Thursday, 14 January 2010

This is No Time for a Leader

A rogue government is the greatest threat to democracies.  By their nature democracies are not coercive.   They are consensual and rely heavily upon political actors (and we are all to some degree political actors in democracies) behaving in the spirit of the rules.  Their success has come from their flexibility in adopting forms of government adapted to the circumstances of the mass electorate.  Democracy can express itself through a spectrum of governmental forms from high levels of central control and direction to widely dispersed power centres responsive at the  levels of the smallest communities and even of individuals. A government in time of war will be conceded very different powers from a peacetime government in a period of economic growth.  More or less the electorate chooses a government on the basis of a manifesto and the implementation of those policies operates under the constitution and the rule of law, with powers that are available for other circumstances in abeyance.

When an elected government  acts inappropriately to the country's circumstances, particularly when it has been elected on a manifesto achievable without a particularly large spectrum shift, formal and informal checks and balances start to function.  When a government then uses its electorally-supplied majority to remove those checks and balances, and to alter the constitution, we have a rogue.

The evidence for this process under the Blair and Brown administrations is well known - we watched Chilcot yesterday, on the evisceration of the senior civil service,  for instance.  But it  is the Labour justification for becoming a rogue that is interesting, not least  because that must form part of the Labour manifesto for the general election.

The electorate do not like the situation into which Labour has delivered them.  A depression more serious than anything most have experienced in their lifetimes and with no quick or pleasant means to end it; a felt widening of the gap between the well-to-do and the rest  and a perceived collapse in opportunity through merit and work; a large rise in insecurity both in the home and outside in the  normal pursuits of everyday life.  An awareness that the government have broken the rules yet are hard to hold to account because they have removed themselves from the reach of the electorate.  The knowledge that paypackets are compulsorily relieved of far too much money before they reach the employee's bank account.  The conviction that while banks are in debt to the electorate for trillions they bully small retail customers - the electorate - with what are effectively grotesquely out of proportion punishments for petty infractions and often bank inefficiencies.  The experience of high levels of inflation in those spending areas over which the electorate has direct control; which dovetails into the conviction that the government is telling lies about the cost of living and corrupting government statistics while the press often assists in the promulgation of untruths.  The conviction among the electorate  that the Labour administrations unleashed a mass of cheap workers into the country who lower the social wage, and lower individual wage rates and worsen working conditions.   Finally, the realisation that by their war-mongering Labour has killed a lot of servicemen and women,  because it war-mongers on the cheap, killed a lot of other people in the world, made the country dangerous at home, and pokes its nose into every aspect of our lives because now the people they have attacked hate us.

The first Labour justification for all this is that the Thatcher administrations set a precedent for stepping far along the spectrum  towards central control and authoritarianism.  This, of course, is the reason for the constant reference back to those governments, and for the instrumentalisation of Mrs Thatcher herself by both Blair and Brown.  The exploitation is multi-level: Labour pretends that there were no unusual circumstances facing the Conservative government when it was voted into power in 1979, so spectrum shifts without changes in circumstance  are acceptable  (when in fact there was Communist-led, threatened and eventually realised insurrection against the capitalist state from the trade union wing of the Labour party);  that the dying of the heavy industrial sector based in the north of the country was the fault of government shifting and not the product of exhausted natural resources and organisational and organised inefficiencies which drove out any hope of investment.

What was the Thatcher administration supposed to do? Permit the overthrow of market capitalism by effectively unemployed industrial workers from the North and Scotland?  Led by Communist agitators?  Just as Communism was collapsing in the Soviet Union under the weight of its own contradictions, cruelty corruption, and with its peoples in open revolt, particularly in its realised socialist colonies?  Continue to defy economic reality?

Another level to justifying Labour's rogue behaviour via previous Conservative governments is the assertion that during the Thatcher administrations the distributional effects of market capitalism were not being ameliorated sufficiently, particularly at a time of major economic and technical change.  In truth the IMF had intervened to limit the country's  living well beyond its means - we were simply poorer than Labour wanted to believe,  our economy less efficient, our insulation from international capitalism at an end.  The electorate knew it and rejected Labour and its destructive indebtedness that was leading to even greater depredation of sovereignty.

Rogue Labour knows this.  It is well aware that the Thatcher administrations were outstanding in coping with quite exceptional times.  It knows that many of today's electorate know this too, that they see the Thatcher years as a turning back from the immediately preceding lunacy of Labour's reaction to circumstances.  So rogue Labour feeds its authoritarian leader meme by appearing with  the figurehead, in her advancing years, pretending to an affectionate regard for an individual  true to an ideology  (even if misguided) and replacing what was a pragmatic, determined, consensual, governmental  response with a falsely implied individual ideological fervour, thus reinforcing their own democratically inappropriate notion of the Leader set apart, whose vision marks and determines policy without reference to electorate or manifesto.

In our political culture, in our democracy, the very word 'Leader' makes us jump.  Our democracy is built within expectations of dealing pragmatically with circumstances where acting together produces better results than acting alone.  Our democracy has no 'vision' other than its own persistence as a vehicle for expressing our wishes to the administrations we elect from time to time.  We do not like to have to find a Churchill, it means the world has gone bad.  We do not like to have to face down attacks upon our market capitalist economy, it means axe-grinders have perverted our socioeconomic structures to special interests and global movements inimical to our culture and country's content.

