This week we’ve had politics and I’ve been devoutly glad this house doesn’t possess either a TV or a TV licence. Thus we’ve been spared great screeds of analysis that was out of date within an hour or two of being broadcast.
But during the week it has occurred to me that when I read history, there I read about the arguments of the past, set in their context. When I read modern current affairs, the context, obvious in history, is lost.
I am beginning to suspect that historians, two thousand years hence, will discuss this decade. Admittedly it’ll be in much foot-noted articles in obscure magazines, but they’ll discuss it. Now it’s been said that most democracies are actually oligarchies where the demos does occasionally get a say. Occasionally you get a period where the demos get more of a say, Athens was one example where, for brief periods, the demos seems to have been in control. The problem is that the periods where the demos were in control are the periods when Athens was at its most volatile. Perhaps democracy fades into oligarchy as a sort of stabilising mechanism? Think of the oligarchs as the training wheels on a bicycle.
So perhaps our future historians will look back at the whole Brexit and Trump era and ask whether the period saw a bitter battle between two competing oligarchies. The old oligarchs fighting savagely to retain power, whilst the new, aspiring oligarchs, fought equally savagely to achieve power, with the demos being reduced to cheering or booing from the sidelines.
Doubtless some, of our future historians (perhaps the less cynical) will see it instead as the demos, sickened by the obvious corruption and greed of a current generation of oligarchs, rising against them. Who knows, and when they pen their articles, will anybody read them anyway.
Then there’s a comment a friend of mine made. “I’ve never been sold on libertarianism. Sure it’s possible to over-regulate. But every time we go the other way it leads to massive corruption and stupidity once people realise no one is watching. It really makes me wonder if common sense ever plays a part in these things.
He’s right, leaving me to wonder if common sense is something you learn in adversity and when stuff is a bit tough, so the privileged never learn it? It also struck me that it’s interesting that both libertarianism and totalitarianism lead to corruption and stupidity. This leads me to wonder if what we really need is freedom and openness. This way people can shine the light into the dark corners and drag the corrupt kicking and screaming out into the light where they face the derision of the mob. All a bit like the MPs expenses scandal that we had here in the UK. This fits in nicely with his comment about ‘when people realise no one is watching.’ Too often the political class act to draw the curtains to ensure that the mob don’t get to see what’s really going on.
It also strikes me that we need those politicians who act as ‘Tribunes of the People.’ The picture is of Charles James Fox who spent the vast majority of his political career in opposition. He stood for many things but was a leading parliamentary advocate of religious tolerance and individual liberty. Neither of these are particularly popular options.
There are other politicians who have filled the role. Tony Benn, although I disagreed with much of what he said, served the people far better when he was in opposition than he ever did when in power. Power and authority trammel a great thinker and force them to conform to the petty dictates of current expediency: whereas their real purpose is to see over the hill and prepare the ground for the future.
Another thing our future historians might ponder is whether the fall of the oligarchy was due to a shift within the political tribes. Fifty years ago you could largely spot the difference between MPs of various parties by their background, their life experience, and their education. That has passed, now we have a comparatively homogeneous political class who largely enter politics from university, working their way up from being MP’s assistants and similar until finally they’re well enough thought of for the Apparatchiks who run the party to ensure they get offered a winnable seat. Far too high a proportion of them have never really had a proper job. Even those who were not within the golden circle tend to have jobs with political organisations and politically appropriate lobby groups and corporations. They rarely mix with hoi polloi. Indeed given their wealth it’s unlikely they ever will. To be in the top 5% in the UK at the moment you need an income of £70,000 a year (waving at you, MPs) and earning over £130k puts you in the 1% (and a big hello to all those people in the civil service and NHS earning more than the Prime Minister.) With snouts so deeply in the trough they’re unable to see over the side of the trough to discover how the rest of us are really faring.
Over the last few years I’ve talked to more and more people of the ‘Labour’ tribe who feel they can no longer vote for a party that appears to have nothing in common with them. Similarly I have talked to many people of the ‘Conservative’ tribe who also feel that their views, beliefs and life experience are not shared by the party that they used to support. Perhaps Brexit is just going to be the catalyst for a major realignment of the tribes as they find somebody new to vote for?
Alternatively you could just seek wisdom in the pages of a good book
To quote the reviewer “Someone has tried to cheat Benor and his young ‘apprentice’ Mutt. They set out, with a little help, to redress the balance. Another in this series of Port Naain novellas that had me smiling. They are not belly-laugh stories but full of wry, clever and thoughtful humour. Often, it’s the way he tells them. I’m always up for more of these stories.”