Thursday, 31 May 2012

Nick Clegg's wrong

Now, it probably comes to no surprise to many of my regular readers than I have been known to disagree with Nick Clegg on occasion (*cough* tuition fees *cough* *cough*).

However, on this occasion, I think Clegg's wrong about something that I'm actually fairly supportive of.

Let me explain.

On Tuesday Nick Clegg talked to a group of organisations campaigning for reform of our democracy - groups like the Electoral Reform Society and Unlock Democracy about the need to "reform" our broken establishment.

Clegg said:
"I have looked at the institutions of our establishment close up," he will say. "And I can tell you, I am more determined than ever to see them change. Britain's broken establishment is now well past its 'sell by date'."
 Now I agree with Clegg that the establishment (parliament, the media, the police) have all come out of the past few years heavily damaged and, as a Liberal Democrat, one of the reasons I joined the party was my belief in the need for this to be fixed in order to bring real democracy to this country.

Unfortunately, where I think Clegg is wrong is when he talks about "reforming" the establishment. Well to me that's not good enough. The establishment, and not just parliament and the media but also the shadowy figures in the corridors of power, the old boys networks and favour for favour friendships, the quiet whispers in an ear, the lunches at the club, are all in need of much more than reform, they are in need of destruction and elimination from the politics of this country.

Parliament and the media remain dominated by people of a particular background and of a particular worldview. Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg all have more in common with each other than with a child brought up on a run-down south London housing estate. And it's this dominance of the same type of people, with the same lack of understanding, of real understanding of what life is like for other people, just as much as the undemocratic influence over decision making wielded by unelected, unaccountable figures, that makes our democracy so flawed at its very heart.

Put bluntly, the establishment has no place in 21st century Britain. It's the people and their elected representatives that should run the country, not newspaper editors or men (for they are almost always men) with 'friends in the right places'.

So, the aim for Liberal Democrats should not just be to reform the establishment but to destroy it. To overturn it and bring the purifying light of day into all the dark corners of influence and nepotism that have governed our country since the middle ages.

Of course, many of our institutions, such as parliament, the media and the civil service, can be reformed. Other elements of the establishment, such as lobbying, can be brought under greater public scrutiny. But the core truth is that any attempt to reform the establishment, rather than replacing it with democracy, will meet ferocious resistance. The British establishment has, through obfuscation and making tiny superficial changes, survived for the past thousand years in the face of much greater challenges than idealistic politicians. The Chartists campaigned for democracy and one man one vote - and they were seen off. Lloyd-George and his People's Budget, containing radical new social welfare measures, democratic reform and the wholescale fair taxation of wealth without exemptions for the wealthy, were seen off as well.

So anyone who goes in trying to make a few reforms here or there will inevitably see those reforms whittled away to nothing. The only way radical lasting change can ever be achieved is if people go in set on disestablishing the establishment. They might not succeed but at least the compromises eventually reached (that's the history of our country don't you know - compromise at the last minute instead of revolutions) would be real reforms rather than lukewarm, weakened tinkering.

Of course, Clegg has to be careful what he says - declaring war on the establishment is not a battle he needs right now - but as Liberal Democrats we have to remember that we must never allow ourselves to believe that any part of the establishment is necessary or somehow better leaving untouched. Our ultimate aim must only ever be complete revolutionary change through root and branch rebuilding of our democracy - nothing more and nothing less.

Because to let yourself be taken in and disarmed by the establishment (to paraphrase a book I once read, "pulling the teeth of radicals is a favourite sport of the establishment") is the fatal mistake - it can only lead to the weakening of principle and the ultimate soullessnes and ideological wasteland that characterises Labour - another once great reforming party.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I'm indebted to Birkdale Focus for the following choice of words:

I am happy to address most contributions, even the drunken ones if they are coherent, but I am not going to engage with negative sniping from those who do not have the guts to add their names or a consistent on-line identity to their comments. Such postings will not be published.

Anonymous comments with a constructive contribution to make to the discussion, even if it is critical will continue to be posted. Libellous comments or remarks I think may be libellous will not be published.

I will also not tolerate personation so please do not add comments in the name of real people unless you are that person. If you do not like these rules then start your own blog.

Oh, and if you persist in repeating yourself despite the fact I have addressed your point I may get bored and reject your comment.

The views expressed in comments are those of the poster, not me.