Rogue Labour's justification for what it has done to disable our democracy is, furthermore,  precisely a perversion which argues  that an irremediable globalisation of our circumstances  must be welcomed, embodied even, in our culture and in our democratic institutions and expectations.   Hence we must have a Leader equipped with the experience, the grasp, the vision and, most of all, the powers of our formerly consensual and diffuse democratic system.  So that moments may be seized, decisions taken, worlds saved. Any dismantling of democracy that we object to is but evidence of our lack of understanding of our 'new' situation and of our need for 'leadership'.  Any failure to display this bombastic,  soul-destroying,  inappropriate, self-seeking, disturbed leadership behaviour is presented, by false analogy and other forms of lying, as a disqualification for office.

The last thing our democracy needs is the rogue Labour vision of a  Leader with power drained from a debilitated, no longer effective body politic.   We need a Restoration  -  a long, painstaking, skilled  job.  Restoration does not have much use for leaders, but calls rather for all the virtues and values of our  democratic practice to be used in rebuilding its laws and constitution, and limiting the possibilities for future abuse.    


Nick Drew said...

fine essay HG

just a quibble: whilst Thatcher was 110% justified in crushing Galtieri & the miners (and Murdoch the print unions) she formed a very dim view of due (Civil Service) process that went well beyond the needs of 'war', IMHO

This had two baleful effects (a) as you say, it impressed and informed NuLab;

but also, (b) it emasculated the Civil Service itself, which became unable to trust its own judgment, or even carry out in-depth analysis of its own (and therefore perpetually sought ratification from favoured consultancies) - long before 1997

then came NuLab with its insistence on media management via imposition of detailed narrative fictions, policed with totalitarian insistence (if not methods) and disregard for truth or decency - which has taken a further toll on the Civil Service (as well as fundamently lowering the standard of public political discourse)

I deal with these people, and I am sure you do too: they are high- but hollowed-out intellects, afraid of independent thought or judgment, permanently in fear of crushing political rebuke from spiteful, moronic SPADs

your Reformation lacks the vital executive instrument of a confident and capable Civil Service that knows the meaning of truth! and to think, Britain was the nation whose bureaucracy was trusted worldwide above all others

Weekend Yachtsman said...

Excellent post, thank you.

Grumpy Optimist said...

What a well argued post. I also ponder these questions. My thought is that a certain level of honesty is required of our leaders. If they are genuinely willing to use public funds to offer to protect the electorate from damage and threat (even if they have caused much of it) and can show that a large part of the electorate will gain from this exchange (i.e that someone else will pay) and over the years, they have disempowered us - well ...

talwin said...

Fine, thought provoking stuff. Cameron should read this.

However, the piece prompts the thought that things are so bad they can't change much any time soon.

How did we come to this?

hatfield girl said...

You are very kind ND. The intimidation of the civil service has been accompanied by its quality decline, itself the result of ill thought through attacks upon 'privilege'. There's a reason why a competitive-entry civil service takes many of its higher grades from a narrow university band. Very short degree structures - only 24 weeks for only two years and a half in many degrees, necessarily cover a lot of ground fast, while relying on input from the general educational culture of the undergraduate. Arrive on a first rate degree course and any undergraduate with a prior impoverished education is going to have to read very hard for their degree as well as acquire from the start technical skills that others have already- languages, rhetorical command, skills in forms of argument, evidence evaluation, statistical competence and, presumably, other skills for pure science or engineering degrees. Pile on top of this the civil service practice of giving responsibility right from the beginning of service, then recruiting under a policy-driven 'fair and representative' system with privilege handicaps, and the civil service becomes itself much less able, certainly at policy-making and decision-taking advisory levels, and needs to put out what used to be its own work. All of this is made worse by interfering in the entry requirements for the universities; plus the great expansion in the areas of government activity. A lot of the rogue Labour destruction isn't conspiracy driven intention - it's uncomprehending incompetence. It's not that civil servants can't be recruited from all sorts of backgrounds, they were; but the recruiting began at a much earlier stage in poorer people's lives. Yet now state schools have national curriculums that downgrade central elements of a good general education.

And of course you're right about the truly competent simply shutting up in the face of politics overriding properly marshalled evidence.

This class war stuff from Labour is being expressed very vulgarly at the moment - toff bashing etc., when the rejection of inconvenient understanding has been a basic tool of rogue Labour always.

hatfield girl said...

Many thanks Yacht.

Mr Optimist, we all recognise the 'leader and father of the people' model even if, up till 1997, we were sensible enough not accept any attempt to instal it in our democracy.

hatfield girl said...

Talwin, thank you. We came to this partly from unintended consequences, but there is a literature on the 'long march through the institutions', as you know.

ND is right, the marchers have been moving for many years before 1997. I think 1997 was when they reached their destination. Reading Frances Morrell's obituary, which reminds us of what was going on in the teaching unions and in the old ILEA, is a good example of all this.

Newmania said...

That really is quite superb HG I have not looked in for a while ,or into Raedwald ,or your gaff and I see what I have been missing on both counts . You have got even better and you were always a mesmerising writer
I am not at all sure you are right that this country does not need a leader though or at least a secure and strongly mandated administration shall we say, its more a question of which one for me but that’s a rather different matter .

I do hope all is well wherever you are , I have just navigated through three lots of chicken pox which is the low level problem I generally apply myself to nowadays . For some reason it has lodged in my mind that you had a mild interest in Mussolini . Having recently read a history of the period I have been staggered at how wrongly I had perceived him and how generally popular and respected he was. So muich so that the original lyrics to the Cole Porter Classic you’re the Tops was

You`re The Top
You`r the great Houdini
You`re the top[
You are Mussolini

It stayed that way for years without any objection



hatfield girl said...

Raedwald, ND and you are the best of bloggers, N. But you are all writing in stolen time. That's the trouble with earning your living, it's a very time consuming activity. All those driven Russian novelists - didn't know they were born.

Chicken pox over then. The smalls must be in nursery school now. Your oldest son setting out, reading for himself. Only 15 more years. :)