If the scandal submerging the British parliament at Westminster was only about the abuse of expenses by MPs of all parties, the crisis would be manageable by punishment of the offenders and new rules; but the sickness at the heart of what passes for democracy in once but no longer Great Britain needs a much more profound cure.
The truth is that the “Mother of Parliaments” has been raped. The two main rapists were Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Prime Minister Tony Blair. (There’s a case for saying that Blair was Thatcher in trousers and an apparently more human touch).
Both did what they thought was “right”, and in their own views they were always right and everybody else was always wrong; but in the process of doing it they made first parliament and then cabinet more or less irrelevant. They became executive presidents in all but name and, between elections, were accountable to nobody in Mrs. Thatcher’s case and powerful vested interests including friends of the Zionist lobby in Tony Blair’s case.
Mrs. Thatcher did at least go through the motions of cabinet government but most of the men around her did not have (more often than not) the balls to stand up to her. That, actually, was to do her an injustice. I know from one-to-one conversation with the Iron Lady that she liked, even enjoyed, a verbal punch-up. But to be toe-to-toe and eye-to-eye with her and tell her she was wrong, you really had to know your stuff.
Tony Blair was an “actor manager”. That description of him was given to me by Clare Short, his minister for overseas development until she resigned over his decision to go to war with Iraq. He was also more the product of his spin doctors than anything else.
With parliament and even cabinet marginalized and demoralized, raped, was it really any wonder that many of our elected representatives exploited the system for their own ends?
The problem in Britain, as in America, is that we have the framework for democracy but not the substance. The difference between today and all our yesterdays is that the citizens, the voters, are increasingly aware of this fact.
So it’s not just a case of cleaning up parliament by making the abuse of public money impossible. We need new politics. Above all we need politicians, leaders especially, with the courage (assuming they have the knowledge) to tell us the people the truth about real choices and options for the future.
Simply stated the truth comes down to this. If we British (and almost all the peoples of the rich world) want our children and their children to have even the prospect of a future worth having, we’ve got to change the way we think and live. In short, we’ve got to be prepared to take less in the way of material gratification. (That we might well be more contented and even happy as human beings if we stopped worshiping the God of Consumerism is a point for serious consideration).
“Yes but..” some of today’s politicians will say. “We can’t tell the truth about real choices and options for the future because the people don’t want to know it. There are no votes in telling people they’ve got to take less.”
The question arising is this: What, really, is the quality of human nature?
There are, broadly speaking, two views.
One, the pessimistic view, which is more or less an article of faith for most politicians and media people and many corporate executives, bankers especially, is that we human beings are inherently and unchangeably short-sighted, selfish and greedy, preferring to live for today at the expense of tomorrow and are, on balance, more “bad” than “good”. In other words, we are really quite stupid. (And truly deserve the leaders and other politicians we get).
The other, the optimistic view, is that we could be much more “good” than “bad”, meaning that we have at least the potential to act in our own best, longer term interests and those of our children especially, even if doing so would require those of us who live in the rich nations and the pockets of plenty in the poor nations to lower our expectations and actually be prepared to take less in the way of material gratification.
If the pessimistic view is the correct one, it seems to me that nothing matters because the end, catastrophe for all, was inevitable from the beginning; in which case we would all be well advised, as individuals, as communities and as nations, to go on screwing each other for all we can get. Praising the lord and passing the ammunition.
I believe the optimistic view of human nature is the correct one and that we have been conditioned to be short-sighted, selfish and greedy, and to assume that the purpose of life is the acquisition of material things, buying now and paying later. It follows, or so it seems to me, that we could be re-conditioned by information, education in the widest sense of the term. As the American John Dewey (my favourite philosopher) put it, we must “unlearn” what we have been taught about the “unchangeability of human nature.”
For new politics to be possible, the optimistic view of human nature must be the correct one.