Sunday, 29 July 2018

The collapse of party government

Apologies for such a long gap, spent getting my head around the privacy business of GDPR. This post first appeared on the Radix website...

It has been de rigueur in certain middle class circles to complain about the baleful effect of political parties in government, but nobody appears to be complaining now they have all but disappeared in the chaos that now seems to be overtaking what used to be known as the UK government.

The collapse of ideological demarcations is most obvious in the Conservative Party, because current divisions go to the heart of the great split that runs through conservatism: nationalism versus trade - and even Jacob Rees-Mogg has been gargling with the way Robert Peel divided the party over free trade in 1846 to save the country.

A similar division opened out before the 1906 landslide victory for the Liberals over imperial preference. One close colleague of prime minister Arthur Balfour described himself as "nailing his colours firmly to the fence".

It is worth remembering that divisions had reached such a bitter impasse by 1913 that leading Conservatives were working closely with Ulster Unionist to ferment armed rebellion. So if we take these historical parallels too seriously, we need to watch out. It is not impossible to see the circumstances where this history might repeat itself.

Nor are the Tories the only former ideology divided on the Brexit issue. Labour is managing to hold together via a number of increasingly messy compromises. The Lib Dems only appear united because they have entirely lost their Eurosceptic wing in the celtic fringes.

I have to say I feel increasingly frustrated, not just the failure of the Conservative Party to provide leadership, but any of the three wings in the Brexit (stay in, hard and soft) to understand anything of each other's points of view.

One side believes the European Commission is a malevolent organisation, bent on undermining UK interests, and that we therefore need to make economic sacrifices to escape their clutches. The other side believes they are saints, and that the European Union is a force for peace and harmony in the world, despite appearances to the contrary, and the only thing that matters is that we stay inside.

There is a third position which suggests that the UK economy is so vital that we have to bind ourselves for the foreseeable future to European rules which we have no say over at all (Theresa May's current position).

All three of these positions are impossible. The only way out, if there is one, is for the three sides to make a bold leap of imagination. In short, we need someone who can formulate a way forward - not a compromise: it is too late far that - but something the nation might unite around.

Unfortunately, we have bred a political elite who don't think beyond the game they believe that politics is. I hope that the time will come, when we have crawled away from this with the watershed behind us, when the electorate will take a terrible revenge on the political generation that brought us to what increasingly looks like a national humiliation.

Once the damage has been done, and we have cleared out the politicians who caused it - or failed to take adequate measures to prevent it - then perhaps we can then do what the nation does best: exhaustingly and expensively dragging victory from the jaws of defeat. Because, if it is Dunkirk all over again, the old guard has to go pretty quickly...

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Upozi said...

Sad to see David Boyle jumping onto the bandwagon of recycled WWII memes (I have a few myself if you are short) and repeating the politicophobia which would be better confined to Brexit News et al,

While on another blog Richard North thinks this is a replay not of WWII, but of Suez.

Since this is a site for afficiandos of poilitical history can I remind Mr B that "it is very easy to complain of party Government,...... These persons should understand, that if they object to party Government, they do, in fact, object to nothing more nor less than Parliamentary Government. A popular assembly without parties—500 isolated individuals—cannot stand five years against a Minister with an organized Government without becoming a servile Senate". Disraeli also remarked - and perhaps this is more to the point, that "No Government can be long secure without a formidable Opposition"

and Viz his speech on Saturday, with its commentary on monopoly, Disraeli also said ( I believe for I cannot find the reference ) that "No party has a monopoly on Liberalism"

Best wishes

William Hobhouse said...

Excellent to read another thought provoking piece from David Boyle. Thank you.
I wanted to make two points. First, is there such a thing as a middle way (or, for want of a term for it, a soft Brexit)? I think not. And the reason is this. The EU is a rules based organisation that is kept together by each member state abiding (mostly) by the same rules. The UK government thinks that the Brexit talks are a negotiation. Negotiating with an organisation that follows rules is probably not a negotiation. For the UK government, it is about choices - like whether the UK is in the Single Market, or it isn't, or in the Customs Union or it isn't. Make your choices, and the rest broadly follows!
The second point is about the country being divided. Your solution is a compromise. My solution is democracy. Democracy provides legitimacy for a decision when taken. It does not stop people opposing the decision, and it only unites a country through the validity of the democratic act. So, if we live in a democracy, let's practice democracy. The current government position of 'The Will of the People' gives a blank cheque to whoever the government is - and it could have been PM Corbyn or a few other Tory PMs, all of whom would be doing different things but saying that what they are doing is the will of the people.

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