I’ve been reading quite a bit by Fintan O’Toole, lately… talks on YouTube and most recently his book Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain. For me, he really helps my understanding of all things Brexit, the history of Ireland/Northern Ireland, and much more. I find he makes the ‘warp and weft’ of it all more accessible and clearer for me. I like to try to understand how we got into such a dysfunctional (or is it dystopian?) political mess. The incompetence I sense in those in government, I find a bit bewildering. Not just Covid-19 by any means; the pandemic is just another thing that gets dealt with in a shambolic way.
No. It’s a bigger question. Just how did we get here? How did we, in this country, achieve such a polarised, unequal and malfunctioning society? O’Toole sheds some great light on this. I quote:
“Britain, as it was constructed in the wake of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the union of England with Scotland in 1707, established limited forms of democracy. In the 18th century, its political software was cutting-edge. But because it had no further democratic revolutions, because its empire created an oligarchy whose power and wealth were not local, because it was not invaded or defeated, it got stuck with a kind of pre-release, beta model of democratic modernity.
The features of this model were superbly summarised by Jim Bulpitt in 1996:
[Jim Bulpitt was a Professor of Politics at Warwick University. He seems to have been very well-respected. Sadly, he died aged only 61 in 1999.]
‘First, a lethal electoral system based on single member constituencies and simple majorities.
Secondly, the persistence of a predominantly adversarial two-party system.
Thirdly, the fact that both parties are dominated by temporary professional party leaders who for the duration give up most of their time and ambitions to managing their parties.
Fourthly, the absence of any significant degree of institutional pluralism…The absence of any other significant centres of institutional power means that only national office is worth gaining: losing office…means political wilderness.’”
O’Toole goes on to say:
“One might add, of course, that this model of the British state is sanctified by the vestiges of explicitly pre-democratic forms of rule – the monarchy and the unelected House of Lords.”
I just love this understanding and historical contextualisation.
In many ways I feel a sense of pain and sorrow for our Totnes MP, Anthony Mangnall.He has probably joined this monolithic out-of-date structure with good intentions, like so many MPs I would think, only to be subsumed into its built-in grotesque inadequacies. I feel sure that he understands that our first-past-the-post (FPTP) system is fundamentally wrong and violently undemocratic; he’s an intelligent young man. For him to be outspoken and kick against his tribe, if that’s what he might have some sense of doing, would inevitably mean committing himself to the political wilderness…probably out of politics for good. How bad does it have to get before people like him feel motivated to speak out? My cynical answer would be: when it’s politically expedient for them to do so. Does this mean, then, that the Tory Party (and also Labour?) operate with terror and tyranny as their unspoken and possibly unwitting modus operandi? A rather chilling thought.
For me, it would appear that part of (maybe a large part of?) the big picture is that capitalism has an inbuilt inevitable failure. Whenever capitalism kicked off (the 1600s?) and, in recent years, with the Keynesian version or neo-liberalist formula, it is now coming up against the brick wall of its endemic failure: it is wrecking the hand that has sustained it. That hand being our home…our Earth….our environment. We have a monster economy fuelling the oligarchy but failing us all, eventually, irrespective of wealth. And, it seems to me, not many are really addressing the question ‘What can replace the capitalist way?’ Those who are attempting to do just that, battle against our ‘lethal’ voting system, that squashes their voices. Meanwhile, those who lead us, just blinkeredly and busily, firefight the consequences, with no attempt to see or do things differently.
E.F.Schumacher is noteworthy for saying (in his essay The Economics of Permanence in 1970): “Man is too clever to survive without wisdom”.
I see, in those who govern us, that wisdom has long been a casualty, with the allure of capitalism continuing to trump wisdom, unless there are conscious efforts to the contrary.
It is for us now, us citizens, to be wise in our endeavours. And the wisdom of our citizenry must be spread, must grow and must be heard and understood by our government, before the entreaties of the Marseillaise: “Aux armes citoyens, formez vos battaillons” become a possible summoning to desperate actions.
I really hope it does not come to that, but I fear otherwise.