by Tobias Phibbs
Friday, 4
December 2020
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07:00

Vapid politicians will never unite our country

A new report on Britain's 'tribes' offers no solutions to a dysfunctional nation
by Tobias Phibbs
Credit: Onward

Another month, another report on Britain’s demographic tribes. This time from Onward, which argues that there is no turning back for the Conservatives: their new coalition of provincial voters in the south and ex-industrial working-class voters in the midlands and the north is less divided than was previously assumed, and by embracing a leftwards shift on the economy and a rightwards shift in culture they cement that coalition. Labour, meanwhile, are left fishing about among ‘new radicals’, ‘metropolitan liberals’ and ‘progressive professionals’ — who between them amount to only 37% of the country.

It is not the first report of its kind and it won’t be the last. In Blue Labour and Red Toryism the warnings to both major parties were sounded years ago. Again and again their analysis has been confirmed, not just in the UK but across the Western world. And yet, nobody seems able to find the sweet spot — that top left quadrant in the political compass.

Every attempt ends in disappointment. New Labour combined a policy of (something close to) open borders with an asylum system that was individually punitive — precisely the wrong combination. The Big Society collapsed into a mix of austerity and cultural progressivism. We had Theresa May’s tepid and quickly shelved plans to put workers on company boards, and Ed Miliband’s sad attempt to define a ‘progressive patriotism’ by occasionally mentioning John Ruskin and William Morris in speeches. Blue Labour has been co-opted by vapid, two-faced politicians for years.

Part of the problem comes from the framing of Onward’s report itself, and the technocratic approach to the politics it belies. Everything and everyone is segmented into discrete categories that need catering to. What is needed, politicians seem to conclude, is on the one hand a bit of this, but on the other hand a little of that. More money for ‘our NHS’ and hospitals with big Union Jack stickers emblazoned on them. That is the vision the best of our political class has for the country.

Nobody is able to take on the entrenched power of capital, nor redirect our country away from its dependence on insecure supply chains and services, nor build homes and infrastructure on the scale we need. And nor does there seem to be any appetite for taking on the soft power of cultural progressivism, by now embedded in every public institution in the land, in the enormous blob of quangos, charities and think-tanks. Above all there is no vision: from the Right we have vague rhetoric about ‘levelling up’ and from the Left we have the notion of state as NGO. All that’s left, to quote the prime minister, is “more drift, more dither and  […] more paralysis.”

Who will emerge with a genuine vision for these islands? For a settlement that is both radical and conservative, not as separate things (that trite slogan ‘Left-on-the-economy’, ‘Right-on-culture’ should be retired) but as part of one unified vision of the country and what it could be. A politics of the common good and a country at ease with itself, and an economy based on jobs with real dignity in a land re-enchanted and resplendent. Human beings enmeshed in physical communities, in right relationship with each other and the natural world, not condemned to neo-feudalism, with an abandoned periphery and an unhappy, unequal hub with all the trappings of success and none of the substance.

Our political class — along with the media class — is defined by mediocrity rather than mendacity. The spiritually devoid heirs of New Labour, all they know is triangulation and concession. Incapable of leading, they follow polls as though they offered anything more than a superficial grasp on reality; as though their transparent phoniness didn’t jar as it came through every radio and TV screen in the land; as though we believed they meant any of it, even for a second. Radical and conservative; it’s a nice idea. This lot aren’t up to it.

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Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

A good article, all true, until this:

‘Our political class ” along with the media class ” is defined by mediocrity rather than mendacity.’

The fact is that many politicians, especially on the Left, are not even mediocre, while the mendacity of most politicians right now is off the scale.

As for the media, it is now almost entirely mendacious, with the BBC and others simply lying to us, either overtly or by omission, 24/7. This is why so many of us have ceased to fund or consume it.

Ralph Windsor
Ralph Windsor
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

A large section of the political class is both mediocre and mendacious. And – not unrelated to this depressing situation – is the unquestionable fact that the political class is far too large. In addition to 650 MPs we have nearly 900 peers, another 200 or so in the 3 regional sub-parliaments, city mayors & assemblies, tens of thousands of councillors and countless Spads, quangocrats and ‘activists’ in NGOs and even charities. This class has proliferated in direct proportion to the decline in the quality of governance.

