clear blue water?
Before coming back to these two intriguing things in a moment, I am reminded that one of the reasons that I started blogging was a sense of considerable unease at, if not fear for, the state of the British body politic. Ten years of Tony Blair have done much to change the way in which Parliament, parliamentarians and politics is viewed by the electorate, none of it for the better.
After all he has spent much of that time debauching the British political system in a quite conscious decision to establish a general Labour gerrymander, that process by which so much of the political process is being subverted to give Labour an unfair advantage, to ensure even, in the electoral stakes. This has manifested itself in a number of ways.
Firstly he made a naked attempt to subvert the process whereby proper and balanced information about what the Government has achieved and what the Government planned to do. To effect this he appointed one Alistair Campbell to be his Chief Spokesperson (yuk!), of whom I am wont to say, with reason, that he is the most interesting Propaganda Chief since April 1945. That was the month when the career of one Josef Goebbels came to a sticky end.
Campbell has had an appalling, baleful influence on British politics. It is he who has made a virtue out of the lie, the bigger the better. It is he who has made a virtue out of the smear. It is he who has made a virtue out of seeking at every turn to manage and manipulate the press. It is he who has single-handedly given all politicians the reputation for being, to a man, utterly dishonest. And in so doing he turned his master, who in this context begins to look like a weak and malleable individual, into a master of the art of making a purse out of a sow’s ear.
Secondly Blair has introduced into British political life an element of corruption which has not been seen since the days before the Great Reform Act. He promised that his administration would, in effect, be whiter than white. Yet, with the Ecclestone affair, he threw that promise out of the window within a short time of taking office. The business of ‘cash for peerages’, ‘cash for lobbying access’ and all the other shenanigans that they have got up to concerning funding of the Labour Party has been designed to sustain Labour in power by providing it with the wherewithal to campaign at and between elections.
In this sense, Labour sleaze is, for the most part, of a quite different order from that experienced under the last Conservative government when sleaze was almost without exception concerned with personal venality and personal gratification. I cannot think of anything which amounted to corruption designed to bolster the party’s electoral chances. Most of it was either grubby self-enrichment or for sexual gratification, just as Derek Conway’s fall from grace has been about personal enrichment. That is not, of course, to condone the latter but it really only destroyed the individuals concerned.
Labour’s corruption has been all about how to obtain (and, where possible to conceal the fact of it) an unfair electoral advantage as against all others, but in particular as against the Conservatives.
The third aspect has been the manner in which the Labour Party has evinced almost total contempt for the British electorate. It starts with the lies which have been told which suggest strongly that they think we are stupid and that they can get away with it. It manifests itself in its attitude, for example, to the road pricing petition that got so many signatures. We were told that the Government would listen to the message and would act on it. Within a few weeks someone had ferreted out the fact that plans for the infrastructure needed for road-pricing were continuing apace.
Another aspect of this has been the constant promise to review, consult, reconsider, ‘listen to the people’ and so forth. What inevitably happens is that it becomes apparent at the time of consultation that the Government has already made up its mind what it is going to do and nothing those consulted say is going to make a blind bit of difference. People are not stupid, however, and they recognize quickly that this is the case and resent therefore being patronized by the Government who make out as if they consider the views of the public important when, in reality, they actually despise and hate what the people want because it does not fit either their view of how the corporate state should work or their general left-wing statist mindset.
I am quite sure that the electorate does have a serious sense of detachment from politicians and that, with the events over expenses and allowances, it has decided that it likes them even less than estate agents or second-hand car salesmen. Into this discontent the Tories can tap and I am sure that it is no coincidence that Cameron went on this issue in PMQs in the same week that a large chunk of the 2005 Tory intake wrote a letter such as they have to the Telegraph. If it is right that polling has identified a desire in the electorate that politicians be forced to take us seriously and to engage better with us as well as cleaning out their Augean stable, then this is a means of establishing credible clear blue water between themselves and Labour.
Labour, on the other hand, are unable to follow this line. Because it is they who have, right up to the present been the ones to evince such contempt for the electorate, a process which continues with their refusal to honour their manifesto commitment to give us a referendum on the EU Treaty, were they suddenly to turn round and announce that, like St. Paul, they have just been on the road to Damascus and have undergone a conversion, no one will believe them. Indeed I reckon this issue is as toxic to them as sleaze and economic incompetence have been to the Tories since 1992 and will, if Cameron can displace them prove as substantial a bar to their return as the Tories have experienced since 1997.
There may yet, in the process of cleaning up, be further Tory casualties. So be it. It would be far better that the casualties come because of the Tories cleaning up than having it done for them by a press which seems more in tune with the people than are politicians.
One interesting feature of Cameron’s PMQs was his linkage with the refusal of the government to grant a referendum. This is something I have been saying (as has Richard North) which is that this whole business is a symptom of something much wider, a general dissatisfaction that politicians have become, because of the extensive cession of power to the EU, almost powerless to do the job which we think they should be doing, all the while helping themselves to the trappings of power. This is in part why the campaign to force a referendum on the government is so important: the British people plainly want their say, even if the government says we cannot. If we can win that argument, it will be a significant victory for the people over arrogant politicians who contemptuously overthrow not only our wishes but, at the same time, their promises to us.
That said, I am not yet sure that Cameron has fully made the connection, nor that he has fully worked out his policy. But he thinks that here is something upon which he can be consonant with the wishes of the vast majority of the people. A complete sea-change in the way we do politics as is being talked of here would indeed be a piece of Tory radicalism and if that is where he wants to take us, then that is something which I can firmly support.
I am pleased, by way of a footnote, to see both Ben Wallace, who was the first to publish his expenses in extenso and my local MP, Phillip Hollobone, who is almost Cromwellian in his approach to expenses (he is by a very long way our cheapest MP in that sense) amongst the signatories to this letter. Both of these gentlemen deserve further exposure to the light of day.
Whilst the idea they put forward may not be practical ultimately, it shows that they are thinking radical thoughts about the political process. This can only be a good thing.