothing to bridge the divide, to find consensus, to lead.
Our country has been rudderless and ripped into pieces for nearly 1000 days, and no one is willing to take charge to find a way to put it back together.
“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”
I wonder if we are now living through the punishment for having disengaged during previous decades.
By allowing rent-a-suit, identikit politicians to lull us into complacency, we stopped caring.
Well, we all care now, don’t we?
How does a political system, and as a result its representatives, get to a point whereby any trace of the characteristics once associated with leaders and statesmen just dissipate?
Look through our House of Commons. Yes there are some men and women of honour, yes there are some decent orators, some genuinely committed to a cause. But by and large, when I watch BBC Parliament, the overriding feeling I’m struck with is that as a group, these people are some of the very worst of us.
Philanderers, misogynists, upper-class bores and middle-class hypocrites.
Corrupt, morally dubious, power-hungry and self-interested.
No, not every MP is a bad person. But as a collective, the House of Commons is bad.
I don’t look at the House of Commons and think “Wow! Look at that, the oldest parliament in the world, still possessing the integrity and fortitude that made it great.”
I think, “This is what the rest of the world sees us as. Fuck.”
The braying and bestial noises. The bizarre rituals and routines.
It doesn’t represent Britain any more than a stroll into your local Wetherspoons on a Tuesday morning represents Britain. It is a caricature, an embellishment, an exaggeration of the traits we ought not celebrate, and certainly not those by which we should allow our national image to be defined.
What is the solution? How do we get better politicians?
Well, for a start, we need to stop Brexit. That’s a given. While our entire political machinations are caked only in Brexit muck, nothing else gets done.
Next, we must find a way to convince Labour to create a progressive alliance with the other smaller, left-of-centre parties. And we must look to create a system of consensus, not adversarial, politics. This may the hardest of all steps, but it’s a fundamental one.
Such an alliance will naturally invoke the need for proportional voting, so that these smaller parties get their fair share of seats, but also to constitutionally implore the requirement for consensus, compromise and cooperation. Coalitions and alliances that reach across a broader spectrum of political discourse could not only become a reality but a necessity, to govern.
In a system like this, the physical structure of the actual parliament building will not be fit for purpose.
An apocryphal tale suggests the House of Commons opposing benches are situated exactly just over a swords width apart to prevent opposing MPs from literally impaling each other over disagreements. Conflict, then, is built into the very foundations of our political system.
In a more cooperative system, this physical separation and opposition will not work. Instead, create a circular or hemispherical-shaped chamber — as is used in most other nations’ political buildings.
Next, move the whole damn thing out of London.
I know, that sounds controversial, stupid even.
But the reality is, as long as our governing class are situated in the wealthiest part of the country, in the south-eastern bubble, right near the heart of the financial and banking sectors whose over-involvement compromises our politics, we won’t have MPs willing to make the right, moral decisions.
Move it to Birmingham or Manchester or Liverpool. Somewhere more central to Britain as a whole geographical, and somewhere more representative of the truth of modern British society.
Finally, devolve everything.
Blair and Brown knew what the Tories and others refused to acknowledge — the only way to keep this strange disparate country of countries together, was to devolve power to its component constituencies.
Go beyond even the Blair years. Create regional assemblies all over the country, federalise the entire nation, looking to the likes of Germany for inspiration.
Only by taking some of the power away from our current political class, can we ever expect to get a better one.
It requires a concerted understanding that the problem falls at our feet. It was us that voted for them after all.
But politics in this country doesn’t have to be like this. By taking the path above, we’d see things change faster than ever.
Forget Brexit, it’s time for us to move forward. It’s time for us to get some class.
Jackson Rawlings is a political philosopher, writer and thinker with some big ideas about how we can change the world for the better.