Gerry Fruin
Gerry Fruin
1 year ago
Reply to  Ralph Windsor

100 MP’s 5 year term
100 Lords (Upper House) 5 year term.
Scrap at least 90% of Qango’s NGO’s and as for think thanks … words fail.
When this is done it my be possible to achieve a decision making operation.
Perhaps this a line that Cummings was on when he got boot?

William Cameron
William Cameron
1 year ago

It depressing to observe politics being reduced to second rate PR stunts – more concerned about polls than policy.
What Policy ?
I’ll vote for the first Party that has some numerate people who can seek to match the economy and the population size on the same page.
The UK population is being hugely increased every year. The ONS reported that 700,000 immigrants arrived in the UK in the year to March 2020. (Thats the population of Sheffield (again) . Sure, some other people left but the net increase was left at around 350,00. Equivalent to another million every three years ? Why ? It may increase gross GDP but it doesnt increase GDP per capita- which is the figure that matters.
The population has gone up 10m in the last thirty years. Are we richer – not much ? Have the public services improved ?- no, they have been spread thinner and thinner. Schools, Hospitals, Roads, Mental health, Housing -all worse than thirty years ago.
To pay enough tax to cover your own use of public services you need to be paying tax on around £45K per annum. Much of this increase in population does not.
I’ll bet most of the cabinet members dont even know these numbers . And unless they do they cannot be running the country.

bsema
bsema
1 year ago

Not to mention that immigration is totally incompatible with protecting the environment. It never ceases to amaze me that so many on the left who claim to be ‘green’ want open-door immigration.

Daniel Goldstein
Daniel Goldstein
1 year ago
Reply to  bsema

They are also unlikely to criticise those ethnic groups most likely to fill the world with multiple children…

bsema
bsema
1 year ago

Mentioned the unmentionable, you naughty man. Is it just my imagination, or are politically correct middle class types (like The Modern Parents in Viz) starting to have high numbers of kids?

Daniel Goldstein
Daniel Goldstein
1 year ago
Reply to  bsema

Can’t say I’ve noticed, but I’m not a regular on the school run.

Daniel Goldstein
Daniel Goldstein
1 year ago

The population needs to be lowered drastically. But it’s politically impossible to say so. Anything really radical on ‘culture’ would be smeared as ‘far-right’ quicker than you can say Tommy Robinson.

Tom Adams
Tom Adams
1 year ago

I’m too depressed at the shambles of our unprincipled political class to comment further.

Peter Ian Staker
Peter Ian Staker
1 year ago

The loudest voices and opinion polls point towards increasing cultural shift to the left. But come election time, people vote for cultural conservatism (shy tories, brexit). The problem is that politicians can’t lead, instead they follow the opinion polls and the media. And so they are out of touch with the country. Economically, capitalism is accepted but not liked.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

I think you’ll find that people prefer capitalism to the alternatives, hence the election results that you don’t like.

This is not to say that the form of capitalism we currently live under is not appalling. But the Left can only think in terms of foisting Venezuela/the USSR/Mao’s China upon us, and even those with the most rudimentary knowledge of history know that the current situation is preferable to that.

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I joked a little while ago that the political choice that often seems to be on offer these days is the choice between Mussolini and Mao. I guess there are worse choices, but I can’t easily name them without violating Godwin’s Law.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

Well there wasn’t much difference, at least in principle, between Mussolini and Mao. Mussolini defined fascism as the merging of industry and the state, which is no different from Mao’s communism.

It would be more accurate to say that the choice is between Goldman Sachs and Jeremy Corbyn.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Capitalism creates wealth, drives progress and rewards hard work,ingenuity and measured risk taking. The problem with our current form of capitalism is its benefits are not being shared but instead are being concentrated and hoarded by the 1%. The other 99% get out less than they put in, apart from those who don’t contribute at all and just expect those who do to support them – ie the people socialists pretend to care about.

