Saturday, 28 March 2015

Why the System Has To Go

What do we mean when we refer to “the system”?

It can of course mean a host of things, and many use the term simply to describe the political forces which prevail in the corridors of government in any given place. But to properly understand “the system” within any political construct we surely need to understand the internal dynamic which propels the society in which we live, or the society that we are examining.

The United Kingdom has a “system” which is based on more or less unfettered capitalism. It is true that governments make laws which even the rich and powerful have to abide by, and that on occasions even senior politicians or seminal figures from the world of business fall foul of them and end up in durance vile. All the same, within the limitations defined by the law of the land big business effectively runs rampant, sweeping aside not only organised (and even more so disorganised) labour but also honest small business in its wake. Witness the death of the family grocer or the independent high street trader as the likes of Tesco exploit farmers and their own workers alike to bring you their produce at the most competitive prices whilst still reserving for themselves the seemingly divine right to make a vast profit.

Under a totalitarian system such as fascism or communism the state will dictate just how far enterprise is allowed to go. Under the former it may be controlled or it may be permitted to run riot, but the fact remains that that permission is needed. The state, in theory at least, calls the tune. Under communism ownership is transferred to the government, which in practice operates a controlled economy of its own, the state replicating the role of the capitalist owner and the wider public playing the same part of the unquestioning consumer.

WEALTH AND POWER

In a “democratic” society such as ours however it is the forces driving the economy that are in control. This is because the conflation of wealth with power makes it inevitably so. The richer an individual or a corporation is, the more power he, she or it will inevitably wield. Power over the media, the power of patronage, the power to sell (or to distort) a message which can make or break a politician or decide the destiny of a political party. Within such a system it is inevitable that the political parties which take it in turns to man the offices of government will strive to serve the master. I wanna sell you a Tory, as the late Max Bygraves might have put it.

It is because of this unfailing logic that I, as those who know me will attest, instinctively wince whenever I hear some self-styled critic of the system bleating about how it is all going to change when the party they dislike the most is removed from office at the next general election and replaced by the party they have opted to endorse. At times I just want to wake up screaming. The two main parties are not the same, they protest, and of course they are right. Why, after all, would the system offer us two parties from which to make our selection and not imbue each of them with at least some kind of superficial defining characteristic? It is essential, in a “democracy”, to keep alive the illusion of choice.

What we are not given, of course, is the means through which to challenge the master. And in the master’s unrelenting drive towards ever greater profits there needs to be somebody else providing the labour, at as low a cost as possible, to drive the master’s success. Understand that and combine it with a recognition that neither of the major parties aspires to change that reality at source, and their essential sameness becomes a given. Any “difference” between them can only define the range of flexibility that the master is prepared to grant in order to preserve the illusion.

SYSTEM PARTIES

But to talk of there being just two “system parties” is of course overly simplistic. Whilst radical on matters of constitutional reform their support for the economic status quo demonstrates that the Liberal Democrats clearly are and have been since their inception a party of the establishment. I voted for them in 2010 in spite of this, not because of it, mostly because of the qualities of the local candidate but also because I felt the injection of the Lib Dems into the government of the country would in some way upset the apple cart. A crisis for capitalism perhaps not, but an unscripted fly in the ointment for the two-party system it indeed was.

Neither am I so blindly optimistic as to consider all if indeed any of the smaller parties that are currently enjoying some relative good fortune as being anti-system in the broadest sense. Certainly UKIP aspire to be and in some senses are already a party of the establishment. Rather like Trotsky’s theoretical fascists, they are a proto-establishment party waiting in the wings, currently something of a nuisance and an embarrassment but there if ever they are needed.

Which brings us to the left of centre, anti-austerity parties – the Greens, the SNP and Plaid. Are they the stuff of which revolutions are made? Probably not, but that is to miss the point somewhat. In our fast-changing political environment the establishment does on occasions find itself playing catch-up with events. The two-party system has, for the time being at least, already given way to the three-party system. If the three-party system in turn heralds the emergence of the four-, five-, six- or seven-party system then a fissure is created in the edifice of the all-powerful financial establishment which has effectively been the puppetmaster of our body politic for as long as any of us can remember.

ANSWERABLE

What emerges from the haze just may be better – more answerable, more democratic, more radical – than the fa├žade which went before. If it isn’t then nothing has been lost. The financial elites will, I have no doubt, attempt to buy into the new politics but the more widely they need to cast their nets the less control they can hope to exercise. The plethora of significant parties which challenge both major system parties from the left, and the further-left grouplets which are emerging by dint of social media from amid the growing dissatisfaction with Labour’s presumably permanent shift to the right, coupled with the threat to the Tories from their own right flank in the form of UKIP, is making political engagement in the run-up to May 2015 uniquely interesting.

On top of it all are the “Don’t Vote” voices and the “None of the Aboves”, both positions with which I have some sympathy although I do intend to cast my cross, on this occasion at least. For those who are serious about real, lasting, meaningful change the outcome of the traditional contest between the toxic twins of the old establishment is a sideshow of scarcely any relevance. The real determining events for the future of our politics are to be found about the periphery of this elaborate charade.

1 comment:

Jamie Stanley said...

A good article Phil. I would however dispute that the two party system is in peril. Whatever is going on in the peripheries, only one of two establishment parties can ever call the shots in government in the UK. The voting system ensures it. And while that is the case, no imperative to change that system could ever take hold where it matters. Once NOTA is in place (achievable as it is a democratic pre-requisite that cannot be argued against without arguing against democracy itself, once both concepts are properly understood), THEN that imperative could take hold. Only then will the two party system truly be in jeopardy, in my view. http://www.notauk.org