Daniel Björkman
Daniel Björkman
1 year ago

Economically, capitalism is accepted but not liked.

Which strikes me as the most sensible attitude. We’ve yet to find anything to replace capitalism with that isn’t worse, so we are forced to accept it. But the sort of sociopath who actually likes capitalism is the absolute last person who should be in charge of anything.

Mark Melvin
Mark Melvin
1 year ago

I am an unashamed supporter of capitalism but don’t feel much like a sociopath and definitely don’t want to be in charge of anything. I was for 35 years and hopefully did well by everyone around me, fellow owners, employees, customers. What I don’t see in all this ‘hate capitalism’ discourse is the fact that of pretty much all ways of living, capitalism is forward looking, always looking to innovate, take things to the next level. I love that part of capitalism. The fact that Bill Gates is one of the richest guys in the world wouldn’t bug me if he just got on with his job, its his sanctimonious harping on about how all you people should do better that I find tough to swallow. At least Warren Buffet has the sensibility to know when to shut up.

Harvey Johnson
Harvey Johnson
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Melvin

Gates sold his shares and stepped down from the board nearly a year ago.

His ‘job’ is now literally managing his charitable organisations and generally promoting his philanthropic work. Why does this bug you so much?

How else do you suggest he spends his time?

Daniel Goldstein
Daniel Goldstein
1 year ago

Unfortunately the party of government worships it like a holy cow.

Daniel Goldstein
Daniel Goldstein
1 year ago

This is true – the findings of opinion polls when it comes to “racism” etc seem to belie the truth when it comes to voting. Apparently a tiny minority of people polled think that only white people can be truly British. I think a lot of people are lying, either to themselves or to pollsters. Or they’ve been trained to give the “right” answers.

Bill Eaton
Bill Eaton
1 year ago

The leftwards shift on the economy is plain to see but where exactly is the rightwards shift on culture?

Ralph Windsor
Ralph Windsor
1 year ago
Reply to  Bill Eaton

Non-existant.

William Gladstone
William Gladstone
1 year ago

What unites people deep down is fairness and what most people think of as fair is merit.i.e. best person for the job. Now there are unscrupulous people who don’t care at all about fairness or twist the concept to pretty much exclude merit. There are also those (probably the vast majority) who know its unfair but with reluctance see it as the only way to get on in life.

The reality is as you say that:-

Nobody is able to take on the entrenched power of capital, nor redirect our country away from its dependence on insecure supply chains and services, nor build homes and infrastructure on the scale we need. And nor does there seem to be any appetite for taking on the soft power of cultural progressivism, by now embedded in every public institution in the land, in the enormous blob of quangos, charities and think-tanks.

What we need if we are genuinely looking to resolve this country’s problems is a party that will be willing to point out the corruption and look to govern in fair open and honest way but if I am realistic I know that wont happen so we need a party that says parties are too easily corrupted therefore we are going to instead put the people who believe in fairness and merit more in charge via Swiss style direct democracy and that is the only real way we ever have a chance of solving entrenched problems.

Daniel Goldstein
Daniel Goldstein
1 year ago

I think Swiss-style direct democracy is actually a very good idea, but who would implement it? We need a system of proportional representation to kill off the old parties.

William Gladstone
William Gladstone
1 year ago

Who would implement it? thats the thing isnt it. I see little point in PR its just more representatives making dodgy deals. The only possibility I see is a party whose sole purpose is to create Swiss style democracy, but of course the elites will smear and strangle it at birth.

Today TBH with the supreme court in the US not even considering Trump’s case for pennsylvannia and with Boris’s likely Brexit betrayal I feel as if democracy is pretty much dead. I mean the only reason we have democracy at all is because the elites feared the French revolution and later communism. They no longer fear this and there is no external threat to them any more from other nations.

With the rise of AI they probably can see a future where they don’t really need the masses any more and so pretexts such as climate change a mental health crisis and pandemic’s will probably be the weapon’s of choice for them going forward to deal with that “problem”

I really struggling today to see a future where people have any power or any real freedom or possibly any future at all unless you are part of an elite.

David Williams
David Williams
1 year ago

The major problem facing Western democracies now is the quality of politician we endure.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  David Williams

Along with the quality of the mainstream media.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago

“a settlement that is both radical and conservative”

How is this notion intelligible?

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
1 year ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

i suppose it connotes radical push-back against the radical progressive ‘blob’

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago

I will have to think about this.

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
1 year ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

“How is this notion intelligible?”

Maybe it’s in the spirit of the young nobleman’s comment in Lampedusa’s The Leopard: “If we want things to stay as they are, everything will have to change.”

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago

Nice, but merely a restatement of the contradiction, I would have thought.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
1 year ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Surely Octavian/Augustus is the model here? The trappings and the facade of the Republic remained intact, but in actuality Plutocracy had been replaced by Autocracy.
To cap it all, does not that simply
wonderful phrase ” Primus inter pares” say it all?

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Haha, you’re taking me right back to Latin prep 45 years ago. To address your response, wasn’t that just Conservative In Name Only or, to coin the acronym, CINO?

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
1 year ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

I think not. It was quite an
astonishing change in government, from oligarchy/plutocracy (of about 300), to triumvirate to autocracy.

Everything else remained the same, or ultra conservative.

The bacchanalian orgies continued apace, the amphitheaters flowed with gore, the underfloor heating worked perfectly and a perigrinus would usually be crucified for impersonating a Roman citizen.

As they said at the time, “Occ est vivere!”

Peter KE
Peter KE
1 year ago

Our politicians, media, civil service, quangos and ngo’s are below mediocre and are largely self serving, spineless and lacking appropriate education and experience.

Steve Craddock
Steve Craddock
1 year ago

I think our primary problems stem from the fact that our large bureaucracies both in government and in society in general have been feeding themselves for many years now. Originally bureaucracys were developed to run systems of administration or to deliver goals which were most often specified by thier sponsor or host or by an external leadership. However, as they got larger and exponentially more complex they started to become self aware and started to self organise. Does this sound familiar from an evolutionary perspective? Remembering that all bureaucracys are at their heart made up of people, they started to amplify and empower the averaged desires and aspirations of their constituent parts independently of any external guidance they self actualised and developed systems to protect and procreate independently of their hosts or sponsors requirements. Once they reach critical mass, which in case of our government sponsored bureaucracys, this may have been at least 60+ years ago, they become harder and harder to control needing larger and larger inputs to coax them off their self selected course. In the case of most of our mayfly leadership they really have no chance of achieving their goals when pitted against such an ancient and armoured leviathan of an organisation. Occasionally, we get a facile leader come along who decides to feed the beast in an effort to at least get a few of their objectives implemented. But this is like signing your soul over to the devil, trying to control an addict by providing them with their drug of choice, feeding an old donkey strawberries, or instead of the traditional cautionary homilies may be the oft reported situation of a pensioner driving their automatic car “I tried to steer and pressed the brake hard but the car just accelerated more out of control.”
I fear that to resolve this present calamitous situation we are long past the point where subtly and nudging will have any effect, and like the creatures from our prehistory the only thing that will bring our modern dinosaur bureaucracys low is something or someone with a seismic impact on our political landscape. Is perhaps our present day societal disunity being cultivated by the massive government and civil bureaucracys defending themselves mightily from their one true David, that comes from political concensus and civil cooperation?

Stephen Griffiths
Stephen Griffiths
1 year ago

So we are looking for someone with vision and authority to gather consensus and lead change, someone who hasn’t bought into progressive totalitarianism and speaks to a sense of national identity, and doesn’t come with the baggage of having to win over a parliamentary party to the cause. Ok.

Daniel Goldstein
Daniel Goldstein
1 year ago

“Labour, meanwhile, are left fishing about among ‘new radicals’, ‘metropolitan liberals’ and ‘progressive professionals’ ” who between them amount to only 37% of the country.” But they can easily poll above that figure. That’s without adding on the other left-wing parties who occupy similar terrain.